The Scottish government has published letters sent by Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, seeking to interfere over equal marriage.
It was alleged last week that Northern Ireland’s ultra-conservative DUP had attempted to meddle with equality laws in Scotland during the passage of same-sex marriage.
Scotland’s equal marriage law allowed for same-sex couples in civil partnerships to convert to a marriage, regardless of where in the UK the original civil partnership was carried out.
The DUP, which is strongly opposed to same-sex marriage, had appealed to the Scottish Government to exempt Northern Irish civil partnerships from the law.
(Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Letters published by the Scottish Government today reveal how the DUP’s Arlene Foster personally intervened in the row, alongside MLA Simon Hamilton.
In a letter to the Scottish government, Mr Hamilton warned that converting civil partnerships originally carried out in Northern Ireland “could create real problems, and I am sure that is something that we would all wish to avoid”.
He wrote: “I would ask that the power is exercised in such a way as to exclude Northern Ireland civil partnerships.”
Marco Biagi, the then-minister for the Scottish Government responsible for the law, flatly rejected the request.
He wrote: “Our intention is that [the relevant section] will remain in place.”
Mr Hamilton had claimed that couples could find themselves with an indeterminate status in Northern Ireland, but Mr Biagi pointed out Northern Ireland already treats same-sex marriages from elsewhere as civil partnerships.
Mr Biagi emphasised: “Since in Northern Ireland there are no marriages for same sex couples, the two jurisdictions are already faced with differences of legal status that must be managed if the couples move from one to the other.”
After the snub from the Scottish government, DUP minister Arlene Foster personally took up the cause.
Ms Foster, who is now the party leader, wrote: “I have carefully reflected on the points that you have made. However, I too am concerned about what is proposed.
“I am keen to continue the dialogue between our administrations in the hope that we can reach an agreed settlement.”
She again implored him to exempt Northern Irish civil partnerships from the law, insisting: “We can achieve legal certainty by restricting the definition of a ‘qualifying civil partnership’ so as to exclude civil partnerships which were entered into in Northern Ireland.”
However, Mr Biagi did not make the requested change.
He later responded: “I have considered the issues very carefully but concluded that it would not be appropriate to exclude civil partnerships registered in Northern Ireland from the Order.
“The Order has now been agreed by Parliament and will come into force shortly.”
John O’Doherty, Director of Northern Ireland’s Rainbow Project, said: “The documentation, today released by the Scottish Government, demonstrates very clearly that, despite her protestations, Arlene Foster did write to Scottish ministers with the express intention of encouraging them to restrict the ability of same-sex couples from Northern Ireland to convert their civil partnerships to marriages in Scotland.
“Elected governments in most jurisdictions are expected to go above and beyond in representing the interests of their citizens but it appears that members of the Northern Ireland Executive sought to do the opposite and ensure that NI citizens were significantly disadvantaged when compared to citizens in other jurisdictions.
“Mrs Foster’s argument that permitting NI couples to convert to same sex marriages in Scotland would cause confusion is difficult to accept considering the confusion caused to lawfully married couples who are not recognised as married in Northern Ireland.
“Arlene Foster owes the people of Northern Ireland an explanation and apology for covertly seeking to limit their rights and a further apology for maintaining that she had not taken this course of action.”
The DUP is strongly opposed to LGBT equality.
The party has a long history of homophobic rhetoric, and continues to employ peace process powers to override votes in favour of equal marriage in the Northern Irish Assembly.
Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster recently insisted gay people don’t really want to get married anyway.
She said: “This suggestion that every single person who’s a homosexual wants to change the definition of marriage is actually wrong.
“I know plenty of people in that community who don’t want to see marriage redefined and are quite content to live in partnership… it’s all become a bit of a storm in a teacup.”
A DUP minister previously branded LGBT Pride events “totally repugnant”.
Among the ten MPs that the Tories want to bring onside is Ian Paisley Jr, the son of ‘Save Ulster from Sodomy’ leader Ian Paisley who founded the DUP.
Paisley Jr has spoken of his “hatred” of homosexuality, saying: “I am pretty repulsed by gay and lesbianism. I think it is wrong. I think that those people harm themselves and – without caring about it – harm society.”
The MP defended his comments in 2013, saying: “I am repulsed by many things.The actions, and not specifically the individuals. I am repulsed by people who are not homosexual as well sometimes.”