[CW: homophobia, references to child abuse]
Despite the fact that 57% of Northern Irish people polled support Equal Marriage, on Monday 27th of April, the Northern Ireland Assembly voted for a fourth time on marriage equality and for a fourth time it fell, this time with the closest vote to date. A total of 96 MLAs took part in the vote, with 49 voting against the Sinn Féin motion calling for civil marriage equality, and 47 in favour.
Unlike Westminster’s more implicit attitudes, many Northern Irish politicians are explicitly homophobic. Jim Wells, before he was forced to resign as Health Minister, openly compared gay parenting to child abuse. Iris Robinson, the wife of the first minister, claimed that homosexuality was vile and argued that gay people should be forced to undergo conversion therapy. It is therefore concerning that some Westminster Powers are open to forming a coalition with DUP and other homophobic Northern Irish parties.
The DUP’s arguments against equality for the LGBT+ community are hardly original.
They claim that allowing same sex marriage would destroy the sanctity of marriage, arguing that marriage should only exist between a man and a woman. Given that divorce is now legal, interracial marriage now exists, and women are not officially the property of men anymore, it is clear that marriage has already been redefined numerous times throughout the centuries, and yet people still value it as a meaningful expression of a couple’s love for one another.
They have also claimed that gay parents will inevitably produce gay children. This has been repeatedly proven to be untrue – children raised by lesbians and gay men are no more likely to be gay than those raised by non-gay parents – but even if it were true, why would this be a problem? Young people should be encouraged to embrace their sexuality, whatever that may be, with the love and support of their family and without being shamed by politicians.
And finally, as if the previous two arguments weren’t enough, several high profile politicians have also suggested that gay parenting is equivalent to child abuse. Research has shown time and again that the children of lesbian and gay parents grow up to be just as healthy, happy and well-adjusted as the children of straight parents. Why? Because what children need are strong families with parents who are nurturing, caring and loving, and none of those qualities are dependent on orientation.
We believe the LGBT+ community in Northern Ireland – and particularly LGBT+ young people – need leaders who will take a stand against discrimination and prejudice. We need politicians who truly represent the people, who can act as role models and educate our communities on the challenges we face.
It is well documented that members of the LGBT+ community are more likely to struggle with mental illness – research from the Rainbow Project has shown that 47% of LGBT+ people in Northern Ireland consider suicide, with a quarter attempting it – and this is only exacerbated by living in a country where your elected leaders do not represent your right to live a happy and fulfilling life. Given these statistics, it is hard to believe that a significant proportion of people support the DUP – a party who, up until last week, had a Health Minister who refused to even acknowledge that mental health existed.
It is vital that we – as UK students – stand against Northern Irish homophobia and in solidarity with the LGBT+ community in Northern Ireland itself. But this goes beyond showing solidarity; it’s about action and activism; it’s about putting pressure not just on the government in Northern Ireland but also on Westminster parties.
Here at Edinburgh University we have started a campaign called Edinburgh University for Equality, focused on challenging homophobia and supporting the LGBT+ community in Northern Ireland. To get involved, please like our Facebook page, and take part in our actions – in the coming weeks we’ll be organising photo campaigns, letter writing, and lobbying MPs. We urge other universities to set up similar campaigns and shout out loud against Northern Irish homophobia and for equal marriage!