SDLP leader Colum Eastwood calls for petition of concern reform at the PinkNews summer reception in Belfast
Social Democratic and Labour Party leader Colum Eastwood called for reforms to Northern Ireland’s petition of concern rules at the PinkNews summer reception in Belfast, supported by Citi, on Thursday.
Eastwood was referring to the Democratic Unionist Party using the petition of concern vote to block legislation on same-sex marriage in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
“We are not all equal,” said Eastwood. “We can find a way where people can maintain their strong religious beliefs but move out of the way on this issue … reform the petition of consent.
“I would never ask anyone to compromise their position on the definition of marriage. but nobody has right to use a mechanism created to protect rights [in this way].”
Eastwood added that the SDLP “won’t stand over the fact that 50 percent of children who are LGBT don’t feel safe in school,” saying that the work to be done on equality in Northern Ireland extends beyond same-sex marriage.
This is the third of many regional receptions held by PinkNews to bring politicians and campaigners together to discuss achievements and shortcomings of Northern Ireland in terms of LGBTQI+ rights.
Eastwood, the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party since 2015, has been open about his support for same-sex marriage and told The Irish News in April about the discrimination his gay younger brother faces in Northern Ireland, which continues to be the only part of the UK with a same-sex marriage ban due to DUP opposition.
“It’s a dangerous thing for society to say you don’t count like the rest of us,” said Eastwood.
In light of the PinkNews reception and DUP leader Arlene Foster’s attendance, Eastwood told BBC NI’s The View programme last week that her party must change its view on same-sex marriage.
“They can turn up to whatever event they want, but until they get out of the way of marriage equality then people will not take them seriously,” he said.
At PinkNews summer reception in Edinburgh on June 20th, Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson celebrated the progress and change in LGBTQI+ rights that has allowed her to be the head of a political party and a pregnant lesbian.
“In my lifetime, people could be prosecuted for being in a loving, same-sex relationship… we’ve seen these same couples who could have been prosecuted now able to marry their partner,” she said.
“And if we look at societal change, it’s even greater than that – I’m standing here leader of political party, a pregnant lesbian, my office is full of bibs and babygros and baby products.”
Davidson added that things are not perfect, but the negative is outweighed by the positive change.
The PinkNews summer reception in Edinburgh also hosted Scottish Labour Party leader Richard Leonard, who focused on the importance of allies stepping up to fight against discrimination and demand equality.
“Just as women’s equality should not be fought by women alone, neither should LGBT rights: it’s for all of us to do that,” he said.
At the PinkNews summer reception in Cardiff, Carwyn Jones, the First Minister of Wales, discussed the importance of inclusive sex and relationship education.
“Too often we just assume the LGBT community know politicians are on their side,” he said.
The PinkNews summer reception in Belfast was supported by Citi.