Stormont, Petitions of Concern and Marriage Equality


The issue of Marriage Equality is to be debated for the fifth time in Stormont today (Nov 2nd).  Yet again, however, the DUP has launched a Petition of Concern to ensure that should the motion be successful its legal passing will be blocked.

The Petition of Concern is a funny old thing. Sometimes it works in our favour, like when it was used earlier this year to block the DUP’s “Conscience Clause”, a clause which would have effectively blocked LGBT+ people and Queers from certain parts of society under the guise of “religious freedom”.

Other times, the Petition ensures that the rule of the right-wing is obeyed.

In order to introduce a Petition to the Assembly 30 signatures are needed. For the DUP with 38 MLAs this is not a problem; when something arises that they do not approve of they merely pass the Petition around their politicians.

There is one way in which you can overcome it; if 60% of those voting back the motion combined with 40% of support from the Nationalist and Unionist sections of Stormont then the Petition of Concern becomes obsolete.
Considering the sectarian makeup of the assembly, generally one side of the “community” will launch the Petition against the other, it is then very unlikely that 40% of the side that made the Petition will backtrack.

The current Petition of Concern against the Marriage Equality motion ensures that the North will remain the only part of the UK in which the issue is not legalised – yet those who have launched the Petition maintain that they are proud British citizens (unless that means giving LGBT+ people the right to marry and women and other pregnant people the right to choose over their own bodies).

A feminist analysis of marriage views it as a tool traditionally designed and used to trap women; within it women have endured abuse, both mental and physical, rape and murder.

Moreover it has been used as a way to concentrate wealth, property and power through inheritance and family ties and to make the transfer of such much easier.

With women consolidating a more equal status in society it is fair to say that marriage is not used in the same way to trap us; but it is still true that abuse occurs (against both genders but overwhelmingly against women).

It is clear, however, that the absence of Marriage Equality hurts members of the LGBT+ and Queer community. I would rather pour my energy into combatting LGBT+ homelessness, street harassment and violence but while the fight for marriage equality is on how could we fight against it?

The DUP and their bigoted colleagues who will stand against the issue represent state sponsored homophobia. Continuing to vote these dinosaurs in after five attempts of this shows us that the enemy does not lie in Stormont alone, but in their constituencies - in their voters and in their supporters.

Marriage Equality will not cure our society of homophobia and those who oppose marriage equality i.e. the religious right, bigots and fascists to name just a few, will still remain after legalisation (whether it comes through the courts or the Assembly).

They’re a dying breed but they still have influence, an influence that has the potential for danger in this part of the world; a place where it’s not uncommon for people to mobilise around a reactionary issue.

Whatever the outcome of the vote we need to fight for a society in which a certain marital status does not lead to privileges over others.

We need a society in which we are free to express ourselves without fear of persecution; without fear of being marginalized. We need to fight for true freedom, social and economic – a freedom from the rule of a minority over a majority.

WORDS: Fionnghuala Nic Roibeaird