By Richard Angell
Owen Smith, the shadow secretary of state for Northern Ireland, has a plan. He says that if Northern Ireland is to have a sustained period of unwelcome direct rule, he favours putting marriage equality and abortion to referendums so that Westminster can feel empowered to make change happen.
The shadow Northern Ireland secretary is right to want to see progress on both these issues – it is appalling that the people of Northern Ireland do not have the same equal marriage laws or reproductive rights as their fellow citizens in the rest of the United Kingdom. For the avoidance of doubt, our preference would be for the institutions to get back up and running as soon as possible. It is a tragedy that the UK government isn’t working harder to achieve that because of the survival pact Theresa May has signed with the DUP. Direct rule is bad for Northern Ireland for a whole range of reasons.
Owen Smith is right to say that if the parties of Northern Ireland cannot get their act together and restore power-sharing government then direct rule, however undesirable, must be used to make progress on LGBT and reproductive rights.
But he is wrong to say that referendums are necessary to give a mandate for change. For one, thing they are not required. Unlike in the Republic of Ireland, where these were constitutional questions, a referendum is not needed to change the law for either marriage equality or abortion. They are the preserve of legislators. Some will look to Australia. But the reason for the “consultative ballot” in Australia was a total failure of leadership, and should neither be indulged nor repeated.
The people of Northern Ireland have already had their rights on equal marriage denied because of the Democratic Unionist party taking advantage of the makeup of the previous assembly to abuse parliamentary procedure. Every poll shows that there is clear majority support for equal marriage in Northern Ireland.
Therefore Westminster, and particularly Labour’s front bench, should not be saying that there needs to be another public vote to provide a mandate. Members of the UK parliament already know that if the Northern Ireland assembly was up and running, such legislation would get majority support and the voters would overwhelmingly welcome it.
So if the parties of Northern Ireland cannot sort themselves out and form a government then the UK parliament must act now without delay, without the division of a public vote unleashing the worst sort of politics.
In Australia the LGBT community opposed the postal ballot on their civil rights because you should not have to ask the permission of your neighbour to be equal.
As in Ireland, the campaigns against same-sex marriage indulged homophobia and exploited homophobic tropes about LGBT people seeking to “recruit” young people. Some insinuated that homosexuality was a gateway to paedophilia. Others did much more than insinuate. In Melbourne, Stop The Fags posters appeared and then went viral with images of children cowering under a rainbow-coloured hand. This is what referendums do. They divide cultures, generations and families. They force LGBT people to come out to gain basic civil rights, not at a time of their choosing. For some it was liberating – for others, the consequences continue.
I fear a referendum on abortion would undoubtedly descend quickly into a vicious debate.
Having engaged in these debates on university campuses – places that pride themselves on being liberal-minded – I have witnessed first-hand how quickly they can sour, with accusations of “baby killers”, of women using abortion as contraception and other inflaming distortions.
In Northern Ireland, such a retrograde step is not necessary. Instead, we should work to build a majority in the assembly to legislate for the rights of women in Northern Ireland, impressing on the parties there that this is a human rights issue.
We need only look to Stella Creasy’s important victory earlier this year, enabling women from Northern Ireland to access abortions in England on the NHS, to see how cross-party parliamentary support can be won. It can – and must – now go further.
As it stands in Northern Ireland, women with the resources to travel to Britain to access an abortion can do so, while those who do not must carry on with an unwanted pregnancy or pursue an unsafe and unlawful procedure. Women in Northern Ireland should not have to cross the Irish Sea to access medical care that is their right.
The DUP have made clear their demands for a single UK regulatory framework: politically, economically and financially. Perhaps we can begin with social parity. That would ensure our citizens in Northern Ireland have the same reproductive rights and LGBT rights they deserve, the same as everyone else in Britain.
Published on The Guardian on December 19, 2017
By Colin Packham and Tom Westbrook
Australians have voted overwhelmingly for same-sex marriage, paving the way for legislation by the end of 2017 and sparking rainbow celebrations on Wednesday, with people wearing wedding dresses and sequined suits and declaring "our love is real".
Australia will become the 26th nation to formalise the unions if the legislation is passed by parliament, which is expected despite some vocal opposition within the government's conservative right wing.
Thousands of people in a Sydney park broke into a loud cheer, hugged and cried as Australia's chief statistician revealed live over a big screen that 61.6 percent of voters surveyed favoured marriage equality, with 38.4 percent against.
Australian Olympic swimmer Ian Thorpe, who came out as gay three years ago, said the result was a huge relief.
"It means that the way you feel for another person, whoever that may be, is equal," Thorpe told reporters at the Sydney celebrations.
The voluntary poll is non-binding but Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull immediately said he would fulfil a pledge to raise a bill in parliament with the aim of passing laws by Christmas.
Turnbull played down concern of a split in his coalition government over the policy as the conservative faction presses for amendments to protect religious freedoms that discriminate against same-sex couples.
"It is unequivocal, it is overwhelming. They have spoken in their millions and they have voted overwhelmingly yes for marriage equality," Turnbull told reporters in Canberra after the survey results were announced.
"They voted yes for fairness, yes for commitment, yes for love."
A marriage equality bill was introduced into parliament later on Wednesday.
The result marks a watershed moment for gay rights in Australia, where it was illegal in some states to engage in homosexual activity until 1997.
"It's a g'day. Way to go Australia," tweeted U.S. TV host Ellen DeGeneres, who is married to Australian actress Portia de Rossi in the United States.
Almost 80 percent of eligible voters took part in the survey - a higher turnout than Britain's Brexit vote and Ireland's same-sex marriage referendum.
Mark Barry, 59, wiped away tears as he took in the result with his partner of 35 years, Gerrard Boller.
"I know a celebrant who is going to be very happy about this," Barry told Reuters.
Irish-born Qantas Airways Chief Executive Alan Joyce, one of the few openly gay business leaders in Australia, told the Sydney crowd, many of whom sheltered from the sun under rainbow umbrellas, that the result was "an amazing outcome" and urged Turnbull to move quickly on legislation.
Turnbull has been under pressure amid a citizenship crisis that has cost him his deputy and the government's majority in parliament and political analysts said the resounding "yes" vote presented him with his first opportunity in months to exert decisive control.
Nick Economou, a political scientist at Monash University, said Turnbull "should feel emboldened by the result and this is the sort of thing he has been looking for to show some assertive leadership".
The 'no' campaign had sought to leverage powerful religious organisations in a survey campaign that was criticised by some in the 'yes' camp as divisive and aggressive.
Catholic Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher said he was "deeply disappointed that the likely result will be legislation to further deconstruct marriage and family in Australia".
On the strength of the "yes" vote, conservatives dropped a plan for a competing bill that would have allowed private businesses to refuse services like wedding cakes for same-sex weddings by objecting on religious grounds.
Published on Reuters on November 15, 2017
A landmark ruling by Taiwan’s highest court means it is close to becoming the first in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage, Amnesty International said.
On Wednesday, judges in Taiwan’s Constitutional Court ruled that the country’s current marriage law is unconstitutional as it discriminates against same-sex couples. The judges have given lawmakers two years to amend or enact relevant laws.
“The judges have today said yes to marriage equality. This is a huge step forward for LGBTI rights in Taiwan and will resonate across Asia,” said Lisa Tassi, East Asia Campaigns Director at Amnesty International.
“Lawmakers must act swiftly to ensure Taiwan becomes the first in Asia to make genuine marriage equality a reality.”
A draft bill on same-sex marriage is currently being considered by Taiwan’s legislature. Amnesty International urges lawmakers to legalize same-sex marriage in Taiwan, on the same basis and with the same rights as marriage between couples of different sex.
“As today’s ruling makes clear, whoever you love, everyone is entitled to the same human rights and equal protection under the law,” said Lisa Tassi.
“Amnesty International activists across the world will continue to urge Taiwan’s government to say yes to equality.”
In April this year, Amnesty International activists from more than 40 countries sent messages of support urging Taiwan to “say yes” to marriage equality.
Published on AI's website on May 24, 2017.