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Pride Is A Protest - And A Celebration Of How Far We've Come

17/08/2017 13:26 BST | Updated 17/08/2017 13:26 BST
Charles McQuillan via Getty Images

As with all Pride events, Belfast Pride was a bright, loud and colourful festival of fun. A collection of political parties, drag queens, trade unions, families, small businesses and everything in between. A richly diverse mix of thousands of people coming together to support and celebrate the LGBTI community in Northern Ireland.

For the first time, uniformed officers from the Police Service Northern Ireland (PSNI) and their counterparts in the Republic of Ireland, An Garda Siochana, marched together in the parade. It was a powerful display of solidarity and respect and the crowd along the parade route cheered and applauded loudly.

That afternoon, an MP from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) - notably absent in the parade - tweeted best wishes to her friends and constituents who were celebrating adding that everyone should be able to live a proud life free from hate, abuse or persecution. Presumably, Emma Little-Pengelly was talking about Pride and the LGBTI community, although there was no explicit reference to either and she has since declined to comment on it publicly. However subtle or guarded her remarks, all expressions of support are to be welcomed but the LGBTI community want more than the well intentioned best wishes of their local MP, they want equality.

In 2013, I married a man from Northern Ireland. We regularly travel backwards and forwards visiting family and friends but, when we get off the boat in Belfast, we are no longer recognised as a married couple. The LGBTI community in Northern Ireland do not enjoy the same basic civil rights as their neighbours in the rest of the UK and Ireland despite public polling showing support for equal marriage as high as 70%. The Northern Ireland Assembly has already voted in favour of equal marriage but legislation was blocked by Emma Little-Pengelly's party who used a veto designed to secure cross community support. Not only are the DUP standing against the will of parliament and popular public opinion, they are standing against a progressive change that seems almost inevitable as equal marriage legislation sweeps across the western world.

I suspect DUP leader, Arlene Foster, and I have a different view of what homophobia is but she has strongly denied that she is homophobic. She may not be abusive or outwardly anti-LGBTI but not throwing stones hardly makes you an ally. I have never heard an explanation for the denial of equal marriage rights to same sex couples that is not rooted in discrimination. Opponents expect LGBTI people to live by their private religious beliefs in a two-tier system based on sexuality. That may not universally qualify as homophobia today but I doubt the history students of tomorrow will see it the same way. As a society, we keep having to relearn the lesson that being in the majority does not give us the right to keep down the minority.

What effect does a same sex marriage have on anyone who is not in one? In parts of the USA, it was still illegal to marry someone of a different race until 1967 and, not so long ago, a marriage between a Catholic and a Protestant in the UK and Ireland would have caused an upset in both communities. Thankfully, things have moved on and equal marriage is just the next step in that journey. It is time for the DUP and others to decide which side of history they want to be on.

That is why Pride is so important. President Trump's ban on transgender soldiers serving openly in the US military is a reminder of how easily our hard-fought rights can be lost. Pride is a celebration of how far we have come but it is also a protest. We must continue to stand in solidarity with LGBTI people at home and around the world if we are to make it a happier, safer and more equal place to live for all of us.

Ged Killen is the Labour MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West