NI business leaders back campaign for marriage equality

John O'Doherty, director of The Rainbow Project.

Some of Northern Ireland’s biggest businesses have voiced their support for the campaign for marriage equality.

MORE: DUP MLA Jim Wells warns NI firms who back gay marriage

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK and Ireland which still has a ban on same-sex marriage, despite a widely-supported campaign for the legislation to be changed.

Now a group of business leaders and employers from across the Province have signed an open letter expressing their support for the extension of civil marriage in Northern Ireland.

Several of the Province’s major employers, including Citi, PwC, Deloitte, BT, Allstate, Coca-Cola, Liberty IT, Bank of Ireland and Ulster Bank, have signed the ‘Businesses for Love Equality’ letter.

It states: “We, the undersigned write to express our support for the extension of civil marriage in Northern Ireland. As employers we encourage and welcome diversity and inclusion in our workforce and recognise the rights of our lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender employees to be themselves and to live and work, free from discrimination, prejudice or exclusion.

“A diverse, outward-looking and inclusive society is essential to create a vibrant and competitive economy and a prosperous future for Northern Ireland. To achieve that goal, we believe our people should have equal access to the same rights, entitlements, responsibilities and freedoms enjoyed elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

“As employers, striving to attract the best talent to Northern Ireland and to retain the skilled employees we already have, extending equal civil marriage in Northern Ireland makes sense to us. Equality contributes to an environment of creativity and excellence where our LGB&T staff feel able to bring their whole selves to the workplace and where their relationships will be respected.”

John O’Doherty, director of The Rainbow Project and member of the Love Equality consortium said: “While many of the arguments for equal marriage are based on rights and equality, there is also an important economic argument.

“Businesses and employers across Northern Ireland are in competition for excellence with other employers across the UK and Ireland. There is a sound economic argument for marriage equality. Equality, diversity and inclusion contribute to a happy and productive workforce and can help in attracting global talent to Northern Ireland. However, without full legal recognition of same-sex marriages retaining and attracting talent can be difficult. The brain drain from Northern Ireland is a recognised fact and it is important that we reflect upon all of its causes, not least of all the fact that Northern Ireland remains the only part of these islands not to recognise equal marriage.”

Claiming that “three-quarters of people here want to see marriage equality introduced”, Mr O’Doherty continued: “There has been no devolved government in Northern Ireland for almost 18 months. Responsibility for marriage equality legislation now sits squarely with the UK government. How much longer do ministers think LGBT+ people in Northern Ireland should have to wait to be treated equally?”

One of the signatories, Leigh Meyer, Managing Director of Citi Belfast, commented: “Marriage Equality is an important right that we need to secure for all in Northern Ireland. I am proud that we in Citi Belfast are at the forefront of these collective efforts to ensure that it is approved and respected in our increasingly diverse and inclusive community.

“As one of the largest employers in Northern Ireland we want to make our company as attractive as possible to every single part of the population, to give people a reason to want to work for us and to work with us.”

Sandra Wright, senior HR manager with Ulster Bank Limited, added: “At Ulster Bank, we pride ourselves in being a truly inclusive and diverse organisation for and colleagues and customers. We want to do what we can to ensure our customers, colleagues and the LGBTQ+ community in Northern Ireland have the same rights extended to them as the rest of the UK and Ireland.”

In November 2015, a majority of MLAs voted to support equal marriage, but the measure was blocked by the DUP using a petition of concern.

The party said its policy remains that it supports the current definition of marriage.

The Love Equality campaign for equal civil marriage in Northern Ireland is led by the Rainbow Project, Amnesty International, Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Cara-Friend, NUS-USI and HereNI.

Here’s what some of the other ‘Businesses for Love Equality’ signatories had to say...

• Paul Terrington, PwC Northern Ireland regional chair and head of UK regions - “As a major UK business, we recruit talent regardless of gender, ethnicity or orientation. Extending equal civil marriage to Northern Ireland is important to our people and to reinforce our UK-wide commitment to be a welcoming equal-opportunity employer.”

• Andrea McIlroy-Rose, Head of Office at Pinsent Masons - “At Pinsent Masons we value the diversity of our people, and we believe they should be treated equally, both at work and in their personal lives. The business case for marriage equality is compelling, both in terms of retaining and attracting talent, and also to send out a message to international investors that Northern Ireland is a modern, outward looking economy, with a progressive attitude on personal freedoms and rights.“

• James Richards, Executive Director, Baker McKenzie Belfast - “At Baker McKenzie we believe that all LGBT+ people in Northern Ireland should have the same marriage rights as the rest of the UK. Here in Belfast, we have a well established LGBT+ network and are pleased to be joining other leading companies to send a powerful message, encouraging others to respect and support the LGBT+ community.”

Jackie Henry, Office Senior Partner, Deloitte - “As a socially responsible global organisation operating within Northern Ireland, it was an easy decision to add our name to the Open Letter for Marriage Equality. Our support is in line with our core values of Diversity, Respect and Inclusion, and we hope that this campaign will have a positive impact on our people, their families and the wider Northern Irish community. It was quite simply the right thing to do”.

• Petre Sandru, Country Manager, Coca-Cola Ireland - “As one of the world’s most inclusive brands, Coca-Cola celebrates diversity, inclusion and equality. This commitment not only manifests itself in our advertisements, but also in our daily operations. At Coca-Cola, we know that creating an environment where everyone can reach their full potential, regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, ability or socio-economic background, is key to driving businesses forward. We also believe that everyone has the right to be themselves both outside and inside the workplace, which is why we support this important initiative.”

• Cathy Donnelly, Senior Director of Talent, Liberty IT - “Taking action to support equal marriage demonstrates our continued commitment to fostering diverse and inclusive workplaces globally, where all employees and customers feel valued and respected.”

• Wendy Close, HR Business Partner NI, Bank of Ireland UK - “Bank of Ireland is proud to support the LGBT+ community in ensuring the same opportunities are available to all. Our commitment to inclusion, diversity, respect and equality extends to all of our customers and colleagues, and the communities we serve.”

• Darrach Teague, Head of Operations with CPL Solutions Ireland - “At Cpl we recruit regardless of orientation, religion, gender or ethnicity and we want all of our people to feel they can bring their whole selves to work and reflect this in their personal lives. We strongly feel equal marriage rights should be available to all in Northern Ireland and add our support to this letter.”

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