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.