THE BLOG

Time to End the Gay Bans in Northern Ireland

26/06/2015 17:45 BST | Updated 26/06/2016 10:59 BST

Saturday's Pride London parade will be led by flag-bearers highlighting the freedom struggles of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people worldwide - including in the nearly 80 countries that still criminalise same-sex relations.

Close behind them will be the Peter Tatchell Foundation contingent, which will focus on LGBT inequality much closer to home.

We will be protesting against homophobic legal discrimination in Northern Ireland: the ban on same-sex marriage, the lifetime prohibition on gay blood donors and the planned 'conscience' Bill, which would permit religious people to discriminate against LGBT people in the provision of goods and services.

Northern Ireland is the most homophobic region of the UK and one of the most homophobic regions of the EU. This intolerance is stirred primarily by the dominant Democratic Unionist Party, the main political wing of Loyalist protestantism. Its policies on gay issues echo the homophobia of the BNP and European fascist groups.

Many Northern Irish people are not homophobic. Even within the DUP, there are members who would not discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. But senior party figures hold sway and they dictate an anti-gay agenda.

The DUP is not the only anti-gay party in Northern Ireland but it is the major one. Its block vote in the Stormont Assembly has been pivotal in four times vetoing the legalisation of same-sex marriage; denying Northern Irish gay couples the right to marry the person they love.

For more than 40 years, DUP politicians have enforced discrimination against Northern Ireland's LGBT community. They backed the total criminalisation of homosexuality, with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. The DUP fought against the partial decriminalisation of gay sex in 1982; and spearheaded a vicious "Save Ulster From Sodomy" campaign that demonised and vilified LGBT people.

The party's strident anti-gay agenda led to its MPs voting in the House of Commons against every LGBT law reform of the last 16 years. They trooped through the lobby to vote in favour of retaining the legal right to discriminate against LGBT people in the military, education, adoption, employment, age of consent, housing, IVF treatment, transgender recognition, criminal law and professional services.

Successive DUP Health Ministers have maintained a lifetime ban on gay and bisexual blood donors; acting against the medical advice that led to the easing of the ban in England, Wales and Scotland.

For many years the DUP opposed the right of same-sex couples to adopt children. They also resisted the introduction of civil partnerships and the holding of LGBT Pride parades in cities like Belfast.

It is currently backing a proposed Freedom of Conscience Amendment Bill, which would allow religious people to discriminate against LGBTs; including denying them service in B&Bs, shops, and leisure facilities.

Not surprisingly, many of us see the DUP as the Northern Irish equivalent of the BNP. Not Nazi, but very, very nasty.

For more information about the Peter Tatchell Foundation's human rights work, to receive our email bulletins or to make a donation: PeterTatchellFoundation.org