The Northern Irish political process can be frustrating at the best of times, but this week, our politicians have truly outdone themselves. In a sickeningly regressive move which ignores both UK-wide consensus and burgeoning international impetus, 51 MLAs voted against a motion for the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, with 43 in favour.
We should not need to have this conversation. Homophobia is rife not only in our schools, workplaces, streets and homes, but now it is bolstered by those whom we have elected to act ostensibly in our best interests. Couples who do not identify as heterosexual have been denied the right to participate in an institution that all others, including most of our esteemed legislators, take thoroughly for granted.
Whether they agree or not, this IS homophobic.
"But why do you even WANT to get married?" is the question often levelled at gay couples. Let me be clear: the fact that you are asking this question demonstrates how privileged you are to have been born heterosexual. Why do YOU want to get married? Is it so that you can express your commitment to your beloved just like everyone else, perhaps? Enter into a socially celebrated institution accepted universally as a symbol of union between consenting adults, maybe? Civil partnerships were a step in the right direction, but separate is not equal. The freedom to marry whomever I want is something I should not have to fight for.
As ever, social networking has proven itself to be something of a double-edged sword when it comes to issues like this. The innumerable vitriolic tirades plastered across newsfeeds are enough to induce spleen-rupturing fury. Some of my favourite 'arguments' include: "Semen is so people can reproduce, not for anal cleaning fluid" and "Guys, you can only play the 'poor me' card for so long. It ain't gonna happen! Sorry".
The smiley emoticon attached to the end of the sentence above was perhaps the most infuriating part. HAHA LOL discrimination!
Let's take a moment to unpack those moronic statements, Northern Ireland. Firstly, do not reduce my sexuality down to intercourse. I'm more than happy to never think about you having sex, so please feel free to extend the same courtesy to me. Marriage does not have to be about reproduction, and those marriages which fail to produce an heir do not automatically disintegrate. Perhaps you've been watching too many period dramas. Many heterosexual couples who choose not to have children, and indeed those who cannot, would be inclined to agree. Secondly, nobody is playing the 'poor me' card. As long as there are bigots telling me what I can and cannot do based on my sexual orientation, I'll keep on being pretty angry about it. You go off and marry whomever you like and I'll do what I'm told like a good little second-class citizen, right?
Particularly appalling was the behaviour of our Unionists. The Ulster Unionist Party permitted their members to a 'conscience vote' which served merely to decentralise accountability away from the party leadership. Unsurprisingly, of course, the Democratic Unionist Party were against the motion from the beginning. In one of their most repugnant moves yet, they tabled a petition of concern to ensure that they could veto the Assembly's decision. Petitions of concern were instituted by the Good Friday Agreement to ensure that communities could be protected through voting based on weighted majorities. The DUP subverted this consociationalist mechanism to their own prejudiced ends, serving to nullify the debate before it began. But then, I don't suppose we could've expected much more from the party whose members have sought to prevent gay men giving blood, suggested gay people be 'cured', conflated homosexuality and paedophilia, and who wished to 'Save Ulster from Sodomy' in 1976 by campaigning against the decriminalisation of homosexuality.
Just a quick reminder - this party currently holds a majority in our devolved administration. Disgusted? We have that in common.
The motion proposed could not have been more reasonable: religious bodies and celebrants would not be coerced into conducting same-sex ceremonies. Oh, and if you're worried about how same-sex marriage will affect you as a heterosexual, here's the answer: it won't. Religious freedom does not bestow the right to restrict the sovereignty of others; both religious bodies and politicians in Northern Ireland would do well to remember this.
Moving forward, LGBT+ people in Northern Ireland will continue to challenge the status-quo. There is more work to be done across the UK, but especially in the six counties I know and love. If you have to ask why we're fighting for an equal footing or why we want change, then frankly, your opinion is best reserved for irking your grandchildren over dinner or for your Ukip election materials.
Homophobia is endemic in Northern Ireland, it is disgraceful that our elected representatives are part of the problem.