The arrival of gay marriage in Northern Ireland is an “inevitability”, and will happen within the next 10 years.
That is the view of the gay mayor of North Down, speaking after the Scottish Parliament voted to accept same-sex marriage.
It had been expected beforehand that the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill would go through, and in the event it passed with a landslide vote of 105 to 18 – which now means Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK (and possibly soon the whole British Isles) not to have gay marriage on the statute books.
But this will not last said councillor Andrew Muir, the Alliance Party mayor of North Down, who believes the Scottish vote will add impetus to the campaign here – although a top churchman voiced continuing unease about the idea of same-sex unions.
Speaking in the wake of the vote, councillor Muir said he was “not surprised” by the result; and when asked if it is a sure thing for the Province too, he was emphatic.
“Yes,” he said. “Northern Ireland will have it within 10 years. Whether it’s through legislation or through the courts. It’s an inevitability.
“I’m confident because I’m hopeful for Northern Ireland. I like Northern Ireland, and I know the people of Northern Ireland are very much progressive and aspirational for a new and inclusive future.”
He added: “This could be done within the next year if the Assembly stood up to the mark and said: ‘We value all people within our society equally’.”
When it was pointed out that there has not been sufficient political appetite for it so far, he said: “No. There hasn’t. But change happens.
“Who would have thought we’d have had the Good Friday Agreement? Who’d have thought we’d have had devolution? The DUP in government with Sinn Fein? Change happens. Things move on.
“I’ve seen things in my lifetime I never thought would happen, but have happened.”
The 37-year-old (who stands down as mayor in early June) has been openly gay since 1996.
A councillor for the last four years, he said the issue has not been brought up once by any of his constituents. His final thoughts on the Scottish vote?
“I think it provides us with, even more, an impetus for change,” he said. “It should be a motivator for us in Northern Ireland to build an inclusive and equal society for everyone – regardless of whether it’s lesbian and gay people, or other minorities, or women.”
But his take on the “inevitability” of gay marriage in Northern Ireland was challenged by senior churchman Norman Hamilton yesterday.
The former moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland disagreed strongly and said: “We obviously recognise the right of any legislature to legislate as it sees fit. But we remain unconvinced.”
He said they were “deeply disquieted” with the establishment of “new norms” in society, adding: “This is a huge social experiment. It’s certainly our view that the ramifications of this have not been fully explored or discussed in the public arena as they ought to have been.”
When it was suggested that the issue of gay marriage had received considerable public debate, he said: “But the ramifications haven’t. The reality of same-sex marriage certainly has, and the whole equality basis has, but the ramifications of this over the longer term haven’t.”
Asked if it is “inevitable”, the Very Reverend Hamilton, who is also convenor of the Presbyterians’ Church and Society Committee, said: “No – I don’t think it is inevitable. I mean, politics is politics. I think it’s hard to say that anything is inevitable in our part of the world.”