OPEN LETTER TO JUSTICE MINISTER - International Coming Out Day

Justice Minister Claire Sugden
Justice Minister Claire Sugden

Open letter to Claire Sugden MLA

Dear Miss Claire

I write to you upon reflection of the recent National Coming Out Day with great concern for the message that is being sent to the young LGBTQ people of Northern Ireland. Whether they see themselves as British or Irish; Unionist or Nationalist, they look to the rest of the British Isles and they see England, Scotland and Wales having legalised equal marriage; they look to Ireland and they see a traditionally socially conservative country that voted, against the odds to legalise equal marriage.

How unfortunate then, that we see the pitiful situation that exists in Northern Ireland, where a single cohort of so-called ‘Unionists’ insist of breaking away from the rest of the United Kingdom on this issue and perverting the use of the Petition of Concern to subvert democracy and strengthening Northern Ireland’s position as the illiberal centre of the British Isles. Having ‘Come Out’ at the age of 15 and meeting my fiancé at the age of 17, I remember thinking that we would not have the opportunity to marry in the near future. How surprised I was when David Cameron announced that, against the strongly held views of many of his own backbench MP’s, he would hold a free vote to pass the Same Sex Marriage Act. However, with Northern Ireland being our home, we, and many others, have no wish to travel to another part of the British Isles only to return and have our marriage effectively downgraded.

Contrary to popular rumour at the time, the sky has not fallen down upon us; God has not blighted us with floods (despite the accusations of one UKIP representative) and civilisation has not descended into anarchy. What has happened is that couples, no matter whether they are heterosexual or homosexual have been allowed to enter into a sacred bond that signifies their dedication to one another.

With this in mind, you may be wondering why it is that I write this open letter to you. As I am sure you are aware, following May’s elections and your appointment as the Justice Minister, you hold a considerable amount of influence in the Executive. You stood in the last election on a platform that was pro-equal marriage and I would urge you to make use of your considerable influence in order that the Assembly be given a chance to vote on this matter and let the motion pass should it, as last time, receive a simple majority of MLA’s voting in favour.

When the Executive needs you to be onboard or run the risk of another election, perhaps there is scope for convincing the DUP to avoid misuse of the petition of concern and allow parliamentary and representative democracy to function as it was intended. Should Stormont vote to reject equal marriage on a fair basis, where the vote is not rigged to fail from the get-go, perhaps it may be less difficult for the LGBTQ community to stomach than the knowledge that, no matter how our MLA’s vote, the Bill would fall.

David Cameron acknowledged in his resignation speech that one of his greatest achievements in government was “enabling those who love each other to get married whatever their sexuality”; would it not be a great addition to your many achievements so far in your political life to be able to say that you were instrumental in bringing Northern Ireland in to line with the rest of the British Isles, in leading the way in LGBTQ equality across the world?

Stuart Canning

East Londonderry Conservative Association Chairman