Stop the DUP abusing the 'Petition of Concern' mechanism to veto Marriage Equality


'People in Northern Ireland are sick of living in a discriminatory backwater for gay people’ - Patrick Corrigan (Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Programme Director). 

'Northern Ireland is the most homophobic place in Western Europe' - Peter Tatchell (Human Rights Campaigner)

The Northern Ireland Assembly in Stormont have now voted on the issue of marriage equality 5 times. All 5 of those motions were blocked by the Democratic Unionist Party through their use of a parliamentary veto called the “petition of concern.” 

Under the complex rules of power sharing in Northern Ireland, parties from either the unionist or nationalist community can use this veto if they feel there is not enough backing from Protestants or Catholics for particular legislation. It was designed to ensure no one community dominated the other following the 1998 Belfast agreement. 

This mechanism established to ensure the rights of minorities in Northern Ireland is being continually abused to deny a fundamental right to the LGBT community and, because of this, Northern Ireland is lagging behind the rest of Western Europe in adopting a fairer, more equal and more forward thinking approach to human rights. 

Four previous motions failed to reach a majority in favour of Marriage Equality. However, even if any of these motions did achieve a majority in favour, the DUP had already implemented the petition of concern prior to each vote to ensure the result was a foregone conclusion.

This was also the case with vote 5 in November 2015, but on this occasion the mechanism was officially enacted to veto a majority of politicians who voted ‘AYE’ in favour of the legislation. 

Four independent unionist assembly members joined nationalists and others with 53 votes in favour of marriage equality – one vote ahead of the remaining unionists and independents opposed to any reform. A narrow majority but a majority all the same. 

The party known as the “Democratic” Unionist Party (DUP) thwarted a democratic vote and derailed equality by using the mechanism unfairly on this issue and it seems most people are not happy about this. 

Numerous surveys have shown that a huge majority of people in NI are now in favour of marriage equality. 

In November 2015 a poll jointly commissioned by BBC Northern Ireland and Irish broadcaster RTÉ, revealed that 64 percent of people support equal marriage in Northern Ireland while just 23 percent oppose it. Over 2000 people were surveyed for the cross-borders research, carried out by the polling company B&A. Not far off the landslide 62% YES vote in Ireland’s marriage equality referendum last year.

More recently, in June 2016, an Ipsos MORI poll which asked ‘to what extent do you agree with this statement: homosexual couples should be allowed to marry each other?’ found that over two-thirds (70%) of adults in Northern Ireland believe that homosexual couples should be allowed to marry each other; a figure not dissimilar to the same poll Ipsos MORI ran around the time of the Referendum last year (68%). Meanwhile, only 22% disagreed with marriage equality legislation.

  • Over three-quarters (77%) of females agree that homosexual couples should be permitted to marry, while fewer males (63%) think the same way.
  • Over four in five (85%) of 16-34 year olds agree with the principle of same-sex marriage, while those aged 65 and over are less sure (47%).
  • Four in five (80%) from a Catholic community background agree that homosexual couples should be allowed to marry compared to 60% of those from a Protestant upbringing.
  • In addition, the data highlighted differing views on this subject depending on the political party each individual supported. Agreement that homosexual couples should be permitted to marry is highest among Alliance Party (83%) and Sinn Fein supporters (80%). Three-quarters (76%) of those who favour the SDLP agree that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, followed by 62% of UUP and 50% of DUP supporters.

In 2005 UK government actuaries suggested 6% (1 in 16.66) of the population, or about 3.6 million citizens, are either gay or lesbian. The Treasury calculated this estimate when analysing the financial implications of the Civil Partnerships Act. The figures were based on the 2000 National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (NATSAL), which asked respondents about sexual attitudes and behaviours, but not orientation, and on comparable research from Europe and America.

In a study examining the responses of 7,441 individuals, conducted by the Economic and Social Research Institute in Ireland, found that 2.7% of men and 1.2% of women self-identified as homosexual or bisexual. A question based on a variant of the Kinsey scale found that 5.3% of men and 5.8% of women reported some same-sex attraction. Of those surveyed, 7.1% of men and 4.7% of women reported a homosexual experience some time in their life so far. 

In reality however this has less to do with numbers and more to do with human beings with feelings and without access to an equal definition and commitment to love. Most of us will know someone who is gay.

This issue is not just about our friends, family, acquaintances, colleagues and neighbours. It is about standing up for basic human rights. 

The DUP have to stop differentiating peoples’ rights under the law according to their sexuality. It’s simple genetics. It would be absurd to say blonde people couldn’t marry. We’ll give them blond partnerships. Blond people could ruin the sanctity of marriage. 

The DUP should step up on this issue and show NI is about equality and unity. The negative narrative has clearly has now so evidently isolated us in Western Europe. 

The love between same sex and opposite sex couples is the same. Why can’t their love be recognised in the same way? 

Love is love regardless of gender and hair colour. 

This shouldn’t be an issue of gay rights, blond rights, transgender rights or Christian rights. This is about human rights and the equal recognition of love under the law.

It has already been established that any marriage equality legislation will grant religious organisations protections so that they will not have to officiate same sex ceremonies. This means there is no threat to the religious interpretation and view that marriage should remain as between a man and a woman. It’s just not right that in a democratic society everyone should be forced to think that way. The only people truly affected by this legislation would be those who wish to marry someone of the same sex. 

Sign this petition to voice your opposition to the DUP’s abuse of the petition of concern and to petition OFMDFM to agree not to use such a veto on what is evidently a human rights and equality issue.  

As first minister and leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster has the power to bring Northern Ireland into the 21st century and alter the perception that her party is trapped in the past. The last thing Northern Ireland needs for its image right now is the perception that it is “on the wrong side of history.”

Sign your name below and stand up for human rights.


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