06:00Thursday 20 August 2015
The SDLP has been challenged over its stance on gay marriage, after one of its council leaders declined to toe the party line during a vote on the issue.
Despite the official SDLP policy of supporting gay marriage, its leader on the Causeway Coast and Glens council abstained on the matter on Tuesday night, and then refused to explain why when asked.
Sinn Fein accused the SDLP of trying to “ride two horses”, and revealed that it will soon bring another motion to Stormont asking MLAs to back gay marriage.
It will be the fifth such motion since 2011, something which the DUP described as a bid to “flog the same dead horse”.
On each occasion the matter has come up at the Assembly, MLAs have rejected it – with the most recent such rejection coming just four months ago.
When a pro-gay marriage motion came before a committee of Causeway Coast and Glens councillors on Tuesday, only one out of its three SDLP councillors was present – group leader Maura Hickey.
Asked why she abstained, Councillor Hickey politely told the News Letter: “I don’t wish to comment at this moment in time, if that’s alright.”
By contrast, the very same night the SDLP’s Newry branch was hosting a tribute event to PA Mag Lochlainn, a veteran gay campaigner who died in 2012.
When it comes to the differing approach shown towards gay marriage by SDLP members across the councils, Sinn Fein said last night: “Their hypocrisy on this issue knows no bounds…
“This is not the first time that the SDLP has attempted to ride two horses on the issue and their failure is another let down to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.”
When Sinn Fein’s criticisms were put to her, SDLP Causeway Coast leader Maura Hickey she said: “Again, I don’t wish to comment on it at this moment in time.”
She added that the other two SDLP councillors who could have voted at Tuesday’s meeting (Orla Beattie and Stephanie Quigley) had been on holiday at the time.
She would not comment on how they would have voted if they had been present.
The SDLP’s party headquarters said last night: “The SDLP remains committed to marriage equality with robust protection for faith groups.
“This is a matter for the Northern Ireland Assembly, where a majority of SDLP MLAs continue to vote in favour of the change.
“Since its inception, the SDLP has believed in the power of persuasion and we will continue to make the case for equal marriage and pursue equal rights for the LGBT community.”
Fellow SDLP Causeway Coast councillor Gerry Mullan said: “Obviously it’s a very, very emotive issue, and one people will have very, very strong personal views on.
“And whilst the party may have a line on issues, individuals at the end of the day are free, and given the freedom, to decide which way they want to vote themselves.
“So this is obviously a case of Maura having her own very strong opinions for either religious or moral grounds. And I am happy to support her and her own personal view, but it may not well reflect the position of the party itself.”
His own view is that he supports gay marriage.
Asked about Sinn Fein’s criticisms, he said: “They would say that. They’re playing politics with it obviously, as usual.”
Although the Causeway Coast motion supporting gay marriage failed, it will come back to the full council, possibly as early as next Tuesday.
At that stage all councillors – not just those from that one committee – can debate the matter and vote.
Meanwhile Sinn Fein’s pledge to bring the matter to Stormont yet again was derided by the DUP last night.
Chief whip Peter Weir MLA noted it had been voted down on each consecutive occasion it had appeared.
Mr Weir said: “It’s hard not to see this as a certain form of Groundhog Day, with people trying to flog the same dead horse.”
He noted that the make-up of the Assembly has barely changed since 2011, and added: “When something has been brought forward for the fifth time with the same people, I would assume the result would be the same.”
A series of questions were asked:
If YES, please give examples. If NO, please state why.
1b Please give any other examples of how your party supports LGBTQ visibility.
2a What is your party policy on tackling homophobia and transphobia through education and training in schools?
2b What is your party’s record in actively tackling homophobia and transphobia through education and training in schools?
3a What is your party’s policy on addressing the serious health inequalities faced by LGBTQ people?
3b What is your party’s record in actively addressing the serious health inequalities faced by LGBTQ people?
4a Does your party support Equal Marriage for same-sex couples in Northern Ireland?
4b What is your party’s record in actively supporting Equal Marriage for same-sex couples?
5a Does your party support the Conscience Clause? 5b What is your party’s record in actively opposing the Conscience Clause?
6a Does your party support a total ban on gay men giving blood?
6b What’s your party’s track record in opposing the blood ban for gay men?
7 Does your party have any LGBTQ-identified candidates standing in the 2015 General Election?
8 Does your party have any mandatory training or education for staff around LGBTQ issues? If NO, do you plan to change this? Please outline when.
9 Trans communities in the UK And Ireland have united to produce a simple three point manifesto that they
are asking all 2015 Election candidates to support or decline. It takes less than a minute to read and you can find it at www.transmanifesto.org.uk
Does your party support or decline the three main principles?
A few samples on the question “Does your party support Equal Marriage for same-sex couples in Northern Ireland?”
The SDLP supports the equal marriage campaign and we believe that civil marriage should be available to all regardless of sexual orientation.
Yes. Sinn Féin actively campaign for marriage equality north and south. Sinn Féin have put for- ward motions for marriage equality before the As- sembly and local councils across Ireland. Represent- atives from the Marriage Equality Campaign gave a keynote address at Sinn Féin Ard Fheis 2015 along- side elected representatives from Sinn Féin LGBT.
Yes. We support freedom of religion and freedom from religion. We believe that faith groups should be able to decide for themselves if they wish to solemnise same-sex weddings and this will work similarly to the recognition of divorce in the UK, whereby individual religious organisations can choose whether or not to recognise it or not, but it is state-recognised. We also support humanist groups being allowed to conduct same-sex marriages.
Yes/ Civil marriage should be available to same-sex couples on the same basis as different-sex couples. We do not believe that religious institutions should be required to conduct such marriages if they do not wish to do so.
No. The DUP is opposed to marriage for same-sex couples and tabled a petition of concern ensuring the motion for Equality Marriage was blocked under the Northern Ireland Assembly’s cross- community voting rules. They blocked Marriage Equality motions a total of three times in 2013.
No. Mike Nesbitt has stated that the party’s position on gay marriage was that it was a “matter of personal conscience”. Only one UUP MLA (Michael Copeland – Ed.) voted in favour of Equal Marriage. All others voted against or abstained.
No. TUV supports “traditional family values” in its most recent manifesto and is outspokenly opposed to Equal Marriage. They also call for Civil Partnerships to be abolished.
Yes. The Workers Party supports Marriage Equality.
No specific information. UKIP councillor David Silverster infamously claimed flooding in the UK in 2013 was God’s revenge for legalising gay marriage.
People Before Profit
Conservative Party of Northern Ireland:
No info available.
(N.B. ‘People Before Profit’ and the Ulster Unionist Party did not respond to the original survey questions. When we have them they will be uploaded and this post updated)
(Disclaimer: this survey was NOT conducted by Slugger O’Toole – we encourage any parties featured or not featured to contact us)
You can download the entire report here: LGBT NI Party Survey 2015 download