With voting just a week away, Jordan White talks to us about the Stormont parties, tactical voting and oppression.
A new campaign has been launched to get the DUP out of the Stormont Assembly, organised by the Gay Say website, in conjunction with marriage equality campaign LoveProudly. The campaign has been launched due largely to the DUP’s viewed abuse of the Petition of Concern, an optional veto introduced with the intention of protecting minority rights.
But why do the DUP always get portrayed as the bad guy in this debate? No major Assembly party has a great record. Same-sex marriage has been debated in Northern Ireland’s Assembly a total of five times, every single time a petition of concern has been lodged by the Democratic Unionist Party. The party say they want to protect family values and that traditional marriage is between one man and one woman. Of those 5 times, the motion or bill would have failed 4 times due to a lack of majority house support, the 5th time, it passed by one vote. Not exactly a massive jump forward for engaged same sex couples in Northern Ireland.
Sinn Fein, who cleverly paint themselves as the party for LGBT people and their rights, have continuously put down motions or have taken credit for motions proposed from other political parties. I am 24 years old and I am tired of watching this. My right to marry the person I love isn’t a game, and I’d like that to stop. Political parties are using motions, which would not actually bring same sex marriage into Northern Ireland, to try and paint the DUP as the big bad wolf in Stormont.
Sinn Fein claim its support for LGBT rights stems from its demand for nationalists to be treated fairly and equally in Northern Ireland, their 2009 document titled ‘Moving On: A Policy for Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Equality’ states “Nationalists are only too well aware of what it means to be treated as second-class citizens. Our politics are the results of decades of resistance to marginalization and discrimination.” Sound familiar? The LGBT community in Northern Ireland are second-class citizens and marginalised. The marginalisation and segregation of nationalists was a red line issue for Sinn Fein and rightly so. LGBT rights however are not afforded the same status within the party. The Fresh Start Agreement was an opportunity for Sinn Fein to put LGBT rights on the agenda, and demand them as a red line issue. Of course they didn’t, just as they didn’t put the rights of women on the table; namely, abortion rights.p
Let’s not forget either, Sinn Fein’s failed promises to LGBT people across the board. The Department of Education has been held by Sinn Fein since 2007. We have been continuously promised anti-homophobic and transphobic bullying strategies for schools and reforms to Boards of Directors, who ultimately decide what schools teach and allow personal prejudices of board members to influence the curriculum.
Finally, Sinn Fein’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuiness called for a referendum on same sex marriage. I do not think my rights should be put to the ballot box, I am not going to canvass for same sex marriage by knocking on doors and asking people if they wouldn’t mind, taking 5 minutes out of their day to vote Yes and treat me equally, allowing me the pleasure of marriage. SDLP MLA Alex Attwood said at Pride Talk’s Back1 last year, that he supported a referendum on same sex marriage. Mr Attwood has a background in law, so I don’t know why he’d support a referendum on marriage as he should know referenda are not constitutionally binding here and so the result can, and would most likely be, ignored.
The SDLP is the supposed party of progressive nationalism. Colum Eastwood said at the UTV leaders debate that he would rather ‘wrap’ his arms around someone who needs an abortion rather than actually legislate for them. Yet that is Mr Eastwood’s primary job, as a public representative, to legislate for the population-of which about 50% are women. SDLP party members continuously coin the term ‘abortion on demand’. This is incredibly offensive to women, as if their reproductive rights are some kind of Netflix type ‘all you can get’ procedure. They’d have us believe that woman skip into Marie Stopes Clinics across the UK, smile and laugh with the doctor through the procedure and then off they go for a quick lunch before heading back to work.
“I won’t vote for a party who wants to aid one group in society against their oppression and actively continue and worsen another, by prosecuting women for socio-economic circumstance because they cannot afford an airplane ticket to England to access an abortion.”
The party have attempted to make claims in the assembly that there is no ‘definition’ on what a fatal fetal abnormality is, that a Doctor cannot know when a fetus will die inside the womb or at birth and as such do not support any extension or reform around Northern Ireland’s abortion laws. I cannot accept this. I will not sell my women friends down the river and deny them their right to choose, just to vote for a party which offers me marriage.
In their 2016 Assembly manifesto the SDLP afforded women and LGBT people both one sentence each. I feel women and LGBT are worth more than that. In 2016 during an Assembly debate on potential reform of Abortion laws, the SDLP’s Dolores Kelly spoke and said “I do not think that we will be taking any lectures regarding violence against the person, unborn or otherwise, from Sinn Féin. There has never been any difficulty in relation to the sanctity of the life of the unborn child when the IRA planted bombs that blew up pregnant women”. Progressive Nationalism openly compared abortion to the violence brought into Northern Ireland by the IRA, and you can claim I am not understanding the point Dolores Kelly was trying to make, but in a debate on women’s reproductive health, the SDLP chose to raise the issue of terrorism during The Troubles.
The Ulster Unionists have done well to portray themselves as a party that is pro-LGBT and women, their party leader Mike Nesbitt has given the only speech which boded well with me. Mr Nesbitt has said, those against same sex marriage are on the wrong side of history and that he, as a man, is not comfortable telling a woman what she can and cannot do with her body. These are great sentiments, but only one of his party’s MLA’s voted in favour of the same sex marriage bill, and only 6 of the candidates running for the party support the extension of the 1967 Act to Northern Ireland. That’s not good enough. We need to #trustwomen to make choices around their own reproductive health and we need to permit the civil inclusion of same-sex partners into marriage. Mr Nesbitt spoke about these issues, but the party didn’t follow him on his words.
With all these parties, I want to highlight something. I should be able to bring myself to vote for these parties because they ‘support same-sex marriage’ or want to ‘remove the MSM blood ban’ or want to publish a ‘Sexual Orientation Strategy’. But I cannot and will not because all these parties are compliant in the oppression of women all across Northern Ireland in regards to their reproductive sexual health. I won’t vote for a party who wants to aid one group in society against their oppression and actively continue and worsen another, by prosecuting women for socio-economic circumstance because they cannot afford an airplane ticket to England to access an abortion.
Same-sex marriage motions didn’t actually gain enough support within the Assembly until the 5th time around, and that was mainly down to Alliance and SDLP not having their house in order. The 4th time the bill failed by 3 votes. 3 Alliance members abstained because they were ‘wrestling’ with the issue. When a politician is wrestling with a human rights issue, it doesn’t bode well for me. You are not suited to be a public representative.
I cannot bring myself to vote for the DUP, just as I also cannot bring myself to vote for Sinn Fein, Alliance, SDLP or the UUP because of their stances on women’s issues. Homophobia is intrinsically linked to misogyny. They are different battles, for different groups in society but the fight is in the ballot box and I won’t vote to break from my own oppression at the expense of women.