Tag Archive | Northern Ireland

Graded Objectives in Modern Equality

Back in the early 1990s, I was studying for my GCSEs. The year before I sat my GCSE French exams, I sat another set of exams in French: a NISEAC Graded Objective in Modern Languages. The Graded Objective in French was essentially a GCSE-lite qualification. It was a subset of what GCSE French covered. After completing my GCSE in French, I never again used my Graded Objective qualification. It had been superseded.

In 2011, I formed a civil partnership with my now-husband. In 2016, I married him. Although the differences between a civil partnership and a marriage are much smaller than the differences between a Graded Objective and a GCSE, the situation is similar. The marriage supersedes the civil partnership.

Has my relationship with my husband changed? No, but the legal recognition of that relationship has changed. The differences between marriage and civil partnership depend on which jurisdiction you are talking about (here are some examples for Ireland, and here are some for England and Wales). For us, the key issue is that we are no longer “separate but equal”; we are now equal. In the eyes of the law, our relationship has exactly the same standing as the relationship between my best friend, Rob, and his wife, Emma. That equality in the eyes of the law is both driven by and a driving force for being seen as equal in the eyes of society.

Marriage and religion

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John and Andrew McFarland Campbell. Photo: Rob Moir

In 2011, we formed our civil partnership. The next day, we married in church. We are both Christian, and as such we wanted to get married in church. That ceremony had no legal standing, but it is the one that we regard as being the official start of our married relationship. In Northern Ireland, same-sex marriage is not currently legal, and there is a campaign to make same-sex civil marriage legal. That doesn’t go far enough, as the campaign apparently ignores people in same-sex relationships who want same-sex religious marriage. As well as being an issue of civil rights, marriage equality is an issue of religious freedom. In a country where an opposite-sex couple can choose to get married in a church or other religious venue (if the church or venue wants to marry them) but a same-sex couple can only be married in a civil, secular ceremony, there is still discrimination against same-sex couples, albeit significantly attenuated discrimination.

I believe that one day this discrimination will end completely, but until then we should all be aware that not everyone is allowed to progress beyond a Graded Objective in Modern Language.

Support for Equal Marriage in Northern Ireland

Liberal Democrats in Northern Ireland

The Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey recently asked

Do you think marriages between same-sex couples should or should not be recognised by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages?

57% of people surveyed agreed they should be valid, with only 32% saying that they should not be. That means that in Northern Ireland, nearly twice as many people support equal marriage as oppose it.

As a Liberal Democrat, I support equal marriage, and it is encouraging to see that there is such broad support for it even in Northern Ireland, which is traditionally a socially conservative part of the United Kingdom. It is common for Northern Irish politicians to oppose marriage equality on grounds such as “the people of Northern Ireland don’t want it”. Thanks to this survey, we know that this is not the case.

See also

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A New Ulster Covenant

It is just over a hundred years since the Ulster Covenant was signed. There was a small celebration of this in Belfast yesterday. Reading the text of the Covenant, I was struck by how powerful the language was: it talks about civil and religious freedom, and equal citizenship. These are issues that are at the heart of the marriage equality debate.

It may be because I have lived in East Belfast for my whole life, but it sometimes seems that there is strong opposition to equal marriage from the Unionist end of the political spectrum. This got me thinking. Can the fundamental principles of the Covenant be used to argue against marriage inequality as powerfully as they argued against Home Rule?

BEING CONVINCED in our consciences that continued marriage inequality would be disastrous to the material well-being of Northern Ireland, subversive of our civil and religious freedom, destructive of our citizenship, and perilous to the unity of the United Kingdom, we, whose names are underwritten, men and women of Northern Ireland, loyal subjects of Her Gracious Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, humbly relying on the God whom our mothers and fathers in days of stress and trial confidently trusted, do hereby pledge ourselves in solemn Covenant, throughout this our time of threatened calamity, to stand by one another in defending, for ourselves and our children, our cherished position of equal citizenship in the United Kingdom, and in using all legitimate political means which may be found necessary to bring about marriage equality in Northern Ireland. In sure confidence that God will defend the right, we hereto subscribe our names.

And further, we individually declare that we have not already signed this Covenant.

You can download a copy of this Covenant to sign and return to me for collation.