Columnists

Allison Morris: On same sex marriage, DUP knows that change is coming

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's visit to Gay Pride events in Belfast on Saturday is a near-nightmare for traditional DUP minds. Picture by Peter Morrison/PA Wire.

Last Saturday the sun beamed down as an estimated 15,000 people took to the streets for Belfast Pride.

Not all those people were members of the LGBT community, some were family members of those who are, some were friends there to show their support for equality and of course to have a really good time.

While Pride means different things to different people it is essentially a protest – a protest that came from the New York, Stonewall riots of 1969. It has evolved over the years into a celebration and is about as close as Belfast will ever get to a carnival or fiesta.

The Stonewall riots over persecution of patrons of the Stonewall Inn, in New York's West Village shocked a still conservative America. In 2016, President Barack Obama designated the site a national monument in recognition of the area’s contribution to gay and human rights.

Last week I hosted Pride Talks Back, a political panel made up of representatives of five main political parties were questioned about all manner of issues. The DUP were absent having declined an invitation.

The issues discussed extend beyond access to same sex marriage and included healthcare, education and workplace discrimination.

While there was much discussion in the mainstream media last week about the PSNI marching in uniform for the first time, a transgender audience member revealed she'd been the subject of a hate crime on the way to the venue.

However, she added that when she rang the PSNI they were extremely helpful and sympathetic and that she'd found a massive change in attitude for the better in how the police deal with hate crimes.

This was also demonstrated by the testimony of an older audience member who said back in the 1970s he carried a card with details of his rights if he were arrested, he now carries a card telling him what to do if a victim of hate crime.

This positive change explains why when asked every single person in the audience agreed the police marching in Pride was a welcome development.

As was the increase in the number of older family members who participated in Pride this year, supporting sons, daughters or grandchildren.

This support from an older generation, people who grew up in a troubled and ultimately conservative Ireland was evident during the same sex marriage referendum in the south.

A vote that passed because of the support of mums, dads, grannies and grandads across Ireland's 26 counties, and this in a place where it would have been impossible to separate Church from state just a generation ago.

The above examples show people can and do change, that social attitudes change, that politics changes.

The DUP MP Emma Little Pengelly tweeted on Saturday morning 'Best wishes to all my friends & constituents celebrating today – all should be able to live a proud life free from hate, abuse or persecution'.

Now that tweet makes no mention of Pride or LGBT rights and the DUP press office when pushed wouldn't even confirm what it was about, but given the timing it's easy to assume it was about the parade.

Some people immediately assumed Mrs Pengelly was on a solo run, going against her party's hardline stance and continuing use of a petition of concern to block same sex marriage.

However, more likely the party have cleverly positioned the younger MP to deflect from those like Jim Wells who resigned from the National Trust because the charity participated in Pride.

People like Wells and former DUP health minister Edwin Poots, who refused to drop a senseless gay blood ban, have become something of an embarrassment since the party's new found position of influence with Theresa May's Conservative Party.

The party's outdated stance on social issues has been uncomfortable for the Tory party, with headlines in the UK tabloids screaming about a 'Coalition of Crackpots'.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire had a rainbow flag flown at Stormont House on Saturday morning, a very clear message on where his party stands.

Arlene Foster is a not a stupid woman, she knows she has to modernise but also that it needs to be done slowly, without angering the faithful Bible belt supporters.

Mrs Pengelly, elected in south Belfast, a diverse and progressive constituency, has nothing to lose politically by making small gestures to the LGBT community and the party will have identified that.

Change is coming and the DUP know they can no longer stop it.

This sudden change in language from some party members is about political power and survival and Emma Little Pengelly is - in my opinion - not being brave but simply following orders.

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