An open letter to my elected representative, Mr Jonathan Bell, MLA

Dear Mr. Bell MLA,

As one of your constituents, I would like to raise a concern I have about how you choose to represent me in your position as MLA. I have recently watched your debate on the Nolan Show (January 23rd 2013). I would like to take this opportunity to inform you that the views you portrayed in that performance do not reflect your whole constituency. I found myself not only disagreeing with everything that you said, but being wholeheartedly offended.

The issue was Equal Marriage i.e. allowing gay couples the same right to marry as their heterosexual peers. In your debate, you were firmly against this move despite the growing possibility of it happening in the rest of the UK. Your reasons for opposing it ranged from the technicalities that may be complicated in trying to introduce the system, to the already existent Civil Partnership system, to quoted opinion polls that conveniently support your position. In the midst of the debate, you also confirmed DUP’s continued opposition to Civil Partnerships and possibly to the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

If you will allow me, Mr Bell, I would like to address the arguments you decided to use on my behalf in your debate. You quoted that 70% of people are against equal marriage, according to recent opinion polls. Concerned, I strived to find these figures and found an analysis of opinion polls which highlights their ambiguity. I’m concerned that quoting selective statistics while representing the views of your constituents is not conducive to effective political leadership. The subjectivity of opinion polls also represents a more important issue; bestowing equality should not be subject to individual prejudices, but granted by our elected political leaders and used as a measurement for successful government.

An additional argument you used is that there is no need to have Equal Marriage because rights and equality is ensured through Civil Partnerships. However different and separate is not equal and it makes no logical sense to have two administrative systems for the same legal procedure. Furthermore, I believe that the campaign for Equal Marriage is much more than just a marriage issue. Allowing gay people the right to marry (something that we take for granted) sets a precedent for the underprivileged in our society. It challenges social norms and sends an inclusive message to the LGB & T people in our society.

I am privileged because of my sexual orientation. But this privilege makes me extremely uncomfortable. I watch, almost as an outsider, as my homosexual peers struggle and fight for things that I take for granted, and I feel powerless. Even more so when I see my elected representative, rather than fighting for the underprivileged minorities in our society, take a measured stand that consistently discriminates against them.

As one of your constituents Mr. Bell, I feel obliged to tell you how disappointed I was with your performance on the Nolan Show that night. With every smirk, jeer, and joke with the audience I could hear another closet door close. With every refusal to support Equal Marriage, Civil Partnerships and the decriminalisation of homosexuality, that same closet door locks shut. In my opinion, you failed to reassure your constituents, like me, that the DUP are the inclusive party that they claim to be.

Regards,

Andrew Hawthorne

Emailed to Jonathan Bell on Tuesday January 29th 2013. His response said that we may agree to disagree on the issue.

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Scaremongering on Marriage Equality- don’t be fooled!

The movement towards marriage equality in the rest of the UK and Ireland has finally reached Northern Ireland. At this year’s ‘Pride Talks Back’ event, marriage equality featured high on the agenda of the audience and received political support from five of the six party representatives. At a recent debate in the Assembly, a motion on marriage equality was rejected by only two votes. At first glance it may seem that it is just a matter of time before the legislation is changed to ensure same-sex couples have the same marriage rights as their heterosexual peers. However, a closer examination will reveal that it may not be that easy.

Firstly, the largest opposition to equal marriage comes from the Unionist representatives and particularly the DUP, the majority party of the assembly. The Lord Mayor of Belfast, Gavin Robinson, was diplomatically defensive of his religious beliefs for opposing equal marriage when questioned at ‘Pride Talks Back’ and this is a position shared by many of his unionist colleagues in the DUP and other political parties. Secondly, despite the apparent support from the political parties at this event, a number of parties have failed to support equal marriage at a policy level, citing it as a matter of personal conscience for individual members.

This is a recurring theme among politicians and it is very worrying indeed. What does personal conscience mean when it comes to politics?

It means politicians can use their own personal beliefs to dictate how they govern. Normally this is an acceptable concept as we may vote for people because they share the same beliefs as us and, naturally, we want them in government to fight and support those beliefs. However in the context of Marriage Equality, ‘personal conscience’ is an excuse for politicians to use their religious beliefs to favour a ‘traditional’ concept of marriage, using this as grounds for rejecting equal marriage. For example, in the Assembly debate a MLA and Minister in the Executive claimed he was not speaking as an MLA or as a Minister of the executive, but as a Christian. He was not the only one. Although not as explicit, the matter of personal conscious, derived from religious beliefs, was the main argument used by those opposed to Marriage Equality. This is unacceptable. There is no room for the religious beliefs of politicians in a secular government. It is true that we vote for politicians based on their personality, feeling that they mirror ourselves in ideology, beliefs and principles. But the people we vote for do not always get into government. The majority favourite will get into government and will generally act at the behest of the majority that put them there. But they have a responsibility to act for everyone they represent, not just the majority. And in a democratic society we expect our politicians to uphold democratic principles such as equality, human rights and a separation of church and state. Based on the Assembly debate on marriage equality, we expect too much.

The use of religion in this argument is inappropriate for a second reason. There are many religious institutions that support marriage equality and would relish the opportunity to perform marriage ceremonies for same sex couples. This is the beauty of religious freedom, i.e. that all beliefs can be equally represented in a secular state. This religious freedom is protected in any proposed legislation that ensures equal marriage and politicians know this as well as you and me. To be crystal clear, equal marriage will not have any detrimental effect on any group of people who oppose it for religious reasons. Do not be fooled by any religious argument. It is used by opposition to rationalise their prejudice beliefs and to scaremonger among their constituents. In reality, allowing same sex couples the same rights and legal protections as heterosexual couples through marriage harms no-one but benefits many.

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Dear Councillor Crawford

Cllr Crawford, 

 Thank you for taking the time to consider my email. I am writing to thank you for your recent public recognition of your error stated during a meeting of Magherafelt council last week. I understand this is probably one of many emails you have received about this issue and I appreciate your attention.

As you have stated, comparing homosexuality to a disease is homophobic and wrong. However, I understand there was an atmosphere of harmonious homophobia that night, particularly from your DUP colleagues, that likely facilitated your slip of the tongue. I am pleased to see the motion in discussion still passed regardless.  

I am still concerned, however, Councillor. I don’t think your apology was strong enough. Your ‘retraction’ of one particular reference does not satisfy me that you hold the best interests of every person that you represent. The typical homophobic rants by your DUP colleagues gave you the perfect opportunity to defend the LGBT community. Every time a politician refuses to denounce homophobia in all its ugly forms they emphasize misperceptions about homosexuality, spread the disease of homophobia and  put millions of young people back in the closet at a significant cost to their mental health and wellbeing. The LGBT community don’t want your pity Cllr Crawford, they want to be treated the same as everyone else.

 This leads me to my final point Councillor on your stance against marriage for same sex couples. It is no longer acceptable to use the bible to justify the degradation of people and the denial of civil rights. It is no longer acceptable to disguise homophobia with religion. This is not an issue of morality or religion. It is one of Human Rights. The comments by Cannon Kelly this week highlight the diverse range of religious opinion on homosexuality. He has proven that interpretations of bible scripture can be selective and varied. Although I do not agree with your interpretations, or with other members of the Unionist community, I do respect your right to have them. But because they are the result of subjectivity, they should not influence objective decision making in political arenas.  

 Thank you again Cllr Crawford, I look forward to debating this issue further.

 Kind regards, 

 Andrew Hawthorne

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Thank you Lord Mayor of Belfast

On Tuesday the 31st of July I attended my first ‘Pride Talks Back’, an annual event where the LGBT community grill a panel of politicians on important issues. More significantly, it was also the first time the DUP attended the event, specifically the Right Honourable, the Lord Mayor, Alderman Gavin Robinson. Despite the lack progression in any party views on LGBT issues, I was inclined to thank the Lord Mayor for attending…

Dear Lord Mayor,

I am writing to thank you for your attendance at the recent Pride Talks Back event on Tuesday the 31st of July. Being the first member of the DUP to attend such an event sets a huge precedent and emphasizes your stated commitment to engage with all sections of the community. This is fantastic news. You must have known that it would not have been easy to field the questions that you did at that event and yet you still decided to put yourself out there to answer them and I respect this very much.

I do think it is a shame how closely you toed the party line when you were asked about issues of equality and homophobic discrimination. I fully understand and respect your religious views and your biblical definition of marriage. I do not think your personal religious views should dictate how your party govern. This separation of state and religion is very important for two reasons. Firstly, the LGBT community should not be subject to a second class status based on your interpretation of the bible- please note that by ‘your’ I am referring to the DUP generally- and denying these people the same civil rights as everyone else relegates them to a second class status. Secondly, what I am referring to is a legal definition of marriage. Therefore it is possible to ensure equality for everyone while still protecting the religious views of yours and other faiths. In Scotland, the proposed change for Equal Marriage includes a stipulation that gives religious organisations the choice to opt in or out of supporting legal marriage for same sex couples. I think it is possible to do the exact same in Northern Ireland- it protects the religious views of your party and its electorate while ensuring equality for all sections of the community. It also gives those faith organisations, which have a different interpretation of the bible, the opportunity to support equal marriage if they wish.

Lord Mayor, I will stop here as I am sure you are well versed in the arguments- one of the reasons why you were so effective in fielding the questions presented to you last Tuesday. However I would be happy to continue this discussion and I hope your stated commitment to engagement is shared with your party colleagues and that this is the start of a process that will lead to resolution for both.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank you, as Lord Mayor of the Belfast City Council, for hosting such a fantastic parade last Saturday, August 4th. It was overwhelming to see the vast numbers of people who showed their support.

Thank you for your time Lord Mayor.

Kind regards,

Andrew Hawthorne

… Here’s hoping this is the start of a long and productive engagement.

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DADT Repealed! McCain Caught on the Wrong Side of History

 

An infamous image altered to celebrate the equality now granted to the US military.

Today will see President Obama sign a law that will make “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” a thing of the past. A victory for basic human rights is how the President views this landmark, and who can argue with that? DADT was (it feels good to use the past tense here) a seriously discriminatory law that kept members of the LGBT community in the closet. DADT did nothing but, foster the opinion that there is something wrong with homosexuality, and justify the second class status of the LGBT community. In a country that prides itself on freedom and democracy, DADT was a severe contradiction.

 

Alongside their NATO allies, the American forces fight to promote the liberal democratic principles of their nation. Because of this vote, they can now do so without irony and contradiction.  Because of this vote, soldiers like Lieutenant Colonel Victor Fehrenbach can continue their career after two decades of service and countless others can act on their patriotism without fear of discrimination and discharge just because of their sexuality.

So who can argue that the repeal of DADT is not a positive step?

Senator John  McCain has certainly tried. His continued opposition is appalling.  Like you great grandpa sitting in the corner at Christmas, we seemingly tolerate McCain’s folksy bigotry without reprimand. But his arguments aregetting worse, as the video below highlights:

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That’s what we’re reduced to hearing. That isn’t an argument at all! Of course it was broke, how can the infringing of anyone’s civil liberties not be? Now is not a good time?  Restoring basic human rights shouldn’t require a time frame Senator and given that the majority of the military do not care about the sexual orientation of their unit, the repeal of DADT will surely be a positive influence. Restoring the careers of many gifted and potentially gifted individuals will most definitely be beneficial in the war on terror so it IS a great time to allow these people to serve their country, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Senator McCain needs to lie down and accept this decision. Or else when history looks back at this defining civil rights movement, Senator McCain, complete with his 30 henchmen and fellow naysayers, will be the undoubted villain of the piece. History will find him sufficiently punished.

How do you feel about the decision?

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Tuition Fees Rise Overshadowed By Violence

Last week’s vote to increase tuition fees sparked widespread protests and violence.   For many people, the vote at Westminster was the perfect opportunity to constructively demonstrate their objection to the policy. For the others it was an opportunity  for chaos and destructive behaviour. It was the others who ruined what should have been a monumental, democratic stance against a Tory policy that seeks to punish students for the failing economic situation in the UK.

The frustration and anger of the protesting population is understandable. When deciding to further their own education, prospective students are now faced with increased tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year which means more debt once those same students have graduated. At first glance, the whole thing stinks of a Tory party policy which will increase the gap between the rich and poor in the UK.  Add to this the shrivelling reversal in campaign promises made by Nick Clegg and his party and the few positive elements of this scheme are completely forgotten.

An Example of Media Portrayal

 

But those who decided to vent their anger with violent means have done nothing but provide the media with the ammunition they need to gloss over the actual vote itself and instead pummel the non-student population in the UK with images and commentary that portray an extremely negative perception of the student population. Their acts of violence are ultimately detrimental. Instead of obtaining more support from the non student population, the actions of Thursday will lead to many asking the question, why should we support them?

Iconic image of the day

I am upset, not only with the policy, but with the actions of this minority that turned an act of democratic objection into a complete farce. The violence culminated in the unjustified attack on the Royals on Thursday night which served only to provide the media an iconic image that just about sums up the events of Thursday; not as an example of the collective power of the people making a stand but rather as a chaotic scene that fostered youthful anarchy and nothing more.

That said, the police force in London are not entirely blameless. Their actions on Thursday fostered the violence rather than preventing it. Fitted in riot gear, complete with helmets, shields and batons, they projected a united front that set the scene for things to come. Masked youths on one side, riot police on the other. The outcome was inevitable.  Furthermore, their use of the ‘kettling’ technique did nothing but turn otherwise peaceful protesters into violent offenders has they found their civil liberties infringed upon. That technique needs to become a thing of the past very quickly, it did not work at the G20 and it has not worked here either. The police force was actually formed to act as authoritative representation for the general public not, as we seen on Thursday, as an opposing force for people willing to exercise constructive democratic principles.

Police ready for battle

The NUS has already committed themselves to continued activism on this issue. To encourage constructive activism, it needs to stay peaceful. This will take effort from both sides. Youths need to ditch the paint bombs and masks and police need to ditch the overly aggressive tactics and riot gear to ensure that progressive democratic activism is the only winner.

What do you think?

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Is Waterboarding Torture?



The issue of water boarding has raised its ugly head this week courtesy of President Bush. President George Bush claimed that information obtained by the CIA using waterboarding techniques helped save British lives by foiling potential attacks in Britain.   President Bush implies that the actions of the CIA are justified because they helped save lives.  Waterboarding is justified in the eyes of the former President.

This flaming torch of ethical transgression has been carried all too willingly by certain aspects of the British media; most notably by Jane Moore, a columnist for the popular nationwide newspaper, the ‘Sun’. Mixed with racist undertones, (is there something wrong with Mohammed being the most popular boy’s name in Britain?),  Ms Moore  justifies the use of waterboarding not as torture, but as a necessary act in times of war. Furthermore, she states that, had waterboarding helped avoid the tragedy of 7/7, then it would have been impossible to argue against its use as an interrogation technique.

Next, meet Douglas Murray who appeared on the latest broadcast of Question Time. Once described as Britain’s only neo-conservative, his views are not surprising but are still alarming and disturbing. In his view, waterboarding does not constitute torture but instead it is a ‘grey area’. Like Ms. Moore, he claims the act of waterboarding is justified IF it saves lives.

Now of course these individuals are entitled to their opinions and to express them publicly BUT do not allow yourself to be bowled over by comments. Jane Moore’s arguments are unfortunately fostered by arguably the most popular newspaper in the UK, read by millions every day. The narrow-minded views of the Sun and its feature columnists (see Jeremy Clarkson and John Gaunt) no longer surprise me. I simply refuse to let their opinion influence my own. But I worry about how their views influence others. Justifying waterboarding as saving lives makes a convincing argument but it does not paint a full picture.

Evidence to the point. Doesn't look pleasant, does it?

First of all, waterboarding IS torture in any form of definition. No grey area exists. The UN defines torture as the deliberate infliction of sever physical or mental pain or suffering. And that’s a narrow definition. Surely waterboarding meets such a definition and not occupying some grey area, Mr. Murray? In fact no grey area should exist when discussing torture; it’s as simple as that. There is a moral and ethical divide there that should not be crossed for any purpose or cause.

Secondly, like all other acts of torture, waterboarding simply does not work. Another common theme in the arguments above is hindsight. It is easy to say that any information obtained was responsible or would be responsible for saving lives, with the benefit of hindsight.  But realistically the heinous nature of this act means that the victim will simply say anything, anything at all, to stop the infliction. Is it really worth crossing that moral and ethical divide for potential information that is probably not even accurate? Of course not.  Could you inflict any of these acts on another person? I certainly hope not.

Such claims as those made by Ms. Moore and Mr, Murray are easy to believe but consider the issue fully before you find yourself swayed by their arguments.

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We Should Still Support Obama!

Image retrieved from http://www.changethethought.com/tag/obey-giant/

Hi folks. My name is Andy Hawthorne and I’ve decided to start a blog. There are several reasons for this but the main reason is that, for the first time in 19 years, I have found myself absent from a constant academic environment. So this blog may prevent my brain turning to mush. I also need some way to try to apply my education in the interim until I find my footing in life. This blog will not be a personal journal detailing my day-to-day life. In fact the only personality that will be present in this blog will be my own opinion which will be inevitably interwoven into the topics on which I write (Thank God!- you may be saying). I recently completed an MSc in Political Psychology so naturally most of the topics will involve politics in some shape or form and I welcome the opportunity to continue pursuing my interest in this capacity. Just a quick note before I start. After studying in the USA, and having my eyes opened by the special people I met there, I would consider myself a liberal and prescribe to their ideology. This will probably become evident in my blogs. Despite this, I welcome comments from everyone (if anyone even reads this!!) and encourage intellectual debate. After all, without my own dose of such debating, my mind would not be as open as it is now.

To begin, I would like to comment on the recent mid-term elections in the USA. It is essential that we support President Obama in every way possible from here on out to ensure his re-election in 2012. Let me explain why. It seems obvious to me that President Obama has or had every intention of performing the changes he promised in his campaign for election. The problem he faced was that he was unable to simply walk into Office and dish out policy after progressive policy. This is invariably due to the significant number of Republicans that were present in Congress at that time who are determined to defend their own ideological beliefs. Let me give you a prime example concerning Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. For those who don’t know, DADT is a military policy which prohibits openly gay or lesbian individuals from serving in the US military while simultaneously barring individuals disclosing their sexual orientation while serving in the military. Much as been written on this discriminatory legislation, as a simple Google search will reveal, so I will not recover trodden ground at this moment. The point is that despite promising to repeal this discriminatory policy, President Obama has as yet been unable to do so because of the opposition the repeal has met by many Republicans in influential political positions. For example, John McCain has in the past used a ‘filibuster’ on the topic. Filibustering is effectively a tactic used to obstruct a topic being voted on in the United States usually by limiting debate on a particular issue.

The DADT example therefore serves two purposes. Firstly, it highlights the difficulties and opposition faced by President Obama in progressive reform. Secondly it serves to remind us of the nature of many Republicans. So despite the dissatisfaction felt by many with President Obama’s first two years in office, please remember that it could be much worse. It is arguably already worse given the victories celebrated by Republicans in the recent elections. President Obama now faces a much more difficult opposition than he did two years ago. But instead of giving up on him and his promises we need to support him now more than ever.  Certainly if we don’t start supporting the President now the future will be much worse. In 2012 we could have a Republican President again (remember President Bush?). Or worse still, an elected member of the Tea Party. President Palin anyone? Let’s hope not.

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