Northern Ireland activists renew push for LGBTI rights

By : Alex Cooper OF THE WASHINGTON BLADE, COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL LGBT MEDIA ASSOCIATION
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ABOVE: Lyra McKee, an investigative journalist and LGBTI rights advocate who was killed on April 18, 2019. Photo by International Journalism Festival via Wikimedia Commons.

The last few weeks have been busy for LGBTI activists in Northern Ireland.

Lawyers representing a man who sued a bakery after it refused to bake him a cake with a pro-same-sex marriage message on Thursday announced they will take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Gareth Lee, the man who sued Ashers bakery, told Phoenix Law in Belfast to take the case to the court, the firm said on Twitter.

The bakery in 2014 told Lee it could not make a cake that read “Support Gay Marriage” due to the owner’s religious views. The U.K.’s Supreme Court ruled the bakery’s refusal was not discriminatory.

The case that will go to the ECHR will argue the British court had not considered Lee’s rights under the European Convention of Human Rights, according to the BBC.

Ashers lost the first case and their first appeal. The bakery last October won an appeal from the Supreme Court.

Gay Irish prime minister spoke at Belfast Pride

The decision to bring the Ashers case to the ECHR is the latest development in the country’s LGBTI rights movement.

Northern Ireland over the last few weeks has seen the largest Belfast Pride parade, confusion over BBC’s role at that event and the passing of an amendment in the British Parliament that will legalize same-sex marriage. Northern Ireland will therefore become the last country in the U.K. to allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot.

Belfast celebrated what some have called the city’s largest Pride parade on Aug. 3. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, the country’s first openly gay prime minister, attended the event and spoke to the crowd.

“I always say the biggest parade that happens in Northern Ireland isn’t orange or green, it’s rainbow-colored,” Varadkar said, according to the Independent. ”It’s really great to see it today.”

BBC Northern Ireland distanced itself from Belfast Pride following complaints from some politicians that its initial involvement in the event showed bias toward same-sex marriage, thus violating its impartiality rules. The Guardian reported BBC workers had originally been told they could attend the Pride with BBC logos displayed openly.

BBC Northern Ireland in a July 24 email to staff said the outlet “will, for the first time, be taking part in Belfast Pride on 3 August alongside many organizations and members of the public.”

Jim Allister of the conservative Traditional Unionist Voice party, one of the politicians who criticized BBC Northern Ireland, said the outlet’s participation was “emphatically, unequivocally, unapologetically on the side of the political debate represented by the LGBT community” and the BBC was “very clearly declaring what its values are on this issue,” according to the Guardian.

In response to the confusion, Peter Johnston, the head of BBC Northern Ireland clarified it was a staff-led network called BBC Pride that would participate, not a group officially from BBC.

Writing to staff in an email, the BBCreported Johnston wrote, “None of this means that members of the BBC Pride network cannot be involved in Pride festivities in Belfast, but it does require BBC Northern Ireland to avoid creating the impression that it has a position on matters of political contention or controversy.”

Local media reported a 40-year-old woman who volunteered at a queer art space in Belfast and her male partner were attacked after Pride. Lyra McKee, a prominent investigative journalist and LGBTI rights activist, was killed on April 18 as she covered sectarian riots in the city of Londonderry.

Lyra McKee, photo by International Journalism Festival via Wikimedia Commons.

The British Parliament on July 9 voted to force the U.K. to allow same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland. The devolved nation is the only part of the U.K. that same-sex marriage is not legal.

The vote will hold as long as Northern Ireland is unable to establish a government by Oct. 21. Its government collapsed in 2017 after a coalition fell apart.

British MPs passed the amendment, introduced by MP Conor McGinn which was attached to a technical government bill by a majority of 383-73.

The vote came after a push by many in Northern Ireland for the British government to bypass the nation’s deadlock. In May, thousands took to the streets in Belfast in support of same-sex marriage.

John Penrose, an MP who serves as Northern Ireland’s secretary of state, warned about the issues that the vote could bring, according to the Guardian. The newspaper noted he voted in favor of the amendment, but Penrose cautioned marriages for same-sex couples may not be immediately available on Oct. 21 because of technical changes.

McGinn noted he hopes the devolved Northern Ireland Assembly would be back within the three months given by the amendment.

“But if Stormont [the Northern Ireland Assembly] still isn’t functioning by then, the LGBT community in Northern Ireland will know that Westminster will act to ensure equality and respect for all citizens, and finally give them the right to marry the person they love,” McGinn said, as reported by the Guardian.

Cara Mccann, project coordinator at the lesbian and bisexual-focused organization HERE NI told the Washington Blade at the time they were of course happy with the outcome. Here NI and other groups from Northern Ireland had been campaigning for a couple of years to get some legislation passed, including working alongside McGinn.

“We’ve been working and engaging with Westminster for the last year or two on different legislative cycles on how to get this through,” explained Mccann. “Our preferred option would have been Stormont to legislate on marriage equality but it’s been well over 900 days since we’ve had a functioning assembly.”

For Mccann, the idea of waiting until Northern Ireland has another government meant waiting too long. “How much longer do people in [Northern Ireland] have to wait to be treated as equals?”

And, Mccann said, they’ve essentially already won on the ground. It’s just the law that needs to be passed.

“We’ve won the hearts and the minds. We’ve taken people on that journey,” Mccann told the Blade. “And we’re still not treated as equals.”

Same-sex marriage became legal in England and Wales in 2014. Legislation passed in Scotland the same year.

Ireland legalized same-sex marriage back in 2015, becoming the only country in the world to do so through popular vote.

The Democratic Unionist Party, an ally of the Conservative Party in the U.K., has blocked previous attempts in Northern Ireland to legalize marriage for same-sex couples.

 

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