Just hours after an enthusiastic launch attended by hundreds of people, Northern Ireland’s newest political party found itself backed into an extraordinary cul-de-sac in a debate over polygamy.
NI21, launched by former UUP MLAs Basil McCrea and John McCallister in a blaze of publicity on Thursday night, was last night attempting to clarify its position on multi-partner marriage after comments from Mr McCrea.
The Lagan Valley MLA was drawn into apparently supporting the legalisation of polygamy – though Mr McCrea later said that was not the case – after being pressed about his support for gay marriage during a live interview on BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show.
With the exception of Burma, polygamy is only legal in some African and Muslim nations.
Quizzed about his views on gay marriage, Mr McCrea told the programme that “the state has no place in deciding who should or should not get married”. Asked then, whether by that logic the state should stop one man and two women marrying, Mr McCrea said: “The state is trying to look at what individuals want to deal with.”
Asked again about whether the state should prohibit polygamy, Mr McCrea said: “There’s an issue here with what type of society that you actually want to have and our view is this: democracy is made up of individuals, people that vote for things that matter.”
Mr Nolan interjected to say “you’re ducking the question”, something Mr McCrea denied, adding “[if] you take any issue to the extreme, you can always reduce it to an absurd question”. After being repeatedly pressed to make his position on polygamy clear, Mr McCrea said: “It is none of my business how people choose to live their lives in complicated relationships, which is what’s happening in our society now ... it is not the business of the state.”
He added: “It is none of my business, it is for individuals to decide what goes on in their houses; I do not see it as any particular affront to democracy but those people that want to take a moral stance or a religious stance, that is a matter for their churches.”
When asked if the party policy would be to legalise polygamy, he said: “It would not be an issue that we would be concerned about; it is a matter for people’s individual conscience.”
Mr McCallister said that he had not heard the interview but that “we’re not going to redefine marriage in that way [polygamy]”, suggesting that Mr McCrea was instead referring to non-married multiple-partner relationships.
Basil McCrea was drawn into discussing polygamy after it emerged that the party had changed its position on gay marriage before being launched. Just three months ago, John McCallister said that the party would not take a position on same-sex marriage, treating it as an issue of conscience, as happens with the major Westminster parties. But yesterday Mr McCrea said that the party would support gay marriage. Mr McCallister told the News Letter that he was happy with the party’s support for same-sex marriage and said that its “up front” position made it easy for people to decide whether they wanted to join. He said that church and state should be separate but churches must be “protected”.