Article Place & Self

The religious stranglehold of the DUP in Northern Ireland

The fight for equality for the LGBT community has lasted 40 years but now faces a terrifying setback

What is proposed is not a conscience clause, it is a discrimination clause.

Amnesty International’s Patrick Corrigan thus described Paul Givan’s proposed “Conscience Clause”, which would effectively let people with “strongly held” religious beliefs actively discriminate against the gay, lesbian, trans and bi population of Northern Ireland. DUP MLA Paul Givan formed the idea for the bill and sought to introduce it after Ashers Baking Co. refused customers who wished to have a cake made with a slogan that supported gay marriage.

The cake, which was to be made for an event supporting International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, was “at odds” with their Christian beliefs. If The Lagan Valley MLA’s private member’s bill (or to give it its full title, Consultation on the Northern Ireland Freedom of Conscience Amendment Bill) goes through then it will enable discrimination, intolerance and a momentous step backwards.

The DUP has a long history of action against homosexuality dating back to the early days of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, when Ian Paisley led his party on a campaign to “save Ulster from sodomy”, claiming homosexual acts were “a crime against God and man and its practice is a terrible step to the total demoralisation of any country”, which was intended to prevent the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Northern Ireland.

In reality, the demoralisation is of a deflated society tired of moralising, fundamentalist politicians fighting for their own rights, when others so desperately need equality. It has been a 40-year struggle for equality and the proposed legislation by Paul Givan is a terrifying step towards inequality for the country and a step back to those days of Ian Paisley and his beliefs that the bible claimed homosexuality was a sin.

It is only the first issue in a long line of intolerance, discrimination and bullying from the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland.

The DUP is one of the reasons for Northern Ireland lagging behind the rest of the UK in terms of equality. Gay men still cannot give blood, despite being able to in England, Scotland and Wales and the party is actively against same-sex marriage.

It seems that inequality in Northern Ireland is not only tolerated, but rewarded. Maurice Mills was given an MBE despite his outrageously homophobic views and his aggressive and forceful “Christian” viewpoint. Mills’ comments are a disgrace to any honest human being. His MBE for services to local government seems like a mockery to the LBGT activists and campaigners who were also awarded honours by the Queen.

It isn’t the first time members of the DUP have outwardly expressed homophobic views. The party has a long and storied history of slander, hatred and discrimination against the homosexual community. In 2008, then DUP MLA and First Lady, Iris Robinson, claimed that homosexuality could be cured and that it was an “abomination”.

The defence of Christianity seems to entitle members of government in this country to say horrible things and actively promote their bigotry towards members of society, whether it is because of their homosexuality, their nationality of their religious beliefs. The DUP seems to have no tolerance and members feel free to attack homosexuals, but once somebody calls them out on their hatred it suddenly is an attack on their old-fashioned, “Christian” beliefs. It is a horrendous double standard.

It would seem that a belief in God, or self-styled “Christian” beliefs, entitles you to do whatever you want and discriminate freely against whomever you want, be it gays, Irish, Muslims, or just about anyone who doesn’t fit the fundamentalist Christian mindset. In a country so deeply wounded by religious conflict, we need to develop a freedom that allows any man, woman and child to hold whatever beliefs or sexuality they have to be free.

We desperately need a culture of tolerance because our society is based on difference.

We have a society separated by religion and class and it should be up to our government to bring people closer together, to promote tolerance and respect for other cultures.

“Our religious beliefs are being ignored,” claims Givan, but when he says ignored he means that the DUP simply isn’t able to force them on the public. Major celebrities such as Stephen Fry and Ellen Page rang in on the debate. Fry claimed that “once again the religious right twisting truth to present themselves as victims”, as the DUP promoted its bill and interacted negatively with Fry himself, to which he responded “to be slammed by the bigots of the DUP is to be bathed in light and kissed by angels. I am content”.

Page responded to Mills: “The Queen honoured a politician who blamed Hurricane Katrina and Aids on LGBT people… fuck that.”

The responses and attention that is being drawn to the issues are a rallying cry for people in Northern Ireland to say that this is not right.

On Saturday 21 January, more than 1,000 people attended a rally in Belfast to protest against the conscience clause, while other events were held in Newry and Derry/Londonderry, at which speakers from the Green Party, Sinn Féin and members of Amnesty International all spoke out against the proposed clause. A public consultation on the bill closes on 27 February, while in just over 48 hours a petition on All Out amassed more than 100,000 signatures against the bill. The petition states: “Please remove this amendment from consideration. Throw it out and send a strong message that Northern Ireland stands for equality.”

The DUP is a blight on Northern Ireland and its religious stranglehold on the country as well as its medieval religious views are against basic human rights for everyone that lives in Northern Ireland. Democracy can’t exist if unjust discrimination is at the forefront of a nation. The lack of morality and humanity in the conscience clause is astounding; rights are equal no matter what religion, sexual orientation, or lack thereof. Christian rights are the same as gay rights.

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