Homophobic Hounds of Ulster
Lord Maginnis's anti-gay stance is typical of Protestant intolerance
WHAT IS IT about many of Northern Ireland’s Protestant politicians and clerics? Why are they so negative and intolerant about matters of sexuality? And why do they reserve their special bigotry for homosexuals? Why, in brief, are they so hard on gays?
In modern times it probably goes back to Ian Paisley and his ‘Save Ulster from Sodomy’ campaign launched in the late 1970s to prevent the decriminalisation of homosexual acts in the province. They had been decriminalised a decade earlier in England and Wales, but the change in law did not apply to Northern Ireland. In 1975 the Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association was established to campaign for equivalent legislation for Northern Ireland and Paisley’s campaign was an attempt to scupper it.
In 1981 the European Court of Human Rights found that the British Government was in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights by refusing to decriminalise homosexual acts between consenting adults in Northern Ireland. So, despite Paisley’s campaign, homosexual acts in Northern Ireland were decriminalised in 1982 under Direct Rule, fifteen years after England and Wales.
Yet homophobia did not disappear from some Ulster Protestant politicians’ statements. In 2007 Ian Paisley Jnr told a magazine that gay people ‘repulse’ him and harm society. In 2008 Iris Robinson claimed on Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show that homosexuality was an ‘abomination’ and it made her feel ‘sick’ and ‘nauseous’. Later, she told a parliamentary grand committee that homosexuals were worse than paedophiles: “there can be no viler act, apart from homosexuality and sodomy, than sexually abusing innocent children”, she said.
Most Protestant politicians in the province also opposed civil partnerships until it was a fait accompli. Now, in 2013 many are saying that they support it but not gay marriage. Lord Maginnis went further. He returned to the old intolerance on 13th and 14th June 2012 on the Nolan Show when he called homosexuality ‘unnatural and deviant’ and a ‘rung on the ladder’ to bestiality. He also claimed that Northern Ireland was ‘coming down’ with gay parades. This was a puzzling remark, given that there are actually only two or three, whereas, according to the Parades Commission, in 2007 there were 483 Loyalist band parades, 452 Orange Order parades, 231 Apprentice Boys parades and 167 Royal Black Institution parades (not to mention all the 'nationalist' parades, of which there are also hundreds).
A slightly more indirect approach to bigotry is taken by Edwin Poots. In 2008, as Minister for Sport, he attacked the formation of a gay rugby team in the province on the grounds that he couldn’t fathom why people saw the necessity to develop an apartheid in sport. He’s a subtle man, our Edwin. As Minister of Health, he has refused to follow the rest of the UK in relaxing legislation on the donation of blood by gay men. Poots has stated that he will uphold the ban, despite the fact that Northern Ireland accepts blood from other parts of the UK. In February he told the Belfast Telegraph that blood donations from prostitutes are less dangerous than those from gay men.
Having dug this hole, he then tried to climb out of it by lumping them all together: “I think that people who engage in high-risk sexual behaviour should be excluded from giving blood”. He specified “someone who has sex with somebody in Africa or sex with prostitutes” as examples (Belfast Telegraph, 18th June 2012).
Poor Africa! What a continent of sex-mad savages it is! Having insulted gays, he then adds Africans and effectively anybody who indulges in casual sex to the black list of those who might contaminate the pristine pure Ulster blood banks.
What is it about these Ulster Protestant politicians that makes them so bigoted and intolerant? Do they suppose that their rigid ethical code makes them better and more respectable than the rest of us? If they do, then they are blind to a world that has moved on from their killjoy, loathsome and repressive sexual morality.
Are they perhaps transferring their own guilt or concealing their own ambiguities? Was Iris Robinson hiding her own adulterous shame by claiming homosexuality was an ‘abomination’? Then there was the case of James Kilfedder, the Unionist MP who voted every time against legalising homosexuality yet had skeletons in his own gay closet. The reek of the scent of hypocrisy certainly emanates from the homophobic hounds of Ulster.
A recent report by the Equality Commission notes that prejudice and bigotry against gay people have reached ‘startling’ levels in Northern Ireland. They were reacting to an Equality Awareness Survey which found that negative attitudes in Ulster towards gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have increased over the last six years. The report was compiled during a snapshot of opinion in September last year. More than a quarter of 1,000 people surveyed (27%) would mind having a gay, bisexual or transgender person living beside them – 10 percentage points more than six years ago. Around 42% of those surveyed said they would be unhappy if a gay person became their in-law – a 14% rise since the last similar survey in 2005.
The Equality Commission said the findings provided a ‘worrying insight’ into the psyche of Northern Ireland’s population. But who set the example? It is of course the political and religious leaders, with their nasty and intolerant ethical creeds, derived from misconceived notions of Christianity which portray an unloving and censorious God who deserves less worship than contempt. Meanwhile, the Belfast Pride Parade, one of the few cross community festivals in Northern Ireland, takes place on Saturday 6th July 2013.
The latest development is that on 3rd July 2012 Belfast City Council became the first local authority in Ireland to pass a motion in support of gay marriage. It was passed by 21 votes to zero, but all DUP and Ulster Unionist councillors left the chamber before the vote. The 21 votes comprised Sinn Fein and SDLP councillors plus one Alliance councillor. The other Alliance councillors abstained. Yet again, the Protestant politicians are appearing to the world as backward and intolerant. It's time they joined the 21st century.
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