I have a confession to make. This is a rewrite of an article I was putting together before the General Election. In the first draft of this article I was concerned about the demise of UKIP, and how some of its less tolerant members may re-assimilate themselves into the two main parties. In that draft, I urged us all to remember to be vigilant in that case, with a reminder that – sometimes – LGBT rights get traded for ‘more important’ issues.
That first draft now seems quaintly modest in its concerns. Thanks to an entirely unexpected result, we now have a minority Conservative government that is looking to be supported by the Northern Irish party, the Democratic Unionist Party. The DUP is not known for its progressive views; it is an anti-abortion party and has battled to ensure that Northern Ireland still does not have marriage equality.
What has been encouraging is that many people from all sides of the political spectrum have raised concerns about having the DUP near the levers of power, precisely because of their record on equality. From Ruth Davison and David Davies on the Conservative side to Jeremy Corbyn and Stonewall, there has been public concensus that the list of DUP demands that the Government accept for DUP support must not include a watering down of equality measures.
If May’s Government can yet survive, clearly the major issue facing it now is Brexit; the Conservatives need DUP support to even get to the starting line. Discussions are continuing as to the form of this arrangement. Ministers have gone public about their defence of LGBT rights – for now – although this has taken the form of free votes on issues rather than making LGBT equality government policy.
And yet…. should we still feel uneasy?
At the very least, I suspect that there will be no marriage equality in Northern Ireland as long as this political ‘coalition’ is in place. So let’s not pat ourselves on the back even if there is no rollback of existing LGBT rights – there is still territory within our own country where same sex marriage is not legal. And that is due to the efforts of, yes, the DUP.
As the furore of a DUP partnership fades, there will always be a risk that the more extreme elements of the DUP will still be advocating a rollback of rights or a block on further equality measures such as those on pensions or mandatory sex and relationship education in schools.
In an era of increased uncertainty, we need constant vigilance. Your MPs have been elected now and so there are no more hustings, at least until the Autumn. Joking aside, there is a strong chance that there may have to be another election within the next 12 months. The result of this is that MPs for now will be, if not quite on election footing, keeping one eye on how the electorate perceives them.
I have several friends who have already written to their MPs concerned about the influence of the DUP and some who have even resigned their Conservative party membership.
In a strong democracy (and let’s not forget that we live in a strong democracy), this continued focus on equality will pay off provided that, as a community backed by its supporters, we make sure that issues around LGBT rights, womens reproductive rights, and issues that we would otherwise take for granted in the rest of the UK are not lost in the storm of an approaching Brexit.
This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.