So, as anyone with even a passing interest in Politics (or has caught any of The Stephen Nolan show recently) knows, the Northern Ireland Assembly has now debated Equal Marriage and rejected it, albeit by only a small majority. Much may well be written about the debate, about certain contributors, about certain non-contributors and about homosexuality and homophobia in general. I, however, want to write about the process first because, for me at least, yesterday was a small victory for the democratic process.
That may seem an odd claim to make, considering the way that the DUP perverted (I can use that word, too, Jim Allister) democracy with their use of the petition of concern which ensured the motion could only pass if a majority of both nationalists and unionists supported it. I still stand by it though, and here is why: The motion was brought to the house by the Green Party. The smallest party in Stormont.
Yes, it wouldn't have gotten to the chamber without Sinn Fein adding their support and selecting it for debate, but I am convinced that Sinn Fein wouldn't have done so (or at least not at this point in time) where it not for directed lobbying by Steven Agnew MLA, Green Party activists, LGBT activists & voters. Remember - the Green Party tabled this motion last February and it sat there, waiting for others to support it until the Assembly term ended. When Sinn Fein started their campaign of getting councils to vote on motions in support of Equal Marriage, it gave us an opportunity to say to Sinn Fein "well, if you'll debate it at council, why not at the Assembly". To their credit, they clearly listened and did just that.
The motion from Steven Agnew came about after the 2011 Green Party conference. As is the norm, motions were proposed by members and one of those motions was that the Green Party 'vigorously campaign and, where possible, vote in support of Equal Marriage'. The motion was overwhelmingly carried and, as such, became policy. Policy that became a motion tabled in the Assembly. Policy which saw us put the question to Sinn Fein. Policy which eventually secured the debate and vote in the legislature responsible.
So consider that. One member, from the smallest party in the Assembly, brings a motion to their party conference and what follows is a process that ends up with that motion debated (and nearly passed) at the highest level. Now consider what would have happened had the motion been something not as controversial, nor as divisive. That motion may well have been passed by the Assembly. The Executive would then have to consider how to respond to will of the Assembly, and that may result in the eventual change that was sought.
All from one member, of one party, with one motion.
No, it's not always easy, but if you have the will and you believe in your cause, it is still possible to effect change, even in our form of democracy.