Tell us about the Love Equality campaign and how it came about
Love Equality is a consortium of six organisation – the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Amnesty International, NUS –USI as well as the three staffed LGBT+ organisations in Northern Ireland: The Rainbow Project, HereNI and Cara Friend. Together we are campaigning for the introduction of civil marriage equality to Northern Ireland. It’s a really powerful coalition because together the organisations represent hundreds of thousands of people across all demographics and walks of life in Northern Ireland.
What impact does the denial of equal marriage have on LGBT people in the north of Ireland?
Not having marriage equality has become a huge issue in Northern Ireland. Public opinion is massively in favour of same sex marriage and if you ask the majority of young people, they really can’t understand what the issue is. LGBT+ people face so many difficulties here and although being able to marry is only one of many inequalities, I think for many people, it has come to symbolise being treated as second class citizens. Many of my friends feel like their relationships and their families are less valued and there is palpable anger and frustration that rights that are available to all other UK citizens are being denied to them.
How did you personally get involved in campaigning on the issue of equal marriage?
The trade union movement played a massive part in the Marriage Equality campaign in the Republic of Ireland. So when it came to setting up a civil marriage equality campaign in Northern Ireland, it was clear that we needed to be involved. As the Equality Officer with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, I was the nominee onto the consortium. But It’s very much a personal issue for me too. Northern Ireland was the first part of the UK to conduct Civil Partnerships and my partner and I had ours in 2007. It’s really sad that 12 years later we have slipped behind so badly and rights that are just accepted as the norm across the UK and Ireland are still denied here.
What sort of support is there for LGBT rights among the wider community, do think this has shifted significantly in recent years?
I think support for LGBT rights has got better. Sure, there are still massive challenges, in schools, in public services such as health care and in workplaces but things are definitely improving in terms of public opinion. It’s such a pity that political opinion from some quarters hasn’t made the same shift.
And I think if you cast your eyes across the border to the Republic of Ireland, you can see how the Yes Equality campaign contributed so positively to making society so much more open and welcoming for everyone.
What would you say have you learned about the potential for change in society from campaigning?
The Love Equality campaign has been fascinating to be part of. First of all, being able to pull together such a powerful representative coalition shows that there is great strength in unity! It’s also been so heartening to see the public support from across all demographics. It hasn’t been an easy campaign and we have had to face lots of challenges, not least the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly just when we were about to introduce a Private Members Bill which had cross party support. For now, our focus is firmly on Westminster and we are really delighted at the support we have received by the likes of Conor McGinn MP and Lord Hayward (among dozens of others across all parties), both of whom have introduced Private Member’s Bills in the Commons and the Lords.
Are you optimistic about winning a change in the law?
Of course! Where would we be if we were not optimistic! The Government can change the law quickly and easily and ensure that LGBT people and our families in Northern Ireland are afforded exactly the same rights as our fellow citizens across the UK.
Clare Moore was on of the speakers at a one day conference cohosted by Irish in Britain and London Irish LGBT Network on LGBT Equality and Ireland past and present in November 2018. Read a report on the day here.