The SNP has sought assurances from the government that LGBT+ equality would be preserved and advanced after the Conservative Party struck a deal with Northern Ireland’s anti-gay Democratic Unionist Party.
SNP Equalities spokesperson Angela Crawley said the Tories “have questions to answer” on equality after a confidence and supply deal was struck yesterday between the Government and the DUP which would keep Prime Minister Theresa May in power without formalising a coalition.
The DUP “agrees to support the Government on all motions of confidence and on the Queen’s speech; the budget; finance bills’ money bills, supply and appropriation legislation and Estimates,” as well as any legislation pertaining to Brexit. In return, a “coordination committee” will be convened to “ensure the necessary support can be established by both parties,” which could give the DUP say on any bills the government seeks to introduce.
“LGBTI people across the country have deep concerns that the Tory backroom deal with the DUP could halt progress on equality,” Ms Crawley said. “Before the election, Theresa May and Ruth Davidson both committed to changes in the law to improve LGBTI equality – but these commitments were entirely absent from the Queen’s Speech,” she said.
Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, earlier this month said that she had been assured that the deal would not hinder LGBT+ rights. “I asked for categoric assurance that if any deal or scoping deal was done with the DUP there would be absolutely no recession of LGBTI rights in the rest of the UK, in Great Britain, and that we would use any influence that we had to advance LGBTI rights in Northern Ireland,” she told the BBC. “It’s an issue very close to my heart and one that I wanted categoric assurances from the prime minister on, and I received [them].”
The DUP themselves have promised that they have no desire to roll back equality measures elsewhere in the country. “We want to ensure that every one of the LGBT community have rights and their rights will be maintained, the DUP equality spokesman Jim Shannon told Premier Christian Radio. “There’s going to be no changes to that whatsoever.”
Still, the DUP’s opposition to same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland – which it has used peace deal powers to oppose – and support for a “conscience clause” to allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT people on religious grounds has caused concern for many activists. Protests against the deal have occurred since the election resulted in a hung parliament, with the campaigner and Guardian columnist Owen Jones warning that “an alliance with the gay-hating DUP extremists threatens the Northern Ireland peace process”
It could also threaten progress on LGBT rights, warns the SNP. “Will the Tories finally amend same-sex marriage legislation to allow couples from Northern Ireland, and elsewhere, to convert their civil partnerships to marriage? If not, why not?” asked Angela Crawley, who also wanted to know if the government will extend discrimination protections to all LGBTI people and eliminate inequality in pension rights, as well as extending gender recognition reforms passed by Holyrood to the rest of the UK.
Indeed, the DUP has already sought to interfere with LGBT rights in Scotland. Arlene Foster, the DUP leader and erstwhile First Minister of Scotland, sought to prevent Northern Irish citizens from accessing same-sex marriages in Scotland. Scotland allows couples from Northern Ireland (and elsewhere) to convert their civil partnerships to marriage without having to first legally divorce.
Foster expressed her opposition to this in a series of letters to former Scotland minister for community empowerment, Marco Biagi. She said that she sought to achieve “legal certainty” over the status of same-sex couples by “exclude[ing] civil partnership[s] which were entered into in Northern Ireland” from being converted to marriages. For his part, Biagi tweeted simply “I said no” to this request.
Whether Foster and the DUP seek to interfere with LGBT equality through their new deal with the Conservatives and their place on the “co-ordination committee” between the parties remains to be seen. Regardless, Crawley plans to fight to ensure progress continues. “The SNP will continue to champion LGBTI equality in government at Holyrood, and SNP MPs will hold the Tory government to account at Westminster so that LGBTI equality does not fall of the agenda,” she said.
It’s not just publicly that the SNP is defending LGBT+ rights. In a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May, Crawley expressed “concerns that LGBTI equality is being sidelined for reasons of political expediency.” She outlined a series of policies – from strengthening the Turing Law to ensure all those convicted of having gay sex are pardoned to devolving equality law to Holyrood – where the SNP feels the government must act. Whether Theresa May champions equality or the DUP exerts its influence to halt any advances, though, remains to be seen.