Civil Conversations full report available here 

“It is good to talk about marriage equality – what it means to LGBT+ couples, and what it means to the rest of the community” – Clare Moore

A new report, due to be published today (Thursday), demonstrates increased support for marriage equality across most sections of the Northern Ireland population. The report, which records a series of facilitated ‘conversations’ by over five hundred people across the region, also reveals some confusion about the distinction between civil and religious marriage among some faith groups.

The report, Civil Conversations on Marriage Equality, was commissioned by then Minister of Finance Máirtín Ó Muilleoir to promote discussion around the issue of marriage equality in advance of any legislation. The former Minister, along with Doug Beattie MLA of the Ulster Unionist Party, are hosting a launch of the report later today (Thursday) in Parliament Buildings at Stormont.

The report authors, Marie Quiery and Paula Keenan, facilitated discussions among over 500 people across Northern Ireland, including young people, older people, business leaders, people with disability, faith leaders, sports people, trade unionists, black, Asian and minority ethnic people and members of a range of community groups.

Marie Quiery said:

“This initiative shows that it really is good to talk. People from all walks of life were eager to have space and time to discuss this issue – part of the change we are undergoing as a society. We were keen to facilitate conversations with people holding a range of views in a safe, non-judgemental way.

“It was a fascinating experience to listen in on those conversations. There was an inspiring generosity of spirit and openness to honest conversation. Indeed, in almost all of the groups, individuals took the opportunity to ‘come out’ as LGBT+ themselves or as a the relative of an LGBT+ person. Very often this was the first time they had revealed this personal information and, in all cases, were met with a warm and supportive response from others.”

Clare Moore of the Love Equality campaign for equal civil marriage, which is organising today’s report launch, said:

“The conversations recorded in this report mirror the opinion polls in showing strong and growing support for marriage equality among people across Northern Ireland.

“We have always said that it is good to talk about marriage equality – what it means to LGBT+ couples, and what it means to the rest of the community. We don’t just want to change the law, we want to change our society for the better and make it a more welcoming place for everyone.

“Some of the conversations reveal that some people – particularly among faith groups – are concerned that a change in the law will mean they have to conduct same-sex marriages in church. It is important that these voices are heard and that we can offer reassurance that we do not want to force change on any churches or faith groups and that proper protections for religious freedom will be written into the law, just as has happened in other parts of the UK and Ireland.”

The Love Equality campaign for equal civil marriage in Northern Ireland is led by the Rainbow Project, Amnesty International, Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Cara-Friend, NUS-USI and HereNI.

QUOTES FROM THE REPORT

“I think the big anxiety with regards to the church is if gay marriage is legislated for then the issue would be about a married gay couple coming to church, say the Presbyterian church, there is no framework for accepting or dealing with that.” – Presbyterian minister

“You have a situation where you’re going out to the market and telling people – we don’t have marriage equality, in the developed world.  They’re looking at us and saying – what?  We are the only part of these islands that doesn’t.” – Business leader

“There’s always fear with change…. there’s a fear that people would be talking about you if you have a son or daughter who’s gay – for older people there’s embarrassment.  Years ago it was all about the neighbours.  There still is stigma. With certain people there’s no doubt.” – Member of women’s group

“During the Troubles fear drove you to stick together and be suspicious of anybody outside your community and I don’t think we’ve come out of that yet.  Because of the conflict we aren’t even open to people in our own community never mind actually having people come in from outside.” – Older person

“I haven’t had any conversations with parishioners revealing they are gay – but I have had conversations with parents of gay children and these have been in the main conversations of great pain.  They feel, as a parent, they can’t talk about it in the church and they don’t feel supported by the church.” – Presbyterian minister

“This place is an embarrassment – people elsewhere are staggered by the petty mindedness – I’m getting out of here as soon as I possibly can.” – Young person

BACKGROUND

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK or Ireland which still bans marriage for same-sex couples, despite majority support among the public and in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

In November 2015, a majority of MLAs in the Assembly voted to support equal marriage, but the measure was blocked by the DUP using a Petition of Concern, a voting mechanism designed to protect the rights of minorities in Northern Ireland.

It is thought that at least 55 out of 90 MLAs in the Assembly support marriage equality legislation.

Earlier this months a Sky News poll showed 76% of people in Northern Ireland support equal marriage, with just 18% opposed.

EVENT

The launch of the report, ‘Civil Conversations on Marriage Equality’, will take place at 2pm, Thursday 19 April in Room 115, Parliament Buildings, Stormont.

Speakers will include event sponsors Máirtín Ó Muilleoir MLA and Doug Beattie MLA; report authors Marie Quiery and Paula Keenan; Clare Moore and Patrick Corrigan of the Love Equality campaign; Koulla Yiasouma, (NI Commissioner for Children and Young People – NICCY); Paschal McKeown (Age NI); and Antoinette McKeown (Sport NI)

ENDS

Civil Conversations full report available here