No doubt most of you are aware that the referendum proposing the addition of a gender-neutral description of marriage to Bunreacht na hÉireann was passed by the Irish electorate last Friday, and with a substantive majority. In future – and the very near future – same-sex marriages will become legal in Ireland, once the framework legislation has been put in place by the Oireachtas. However, and in stark contrast with the national situation, in the north-east of the country homo- and bisexual individuals will continue to be denied the same rights as their heterosexual peers elsewhere across our island nation. Under the regional administration at Stormont – and subsidised by the UK authorities – same-sex unions will remain illegal. Such antiquated discrimination is largely at the behest of the British unionist parties in the north, principally the DUP, UUP and TUV, though some members of the moderate unionists of the Alliance Party and of the nationalist SDLP share the prejudices of the religio-political extreme.
With only Sinn Féin, the regional branch of the Irish Green Party and a handful of others – notably several activists with the unionist and formerly paramilitary-aligned Progressive Unionist Party – supporting marriage-equality it seems likely that the campaign in the north-east to change attitudes will be a long and hard fought one. Indeed the main unionist parties seem to regard the advocacy for LGBT rights to be part of a broader “republican plot” to undermine Britain’s paracolony in Ireland. Which simply indicates how far out-of-step with the European mainstream the anachronistic ideology of British unionism on this island nation has become since its heyday in the 1920s and ‘30s.
From the Derry Journal:
“Derry representatives from both Sinn Fein and the SDLP have said their parties will now continue to fight for the north to adopt the right of same sex couples to get married and to have their marriages recognised.
SDLP Foyle MLA Colum Eastwood has said that the Referendum in the south – which saw over 60% of people voting for same sex marriage to be authorised and given equal status – was a historic moment for Ireland.
He said: “The south will soon legalise Marriage Equality through a popular vote, it’s important now that the north embraces change and that Ireland, as an island and a nation, supports our LGBT brothers and sisters.”
Sinn Féin Derry-Strabane Councillor Sandra Duffy said her party would continue its campaign for marriage equality for all in the north.
Colr. Duffy said: “I’m delighted the people have voted overwhelmingly in favour of marriage equality for all. This referendum was all about equality, inclusion and respect for our LGBTI brothers and sisters.
Sinn Féin played a very positive and active role in the Yes campaign. The fact so many of our people returned home to vote highlighted yet again the need to tackle the issue of voting rights for the diaspora and for Irish citizens in the North.
The marriage equality rights that will be enjoyed by Irish citizens in the south must be shared by citizens in the north.”
These views have been echoed by Gerry Adams TD, the SF president. It is unacceptable that Irish men and women, regardless of their sexual orientation or original gender, should be denied their full rights as citizens of this republic simply because they are forced to live under the authority of the “Northern Pale”. Civil rights – lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights – cannot be “partitioned” as our nation is.
There is no border for equality.