Alliance should go on offensive on freedom of marriage

I did not contribute to Saturday’s debate and left before the vote was counted, but I was pleased to be able to vote in favour of the Alliance Party Council’s motion which passed supporting freedom of marriage.

This phrasing is important, as the motion had significant common ground with my own position, published on this blog, that the truly Liberal approach is to allow civil marriage by consent for any couples, while at the same time maintaining in law churches’ and other faith organizations’ right to choose who they do and do not allow to marry within their own property. Therefore, a balance is struck between two core Liberal principles – equality and religious freedom. As ever, the party allows differentiation from party policy as long as it is in a personal capacity – I myself, for example, never supported the introduction of the euro even when the party did (admittedly it hasn’t now for some time!)

The only thing I did not understand was why the party was not more forthright in promoting what was, in fact, an excellent motion – one entirely in line with its own stated (and electorally endorsed) commitment to “lead change”. If the party is concerned that this stance will cost it votes, it shouldn’t be – taking clear and principled lines is what the voters want; and one counter-intuitive point proved at election after election is that voters will reward this even when they themselves do not agree entirely with them.

Yes, the DUP will try to bash it but that will only further restrict it to a particular, increasingly minority “evangelical Christian” core (even that is harsh on the word “evangelical”) – most Christians will be content with a motion securing their rights to determine who they do and do not marry and frankly DUP attempts to suggest supporting gay marriage are as bad as deliberately creating tension around parades do it no favours among the vast bulk of the population; and of course few atheists will have difficulty with any two consenting adults marrying. Yes, Sinn Fein will try to argue they got there first but their position also means obliging the Church to conduct gay weddings – I wonder how that goes down with the bishops Sinn Fein still sees fit to run state-funded schools but apparently not their own churches. The SDLP is split straight down the middle on the issue; and as for the UUP, well, quite…

The fact is the Alliance Party now has the most enlightened and practical policy of any party on the subject. It should go out there and sell it – that is what “leading change” is all about.


28 thoughts on “Alliance should go on offensive on freedom of marriage

  1. edsimpsonni says:

    When you say the most enlightened of any party, I take it you mean Executive parties? As for the excellent motion: it is a good motion, especially as it’s pretty much the same motion the Green Party tabled at the Assembly last year.

    Also, maybe you can clarify if this is an enforceable policy or not. Talk of it not being subject to the whip kind of makes it pointless. Maybe that’s why Alliance aren’t going to do to much shouting on it – they know it’s a weak development.

    • I wasn’t even aware it was Green policy, so I have to ask why they have been so unwilling to sell it? I know of at least one Green elected rep elsewhere who voted against a motion on gay marriage and of a number of members in NI, including recent candidates, who have switched to Alliance. Perhaps that explains the shyness?!

      That there are those in wider society – no doubt including Green Party voters – who are less than comfortable with this policy is precisely why it needs to be sold.

      • Ed Simpson says:

        Who was the rep, Ian, and where?

        We tried our best to promote it, but as you know, unless we can attach an environmental spin to anything, we tend to be largely ignored by the media. We weren’t shy about it all. We asked Alliance (and SF/SDLP) for support for the motion and didn’t get it.

        I’m glad Alliance have started addressing the issue, but it is particularly galling to see them try and make out as if they were ahead of the pack on the issue all along.

        I’ll ask clearly because you may not have realised I was asking a specific question – is this policy subject to the whip?

        Also, can you clarify why the Alliance motion is so fundamentally different from the motion submitted to the Assembly, by Steven Agnew, that makes it so much more enlightened and practical?

      • Ed,

        This not only shows one Green voting against, but also expressly states the Green Party does not “whip”.

        I’m not aware that the Alliance Party really “whips” either in practice. I would expect elected reps would be entitled to speak against, as with any other policy, provided they were clearly doing so in a personal capacity, and provided they were not cheer-leading for opponents of party policy.

        I can’t find the text of any motion – the only reference I can find on the Greens NI web site to such a motion contains a quote from Stephen Donnan – who has subsequently left the Greens and joined the Alliance Party. Enough said, I think.

  2. Myra Zepf says:

    I couldn’t agree more! Alliance will only do themselves favours if they boldly promote liberal progressive policies (especially when they trample on the dinosaurs’ toes). They should shout it from the rooftops. That way, they would be a magnet for forward-thinking people, rather than a looking like scaredy-cats desperately clutching onto the fence for fear of falling off. (I’ve been shouting this at my radio and telly for years, but no-one has been listening….!)

    • Well indeed.

      I also believe it is the DUP who are currently fence-sitting on the basics of the Rule of Law. The Alliance Party, which always and uniquely among the five Executive parties stood for the Rule of Law no matter what, even during our darkest hours, should be leading the charge there too.

  3. The Listener says:

    Hm, Ian, If Alliance strongly promotes the right to “Marriage” between same sex couples, it will be interesting to see how their share of the votes go in the next, elections.

  4. paul says:

    ian this is a matter of personal conscious and freedom of ones own deed your own leader was against it not long ago and quite a few in alliance are still opposed to it its typical of liberals and alliance who no doubt will shout from the roof tops against anybody who is against same sex marriage and call them homophobic etc.I am against same sex marriage marriage is a union between man and women and i beleive cival partnership which gives same sex couples legal moral and equality and protections that for me goes more than far enough.people of faiths have a right of freedom of expression to be opposed to same sex marriage.alliance think that they are on to a winner i am afraid nothin could be further from the truth.

    • other paul says:

      If you feel that strongly about it, then don’t marry another man. But don’t deny homosexuals the same rights as heterosexuals.
      I do think that it is a little funny that someone with grammar as poor as you’ve shown above, chooses to post on the blog of a language pedant.

  5. mikey says:

    if you believe in freedom of marriage then it follows a brother and sister are free to marry, or two men and one woman etc etc

  6. Clare says:

    I commend Alliance for this bold and brave move.
    The fact is that equality is long overdue and in 20 years people will look back and wonder why it wasn’t done sooner.
    But for Alliance this will not be a vote winner. Recent surveys show that homophobia has actually got worse here. Let’s be honest it’s probably the most socially conservative place in Europe.
    Very brave of Alliance.

  7. mickey says:

    So you dont believe in freedom of marriage then for any couples, only those couples you approve of? Cant have it both ways

    ” that the truly Liberal approach is to allow civil marriage by consent for any couples”

    didnt take long to change your mind

  8. Clare says:

    I see your point Ian.
    As a matter of interest, how split is Alliance on this?
    I know Seamus Close was a vociferous opponent of civil partnership in Lisburn. He even tried to bann ceremonies there. Quite bizarre for an Alliance/Liberal based party representative.
    But is that view shared by many?

    • No, not really. The thing is, Seamus is a great advocate for whatever he believes in – more so than most in the party, I have to say. Which, again, is why this is no time for being meek and hoping no one notices!

      There is some concern about whether it harms the institution of marriage itself; and then there’s an ultra-liberal view that marriage should be none of the State’s business.

      The Portadown Times carries a figure of 80%+ support at the meeting – I was not aware that such figures were announced publicly, but that sounds about right from the debate.

  9. Clare says:

    That’s very interesting Ian, thank you.
    As the parent of a gay son I do have a particular interest in this subject.
    What about those who feel civil partnership gives equality in real terms anyway and there is no need for this?
    Surveys in the gay community show low support/ambivalence for gay marriage apparently.

    • I can’t reveal what was said or not said in a confidential meeting.

      Among people in and close to the party I spoke to, there were certainly some who made that argument. It is important to recognise that those who opposed the motion did so universally essentially on those grounds (added to the one or other of those I posited above). The majority of gay people I know, I would say, are also fairly relaxed about that.

      Personally, I came to the view that the civil authorities should not be at liberty to deprive a particular group of people of marriage.

  10. Ed Simpson says:

    Ian, we have resubmitted the exact same motion from last year here I look forward to the ‘most enlightened’ party giving the motion its support.

  11. Ian it is great to see the Alliance party catching up on this issue. I’m just concerned that the article in the Newsletter on Monday did seem to suggest that the Alliance are not going to be taking this policy forward into the Assembly. So therefore I hope they are enlightened enough to support the Green Party motion above.

    • Hi Stephen – I honestly think a motion to the Assembly would be putting the cart well before the horse – for the simple fact that even the combined SF/Green/Alliance vote (and the article made it clear you couldn’t even rely on that) would be nowhere near enough.

      Hence my article: the Alliance Party has to get out and sell what is an extremely good policy. Only then will politicians in other parties begin to react. Currently, the electorally safe thing to do is oppose it; that needs to change before a motion (or indeed legislation) would have any success.

      • Btw, I note the Green Party has now expelled the Cllr who opposed same-sex marriage on evangelical Christian grounds.

        Before anyone tries to excuse that, can you imagine if they had expelled a Muslim Cllr on the same basis?

        I would not wish to be associated with such a party.

  12. Another Opinion says:

    Oh, I had forgotten all about Alliance’s support for the Euro: another once modish opinion discredited by events.

    If you support something called “freedom of marriage”, on what grounds can you then confine marriage to just two persons? Why shouldn’t three or more persons contract a marriage? Why shouldn’t a consenting brother and sister?

    If you really believe in “freedom of marriage” then who are you to determine that what would make such a “marriage” worthless?

    You say your policy should balance equality and religious freedom. But the Christian opponents to gay marriage have learned opinion that the European Court of Justice is unlikely to permit any opt-out. Would Alliance accordingly withdraw its support for gay marriage if the ECJ ruled accordingly?

    I suspect Naomi’s fellow churchgoers at Bloomfield Presbyterian won’t be too impressed by her argument.

    • As I’ve already said, more than one devalues the institution; related people is a health risk.

      Churches are protected; that some people may knee jerk against the proposals on religious grounds is a reason for getting out and demonstrating how flawed those grounds are. After all, most of the same people opposed civil partnerships on religious grounds too – but the world hasn’t caved in.

      • mikey says:

        how does more than two devalue the institution? how can you have marriange freedom if you dont allow it to be free for all? how are related people a health risk? what if they declare not to have sex or one is sterilised, or they use other forms of birth control.

  13. The way to protect churches is to make them a non-statutory part of the process. Many other countries do not recognise church marriage, only civil. If you want an additional religious blessing, knock yourself out.

    The liberal position should be that marriage is a contract between two consenting adults, and should be treated as any other contract. If the state wants to extend benefits to next of kin, then extend them to all next of kin. We should be able to freely choose who our next of kin is, be that spouse, sister or randomer off the street. All this argument about who is entitled to get married is really an argument about who is entitled to special treatment. The real problem is that the state discriminates against unmarried people, therefore those people outside the marriage tent want to get in, and those inside want to pull up the ladder. The practice of bribing people to get married through tax breaks and special treatment is illiberal interference in personal affairs and should be ended.

    Marriage and sex are not the same thing. Incest will still be illegal on public health grounds.

  14. […] the party needed to do to promote its policy once its Party Council had passed it was set out here, and the last paragraph in particular now looks somewhat prescient; the broad issue of how […]

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