50,000 souls taking to the streets to celebrate “Pride”. In Belfast. A place where LGBT rights are presented by some as contested. It was breath taking.
Afterwards I met two friends, a wonderful couple, who were skipping and jumping. They kept saying “50,000”, “can you believe it”, “all the young people”, “so brilliant”. They were breathless with joy. No wonder. They had done the hard miles. The days of only a few activists walking the route – they say they nearly ran the route because of the hostility and fear. They withstood the name calling, the disgusting laws that denied their rights, or even their existence. To march in “Pride” back then was to march in defiance with a courage few can boast. They earned their right to walk in “pride” last Saturday and beam from ear to ear as everywhere from the Kremlin bar, to the NIO office, to Primark was bedecked in rainbows. We owe those pioneers a great deal.
Their long journey to last Saturday demonstrates why rights for one really is rights for all. We all benefit from the freedom of others. That young people now, really don’t care what someone’s sexuality is, how it is expressed or what it is called, is a breaking of chains some of us didn’t even realise existed. That this liberation goes hand in hand with a definitive understanding of respect, and dignity, and safety in relationships is equally uplifting. Their rights truly are our rights.
But the delight and the celebration last weekend is tempered. My two wonderful friends cannot marry. My city, my land, will not let them marry. And the tiny minority that prevent this marriage are cosseted and feted as though this is a legitimate politics. When it is not.
The DUP’s vote in the Westminster election does not translate as a vote against equal marriage. We all know that. But even if it did, it is still a minority position. But even then, rights should not and cannot ever be a 50+1 game. Rights are always about minorities. If that was not the case then the extermination of Jews in Europe would have been legitimate because the Nazi party had a majority of votes. Rights can never be viewed in the context of numbers.
Right now, we live with the ignominy of living in a rights free zone, as a result of the political purpose of the DUP, whether for Irish language speakers, victims of the conflict and LGBT citizens. That has not changed one iota since the institutions were brought down by Martin McGuinness last year.
Imaginative solutions, or constructive ambiguity simply won’t cut it for the thousands from those communities and those that support them. Their simple rights-based, law-based demands sit outside the arena of nods and winks.
In some ways this position is about so much more than those issues though. Are we content that the Good Friday Agreement, based on Rights Conventions, would be so subverted as to mean that rights are the sacrifice that must be made to allow for power sharing? The answer is obviously no. And of course that’s why the institutions aren’t up. And how could I look my friends in the eye if I said otherwise? Saturday’s celebration and the courage that led to it demands we stand firm.