As I was making preparations to go to my first ever Party Conference, I stumbled upon an advertisement for a fringe event that took me by surprise. It was a DUP champagne reception at our party conference. My shock gave way to antipathy. I could not comprehend why a political opponent were allowed to hold a reception at the Conservatives annual conference. My main issue, as I’ve explained previously, is that the DUP has repeatedly blocked legislation in Northern Ireland to allow same-sex couples to marry.
But then an idea formed in my head – this could be a great opportunity for me to express my views. So I decided to take advantage and attend the reception and ask Arlene Foster the (potentially awkward for her) question on everyone’s lips.
As I arrived at the reception, the queue was, quite disappointingly, very long. But then again it was held at lunch time, when most conference delegates would be developing a thirst, and who can say no to the promise of free champagne? So after about 10 minutes of waiting, we get in and are greeted by Ian Paisley Jnr, an MP steeped in controversy. Confirming to myself that the alcohol was real (something I though was against DUP policy), I made my way to prime position to question the speakers. Throughout the entire speech same-sex marriage was not mentioned once; Not by Arlene Foster. Not by Nigel Dodds. Not by Jeffery Donaldson. Not even by James Brokenshire who voted in favor for allowing equal marriage in England and Wales. Each speaker talked endlessly about the importance of the Union which led me to wonder when would these people understand? We are a part of the United Kingdom. We are the same as England and Wales. We deserve the same rights.
Foster was understandably flocked with questions when the speech is over. I greeted her gracefully and got down to business. I had one question. “When are same-sex couples, living in Northern Ireland, going to enjoy the same rights as other same-sex couples throughout the British Isles?” I was told that we already do have the same rights. That a civil partnership is good enough. That we don’t need marriage.
She spoke as if she didn’t care.
Not addressing same sex marriage in Northern Ireland is a huge oversight on the DUP’s behalf. Attending Pride earlier on this year it was clear to see that the LGBT community in Northern Ireland is now more confident than ever and we’re not prepared to watch the rest of our great nation gain equality and not demand it for ourselves.
Although I was appalled that the DUP were allowed to hold a reception at our conference, I know the Conservative Party does not share the same backwards politics they do. This is 2016 and it’s time Northern Ireland caught up with the rest of the United Kingdom. We may be a whole ferry ride away, but we will not be a whole century behind. Although the party may not be perfect, (Theresa May, I’m looking you), we champion opportunity in a way that the parochial parties do not. And it’s the perfect home for anyone wanting to fight for their right to marry.
William is the Campaigns Officer for Conservatives for Liberty Northern Ireland
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty