Opinion: Arlene Foster Supports Equality, But Only Her Own Version Of It

Opinion: Arlene Foster Supports Equality, But Only Her Own Version Of It

Northern Ireland decriminalised homosexuality long before its Southern sister. In '93 the Republic of Ireland finally decrimnalised same-sex sexual activity, ten years behind Northern Ireland.

Since then the Republic has become one of the most liberal countries in the world, the first country in the world to vote in favour of marriage equality by popular vote. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, Northern Ireland's attitudes towards LGBTQIA people have stagnated and have made it one of the most homophobic places in Europe.

Northern Ireland's fifth attempt to pass a bill to introduce same-sex marriage passed, marginally. The DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) vetoed the vote using a petition of concern. A petition of concern is used when the acting party feels that the minority is threatened - in this case, it was religious beliefs about marriage.

Last night Arlene Foster, the leader of the DUP, attended the PinkNews summer reception at Stormont and openly declared that she defined nobody by their sexuality but wished to have her views on marriage respected.

I wanted to acknowledge the contribution of the LGBT community in Northern Ireland and to recognise the reality of diversity among our citizens. I wanted to recognise that some of our brightest and best in this country are part of the LGBT community. I wanted to send a clear message from this event, that we are all someone’s child and we are all a valued part of this wonderful place we call home. Just because we disagree on marriage does not mean that I don’t value the LGBT community... It is not a zero-sum game. All I ask in return is that my, and our views, are also respected if not agreed with.

Immediately following her closing remarks, a number of people declined from clapping or celebrating her chosen words.

The problem is, as a politician whose purpose is to work for the will of the people, Foster's personal views take mandate. In the days following the repeal of the Eighth, In an interview with Sky News Foster returned to her own beliefs as a reason for the DUP to not legislate for abortion: "I have a right to hold a different view to others, that's called tolerance,". Ironically, Foster enjoys the concept of tolerance for herself.


Foster continues in the interview to say she feels Ireland's conservative minority has now become "the disenfranchised, who feel very alone". Foster fails to see that the Christian conservatism she upholds will remain with her and those around her if same-sex marriage or abortion is legalised.

Let's go back to basics. Nobody is forcing Arlene Foster to have a same-sex marriage or an abortion, she is still free to judge others and her personal beliefs will not be compromised. She has a choice. She can continue to build a sanctuary of conservative values around her and those who want to join her in NI.

Instead of working on the equality of choice, Arlene and the DUP are choosing to disenfranchise those who have never had a voice in society, the people who remain alone - cast out by their families, demonised by their religious beliefs and fired from their jobs for being who they are.

During her speech at yesterday's event, Foster referred to her experience witnessing a school bus bomb in Fermanagh back in 1978, the PinkNews event coincided with the anniversary. Foster spoke about how people on that bus were all equal at that moment and the emergency services did not discriminate.

Sexuality is for each individual. The value of each of us should not be based on whether we are heterosexual or homosexual. Just as thirty years ago, all the children on that bus were equal so too is everyone in this Great Hall this evening. Whilst we disagree, this does not prevent us from finding common values to keep Northern Ireland moving forward.

Foster's experience of the bombing in Fermanagh is, without a doubt, personally traumatic. But to use her own experiences of trauma to marginalise a group of people already traumatised daily by bigoted attitudes is, frankly, disturbing.

As pressure mounts from the Republic and the United Kingdom, both countries with progressive and liberal attitudes to LGBTQIA people, Foster's grasp will slip.

No doubt, one day soon, Foster and her peers will walk alongside a Pride float in NI. It might be because of pressure from Theresa May or because of 'heartbreaking' story that resulted in a change of heart but, until this moment, the DUP are responsible for the traumatic implications of inequality on the people of Northern Ireland.

Compassion is a key part to any role as a politician and if you're only compassionate about your own beliefs then you're essentially useless to democracy.

Also Read: People Are Protesting The Popes Visit By Claiming Hundreds Of Tickets To His Mass

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Garret Farrell

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