In November, Australians voted to endorse same-sex marriage by 61.6%, putting the reluctant government under huge pressure to make it legal. As we go to press, the first same-sex marriages are now taking place. Northern Ireland is becoming increasingly isolated in denying this right, lagging behind Britain and the South.
Polls have consistently shown that a clear majority here back marriage equality. Tens of thousands have demonstrated in support of equality, forcing a number of MLAs to change their position on the issue, leading to a majority vote in favour of same-sex marriage at Stormont two years ago. Unfortunately, the ‘Democratic’ Unionist Party vetoed this step forward.
DUP block can be broken
If the Assembly is re-established, the DUP and other homophobes will still be able to block equality by abusing the ‘petition of concern’ unless it is reformed. However, they are not impervious to pressure from below. For example, they were forced to sack Jim Wells as Health Minister in the wake of bigoted comments against same-sex couples. The majority of DUP voters back marriage equality. If a determined and genuinely cross-community campaign is built, they can be pushed to stop undemocratically blocking progress on this issue.
Demanding a referendum on marriage equality is a tactic which can increase the pressure on the DUP and other homophobic politicians to get out of the way. Many are understandably wary of putting the rights of a minority at the will of the majority. But ultimately some group of people will have the final say on marriage equality – either the MLAs at Stormont, the courts which rejected legal challenges on the issue last year, or the mass of ordinary people. The latter are the most likely to enthusiastically endorse equality. This is a tactic which should be reconsidered by the LGBT+ movement.
Challenge the Stormont dinosaurs
While Sinn Féin, the SDLP and Alliance back marriage equality, they have supported and implemented austerity policies which disproportionately impact the LGBT community. None of the main parties support a woman’s right to choose, also despite the wishes of the majority of people here. To challenge the backward status quo, we need a cross-community party which unites working-class and young people against the Orange and Green establishment in the fight for decent jobs, homes and public services for all, as well as for LGBT and women’s rights.