Behind the times

Once again Northern Ireland politicians have shown themselves to be unequal to the challenges of government, with the rejection of a same sex marriage bill in the Northern Ireland assembly.

The bill, which had the support of the two main nationalist parties was brought down by an unholy alliance of the Catholic Church, evangelicals, and unionist politicians of all parties. With legislation passed in England, Wales and Scotland, this is further proof that the the phrase United Kingdom is a contradiction in terms.

It it cannot be right that people in one part of the UK are afforded equality under the law, while others are not. Β This is an abuse of human rights, and unsustainable.

There is no evidence that the people of Northern Ireland are less enlightened than their counterparts in the rest of the UK. Attitudes have changed, but not among the political class. How is it than only a handful of unionists were brave enough to vote against the tribe?

With its roots in evangelical Protestantism, the opposition of the Democratic Unionist Party is not surprising. But the Ulster Unionists? Scared perhaps of it being used against them electorally, they appear to have taken the line of least resistance.

Nationalist politicians, whose roots are in conservative Catholicism, supported the bill. They have made a journey. It is difficult to comprehend why their Protestant/unionist counterparts have not been able to do so too. Ordinary unionist men and women have.

Northern Ireland’s regressive approach extends further than same sex marriage. Sexual health and women’s health are both areas where politicians have found it difficult to face up to their responsibilities.

This decision needs to be challenged, and if politicians cannot treat gay men and women with the dignity they deserve, the courts must ensure they have justice.