26/07/2012 06:41 BST | Updated 24/09/2012 06:12 BST

Equal Marriage Northern Ireland Responds to Ken Maginnis

2012-07-25-emnilogo.jpeg On Monday 23 July 2012 the Equal Marriage Northern Ireland Campaign stated they were disgusted to learn of the latest move by veteran Ulster Unionist Ken Maginnis in his opposition to marriage equality for same sex couples.

Lord Maginnis openly attacked a recent publication by the think tank Policy Exchange in an email over the weekend.

Arguing against the Policy Exchange report which states religious freedom should allow faiths to marry gay partners if they wish, and that religious bodies "should not be forced by the State to hold a same sex marriage ceremony on their premises", Maginnis said;

"Being a firm opponent of this perverse proposal - let the Government find its own way to cope with property and financial rights of people engaged in this way of life - I now find it necessary to campaign publicly against Policy Exchange, the wisdom of financing it by private sources and the dubious nature of its 'independence'."

Worryingly Maginnis seems to not yet be content by his previous display of unashamed prejudice against the LGBT community. In addition to his now infamous "rung on the ladder to bestiality" comment, he appears to have now geared up to actively campaign against the policy exchange group which, in effect, parallels to campaigning against basic equality in our society.

The EMNI campaign is still in its fledgling stages and has already gained support from a wide range of sectors within Northern Ireland. At the first meeting Anna Lo (Alliance) and Caitríona Ruane (Sinn Féin) delivered promising supportive speeches, which, coupled with the wider support within the community from heterosexual and LGBT sectors, only strengthens the position that favours opening up civil marriage to same sex couples.

Marriage Equality before the law should be a legal precedent in any tolerant shared society today; how can anyone suggest that the unifying love that is the same for all people regardless of gender, sexuality or creed is somehow perverse if expressed via a same-sex civil marriage? Love is a human experience not a political statement and as such Marriage Equality is a human right not a heterosexual or specifically Christian privilege.

Circular dinosaur rhetoric that plays off the fears, intolerance and ignorance of the public no longer phases the LGBT community as more are out and proud than ever before. As Barack Obama has said "Religious freedom doesn't mean you can force others to live by your own beliefs". Secular society is supposed to protect the rights and freedoms of all equally.

I would like to appeal to the Ulster Unionist Party along with all its members to deal decisively with Lord Maginnis and join Basil McCrea and John McCallister at the Belfast Pride Festival which begins this Friday (27th July 2012) culminating with the Parade itself on August 4th this year.

Being proud of our diversity is what Pride celebrates while also serving as a reminder of how difficult the struggle for equality and rights can sometimes be; this is why any campaign must be in it for the long haul.

To impart some friendly advice on Lord Maginnis I would say that it is much easier to convince the public that he is "not homophobic" if he refrains from public outbursts of intolerance such as his implicit suggestion that homosexuality or what he negatively referred to as "this practice" is somehow abhorrent, unnatural and ought to be prohibited.

What people sharing the views of Lord Maginnis refuse to acknowledge is the far reaching and damaging results that such bigotry can cause and has indeed caused, when relayed to the public as a matter of fact: It has been documented that creating such a hostile environment puts the health, well-being and safety of those who identify (publicly or privately) as LGBT seriously at risk.

Homophobia is on the rise in Northern Ireland and the role of public figures such as Ken Maginnis and Edwin Poots in this should be scrutinised. The Equality Commission NI recently published a survey into social attitudes and discrimination in Northern Ireland that alarmingly found a quarter of people would object to having a gay or bisexual neighbour and four in ten would object to a close relative forming a relationship with a gay or bisexual person.

Irrational hatred that promotes discrimination against the LGBT community must come to an end swiftly if our society is to progress forward. Until such time as Homophobia levels dramatically fall and our society adopts genuine equality as a basic legal precedent that includes same sex marriage, we dare not claim to honestly reflect a liberal democracy in its best sense.

I thank the Policy Exchange for supporting Equal Marriage and hope to extrapolate more support within a Northern Ireland context. The domino effect is already taking down barriers with Belfast City council standing as a beacon of Equal Marriage to all others after recently passing a motion in support.

You can follow the Equal Marriage Campaign's progress on Twitter or for further information contact their team.