2014-APR: The third, latest, and probably last attempt also fails in the Assembly:
2014-APR-28: Roman Catholic Church in Northern Ireland is headed by Cardinal Sean Brady who successfully survived a fierce campaign to force him to quit in 2010 because of what Fox News called "... his role in pedophile priest cover-ups." 1
Cardinal Brady and six bishops -- sent a letter to each of the MLAs urging them to vote against the motion which would have started the process of passing a marriage equality bill. They argued that such a bill would apply the principle of equality inappropriately by equating same-sex to opposite-sex marriages. They said that marriage between men and women:
"... is a fundamental building block of society which makes a unique and irreplaceable contribution to the common good. It is therefore deserving of special recognition and promotion by the State. ..."
"We write to you today out of concern that the marriage equality motion undermines a key foundation of that common good. We say this not only out of religious conviction, but also as a matter of human reason. Religious and non-religious people alike have long acknowledged and know from their experience that the family, based on the marriage of a woman and a man, is the best and ideal place for children. It is a fundamental building block of society which makes a unique and irreplaceable contribution to the common good. It is therefore deserving of special recognition and promotion by the state."
"The proposed marriage equality motion before the assembly effectively says to parents, children and society that the state should not, and will not, promote any normative or ideal family environment for raising children. It therefore implies that the biological bond and natural ties between a child and its mother and father have no intrinsic value for the child or for society. As Pope Francis stated recently, 'we must reaffirm the right of children to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child's development and emotional maturity." 2
Their letter concludes:
"We ask you to reaffirm the unique value to children and society of the mutual and complementary roles of a mother and father, committed to a loving and life-long relationship to each other in marriage. We ask you promote the value of children being brought up, where possible and in their best interests, by their biological parents. We ask you not to undermine the principle of equality by applying it inappropriately to two fundamentally different types of relationship. We ask you to strengthen and support marriage between a woman and a man as a unique and highly valued institution of vital importance to the good of society. We therefore appeal to you to reject the forthcoming motion on what the motion describes, inappropriately, as 'Marriage Equality.'
The Catholic Church, with many other Christian Churches, regards marriage as a positive, joyful and life-giving institution that deserves special care and recognition." 8
Approximately 40% of the population of Northern Ireland are adherents to the Roman Catholic Church. The hierarchy of the Church are unalterably opposed to marriage equality. However, the laity strongly supports same-sex marriage.
The Church of Ireland, which is a province of the worldwide Anglican Communion, expressed their opposition by simply repeating the declaration issued by its General Synod in 2012:
"Marriage is part of God's creation and a holy mystery in which one man and one woman become one flesh. ... The Church of Ireland affirms, according to our Lord's teaching, that marriage is in its purpose a union permanent and life-long, for better or worse, till death do them part, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side. The Church of Ireland recognises for itself and of itself, no other understanding of marriage." 3,4
The Church of Ireland is the third largest denomination in Northern Ireland; about 15% of the population are adherents.
2014-APR-29: For the third time in 18 months, the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont voted to reject a motion to have the government prepare a bill that would extend marriage to same-sex couples. The motion was designed to make same-sex marriage a reality while preserving the right of religious groups to continue to freely discriminate against same-sex couples if they wish. The text of the motion says, in part, that the law would support:
"...freedom of religion by allowing religious institutions to define, observe and practise marriage according to their beliefs, granting them the freedom whether or not to conduct same-sex marriages." 5
The motion was defeated by a vote of 51 against and 43 in favor. This was little changed from the 2013 vote. The MLAs from the Sinn Féin, Social Democratic and Labour Parties generally supported the motion and appear to be in tune with the public's wishes; the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the Ulster Unionist Party opposed it and appear to be opposed to public opinion. A hot-button issue like same-sex marriage generates strong feelings among the public. Both of the Unionist parties might well lose market share at the next election because of their opposition to marriage equality.
The following video is a broadcast of 70 minutes of debate on the marriage equality motion:
During the debate, Megan Fearon of the Sinn Féin party said that equality is an:
"... absolute necessity ... [and diversity and inclusivity] should be our cornerstone. ... Gay people aren't looking for any more rights than straight people already have, they just want equal rights." 6
She also described as "insulting" the idea that a child needs a mother and a father "to have some sort of wholesome upbringing." 6
Paul Givan of the DUP party accused Sinn Féin of using the motion as:
"... a weapon to attack those who oppose their perverse interpretation of equality. ... [The motion] prioritises the demands of adults over the needs of children."
Mr Givan said marriage was a devolved issue on which the Assembly in Stormont could legislate and any judicial activism would be "a gross abuse" of that office and "a serious and fatal blow to the democratic legitimacy of the Northern Ireland Assembly."
MLA Colum Eastwood of the Social Democratic and Labour Party said it was not a nationalist or unionist issue. Polls show a "year-on-year increase in support" for marriage equality. He said:
"I believe strongly in marriage and I believe two people who love each other and are committed should be afforded recognition by the state."
The DUP tabled a "petition of concern"
which requires that the motion can only be passed if a majority of unionist and nationalist members, counted separately, agree. This blocks any bill or motion on this topic for the future of the legislative session. 4,7
DUP whip Peter Weir said:
"Same sex marriage is not an issue of equality or human rights, and the Northern Ireland Assembly is entirely entitled to take a view on the issue." 4
Wier also said:
""The DUP as a party support the traditional definition of marriage as one man and one woman, and we will use whatever parliamentary devices we have at our disposal to make sure that remains the case -- so we make no apology in taking a strong stand to defend marriage." 5
"Open letter from the Catholic Bishops of Northern Ireland to all MLAs re NI Assembly debate on 'Marriage Equality'," Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference, 2014-APR-28, at: http://www.catholicbishops.ie/