Every once in a while in this life we encounter persons who have extraordinarily empowering characteristics, such people show true leadership, conviction of character and a certain dedication to the individual and collective rights of others which I believe should be welcomed in today's society with open arms. Unfortunately more often than not those who stand out in a crowd are rarely given the respect deserving of their actions.
One such person who comes to mind when looking at those values is a Northern Irish politician called Basil McCrea, who last week bravely stood out alone in the Northern Ireland assembly on the 1 October 2012 as the only member of the Unionist community to articulately speak in favour of a motion that called for full marriage equality in Northern Ireland.
Basil McCrea MLA for Lagan Valley
The motion itself was defeated in the Assembly, after being introduced jointly by the Green Party and Sinn Fein, it was sadly revealed that the DUP had tabled a petition of concern which effectively gives the party a veto on anything in the assembly which it is determined to block.
Despite this setback for marriage equality in Northern Ireland, the overall outcome of the day was exceptionally positive given the robust debate that took place on the issue itself. Indeed it was the efforts of McCrea himself that took him from being totally alone on the matter earlier in the day to having two of his party colleagues, Danny Kinahan and Michael Copeland, also voting in favour of the motion in the afternoon vote.
Interestingly McCrea used his platform to deliver a speech that attempted to explain the position he believes should be taken on the issue not only to his own community in the assembly but his wider audience and constituents.
It would be accurate, having been present on the day, to state that McCrea is attempting to get the message across to the wider public that this is a matter of individual rights. He fully recognises that the matter of gay marriage is a difficult subject with many members of his own community who "feel deeply uneasy about it" but he firmly believes that someone needs to speak out.
"I want to live in an open, tolerant and pluralist society that celebrates diversity, accommodates difference and protects individuals who happen to be different", said Basil McCrea
Throughout his speech to the assembly McCrea utilised principles that we can all relate to in one shape or form, which for me again is a very unambiguous and robust method of putting a point across. After all those who do not wish to live in such a society described by McCrea, are not people who tend to believe others should even have the basic equality engendered in the universal declaration of human rights.
Interlinking different liberation issues for what I think is the very first time on this type of topic in the Northern Ireland assembly McCrea went on further to state quite rightly that "You do not have to be black to oppose racism or female to speak out against domestic violence, and I do not have to be gay to reject prejudice, misinformation and bullying." Which I know from reactions to his speech was warmly received by a wide variety of communities in Northern Ireland.
As a matter of clarity I think that the public should understand an analysis of McCrea's position on marriage equality in the context that we live in the United Kingdom as part of a largely secular democracy.
I am certain that it is not necessary to detail the full complexity of what a secular democracy entails but a crucial point would be to discuss that in any democracy the will of the majority should be felt whilst also providing robust protection for minorities to ensure that they do not suffer any form of discrimination or abuse from said majority.
Ironically this is in part the reason for the existence of the petition of concern which the DUP felt the need to misuse on this motion.
"I am surprised that the DUP has felt the need to present a petition of concern on a matter that should really be a free vote." - Basil McCrea MLA
Commenting on the fact his support for minorities is not restricted or limited McCrea also gave a very particular view of the institution of the church as he stated he believes that "churches, practising Christians and other religious faiths also have rights" and that regardless of denomination the church is an important institution in society.
This puts value to the idea of genuine religious freedom and another part of McCrea's speech adequately deals with the point of this aspect that many people cite as a reason to oppose marriage equality for the LGBT community.
A point I wish to draw attention to is where it was said that "marriage can change to accommodate society". Which again in my view cannot be understated. A fact of our society is that throughout history we have witnessed the institution of marriage both in legal and religious terms, change quite radically, in order to accommodate the society of the time period.
People tend to fear change, which is why scare-mongering by influential people always results in a certain factions of our society strenuously opposing any modernisation that would actually strengthen and benefit society if reviewed in hindsight.
Removing racism from our legislation created a stronger, more tolerant society just as giving women the vote created a far more robust democracy for our citizens to take an active role in which is what Basil is always very excited about - he likes to see people engaged with politics.
Politicians who show true leadership deserve to be listened to and this is why I write this blog post now so that people can hear the voice of Basil McCrea in plain terms and either agree or disagree, appreciate or not appreciate what he views as an attempt to create a better place for all of us in Northern Ireland.
LGBT rights are a cross community issue in Northern Ireland and we should seek to fully understand the meaning behind the words of certain politicians who support full equality in our society even for groups we may staunchly disagree with personally. Changes that are being proposed will only strengthen our position on equality and will finally prove without a doubt that certain institutions before the law can be changed within a social context to accommodate our modern society.
A full copy of the transcript from the motion can be found Here
A video of McCrea's address to the Northern Ireland assembly can be seen below: