Gendered Intelligence’s Policy lead, Cara English, grew up in Belfast, and reflects on what news laws on equal marriage and abortion in Northern Ireland mean to her and other LGBTQ people.
On the 21st October, the political parties in Northern Ireland failed to restart the Assembly (our devolved parliament), allowing for a cross-party Westminster bill on equal marriage and legalised abortion to come into place.
Despite certain Northern Ireland Assembly members’ last minute effort to sit in session and have the law fall at its final hurdle, the power-sharing agreement that is the bedrock of NI politics meant that – with Sinn Fein unwilling to act against its ostensible human rights agenda – Northern Ireland will soon have equal marriage and bodily autonomy laws.
This has been a very long time coming and as such it has been strangely difficult to navigate the apprehension and the jubilation. I decided to go home to celebrate, as I’d missed the chance to do so when the Republic of Ireland voted to equalise the law in 2015. When you grow up a little pudgy, working class child from the third most deprived constituency in the UK, you’re not expected to want for much. But the people of Northern Ireland wanted more, fought for more and got more.
As the countdown clock ticked down in Belfast’s gay village (more of a hamlet, really), everything felt electric, the start of something new. Apart from a flying, one-day visit, I hadn’t been home in years and wasn’t prepared for how much the city, and myself, had changed. North Belfast is a tough place to grow up as a queer person, so it seemed like a natural step for me to get out as soon as I could. But standing in the bar as the drag queen started shouting “ten! nine! ei—“, I felt a deep sense of awe at all of my queer siblings who had stayed, who had fought for a better Northern Ireland just by existing openly in a way I felt I couldn’t have. It makes me proud of the amazing organisations doing good work in Northern Ireland, such as Cara-Friend, SAIL and our friends at TransgenderNI.
Now we will legally have equal marriage for same-sex couples and some of the least restrictive rights around bodily autonomy in Europe. This isn’t just a massive win for lesbian, bisexual, gay and queer people, but a win for women and others who can get pregnant which would have been unthinkable even just a few years ago.
Northern Ireland may still not have anything approaching the legal protections afforded to trans Britons under the Equality Act 2010, but we’re taking huge forward leaps. To the tireless campaigners who refused to kowtow to the push against their right to equality and to bodily autonomy, Gendered Intelligence stands in solidarity with you and wants to say – go raibh maith agat, thenks, thank you.