It’s taken me well over a week to finally make a post about this because I ended up pushing myself too hard on the day of the march and I’ve been recovering ever since, but I’m proud to say that on July 1st, 2017 I was one of the thousands of people in Belfast marching for marriage equality.
Northern Ireland is the only place in the United Kingdom lacking equal marriage laws despite widespread support from a number of politicians and the general public. The Assembly has tried to bring marriage equality into the country five times now, and the one time they actually had enough votes to pass legislation, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) went and blocked it under a ‘petition of concern’.
What is a petition of concern? It’s a measure that’s supposed to help protect the rights of minorities in Northern Ireland under the whole power-sharing deal our government usually functions by, and if a petition is ever presented, whatever legislation it’s blocking will need cross-community support and a weighted majority of votes to pass.
The DUP themselves are a bunch of intensely religious climate change deniers who don’t work on Sundays and hate things like abortion and lgbt+ rights, so I feel absolutely confident saying their ‘petition of concern’ wasn’t actually rooted in concern at all and was just them abusing the power they had and using it to their shitty, homophobic advantage.
Thankfully, they’ve now lost the ability to trigger petitions of concern after losing important seats in the election at the beginning of the year, so here’s hoping marriage equality will come to Northern Ireland soon. Now, with all that contextual stuff out of the way, let me tell you about my equality march experience.
I was incredibly anxious on the day. Big events always make me anxious by default, but being open about my sexuality means that I can end up as a target for homophobic abuse at any time. None of that happened aside from some old man shouting ‘go away’ as we passed in the streets, but the fear of something really horrible happening to me just because I’m gay will always be there. Straight people always tell me that sounds shitty and, honestly, it really is. I shouldn’t have to always worry about something bad happening just for holding another girl’s hand or something, but that’s another topic for another time.
The march itself started a little later than the appointed time, which resulted in my friend finding some familiar faces in the crowd. I felt a little out of place being the only stranger as everyone had met before through The Rainbow Project, but everyone was so nice. After the march was over we hung out in a gay bar for a while and had such casual conversations. I’d never felt as comfortable in a bar before. Knowing I was with like-minded company really helped me relax. The wine helped too, I’m sure.
I almost cried listening to some of the speeches. One particular speech about how marriage equality is a basic human right and how it’s ridiculous that we’re still being denied it really got to me. I don’t know if it was how passionate the speaker was being, or if it was being surrounded by people who agree with and understand my views, but it was a very emotional moment for me.
There were a couple of downsides, though.
I caught myself participating in some internalised homophobia. I had a really stupid ‘what if someone hits on me in here?’ moment in the bathroom, and I was such a cocktail of fear and excitement that it didn’t occur to me how shitty that line of thinking was until the bus ride home, where I felt absolutely garbage. I used to think I was over the whole internalised homophobia deal, but it’s clear I still have a lot to learn and mentally unpack.
The other downside was getting back to the bus. I’d walked too much already, and I forgot to bring my painkillers. I was honestly convinced I would miss the bus home because I was limping so slowly, but we got there eventually. Ruined legs aside, I had a great day and I’m looking forward to seeing everyone again when Foyle Pride comes along in August.