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Caleban on the March

by EAMONN McCANN

Derry.

The Northern Ireland Caleban are on the march across Europe and have already reached the outskirts of Austria.

The Caleban want children taught that the sun, the moon, the stars and all thereon were created over a six-day period beginning at dusk on October 23rd 4004 BC; and “young earth theory” given equal billing with evolution in facilities such as the Ulster Museum and the Giant’s Causeway Centre; and Sabbath opening of pubs and picture houses made a crime; and rape, incest and foetal abnormality ruled out as reasons for abortion; and gays banned from adopting children or giving blood; etc.

Fossils, say the Caleban, are just debris deposited by the flood that drowned the dinosaurs. They’d like that taught in schools, too.

Supporters of the Caleb Foundation – it’s they who call themselves “the Caleban” – are lightly scattered across Northern Ireland, heavily concentrated in the Democratic Unionist Party. They include Health Minister Edwin Poots, Culture and Arts Minister Nelson McCausland, education spokesperson Mervyn Storey, MPs Gregory Campbell and David Simpson, and more.

The group declares in its mission statement “The Bible is the inspired, infallible, and inerrant word of God. It is final in its authority. None may add thereto or take away therefrom except at their own peril (of) eternal conscious punishment in hell.”

The Caleban have to be considered in the context of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement requiring us all to “respect” the DUP as the embodiment of one of the “two traditions” entitled to “parity of esteem”. On this basis, the DUP has a veto over any measure it finds particularly offensive.

Since no DUP leader, even of the relatively secular sort, will risk a rift with the Caleban, the crazies wield a veto, too. Thus, there’s been not an inch of movement on the issues the Caleban obsess about since the reinstatement of the devolved institutions in May 2007.

Looked at objectively in any sensible context, the Caleban are clowns. But in relation to equality for women and for the rights of the LGBT community, the clowns of the North retain a measure of control. This is one of the reasons gay couples in Austria may continue to be deprived of adoption rights.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is currently considering a case brought by two women living in Vienna in a stable relationship against a refusal by the courts to grant one of the partners the right to adopt the son of the other partner without severing the mother’s legal ties with the child: that is, they want legal joint parentage of the 16-year-old they have been jointly parenting for more than a decade. The case is set for hearting at Strasbourg, beginning on October 3rd.

On June 29th last, Northern Ireland Attorney General John Larkin wrote to the court asking to be allowed to intervene as a third party. He pleaded that, “Any decision made by the ECHR in relation to the application in X and Others v. Austria will have a significant influence on the outcome of any future litigation within Northern Ireland on the issues raised.”

In plain terms, a decision by the court in favour of the couple would apply across Europe and potentially give ground for gays in the North to challenge their own status quo regarding adoption.

Currently in the North, only married heterosexuals can adopt as a couple. Single people, gay or straight, can adopt as individuals. But gays lose any right to adopt, jointly or singly, if they enter a civil partnership. (Readers might think this makes no sense. But try to see it through Caleban eyes. To give adoption rights to gay partners would be to acknowledge the legitimacy of their relationship. In order to avoid this outcome, Northern law has ruled out joint adoption by any unmarried couple.

The pending litigation Larkin had in mind was launched in December last when the NI Human Rights Commission challenged the failure of Poots’ Department of Health to deal with an anomaly revealed in an adoption case – the “P” case – in 2008, when the House of Lords declared that the complete ban on joint adoption by unmarried couples was illegal. The prospective adoptive parents were an unmarried heterosexual couple in a stable and loving relationship. The woman was P’s mother. Sexual orientation apart, the parallels with the Austrian case are striking.

The 2008 Lords ruling put Poots in a fraught and complex position. To introduce a measure giving the P couple the right to adopt without extending the same right to gay couples would likely be rejected by the courts as contrary to equality law.

The Caleban Minister’s difficulty would be deepened if the ECHR were to find in favour of X and Others and enshrine in European law a specific right for unmarried couples, including gay couples, to adopt. Hence Attorney General Larkin’s dash to Strasbourg to add the voice of the North to the pleadings of the Austrian authorities.

It might be wondered why Stormont parties like Sinn Fein and the Social Democratic and Labour Party which advertise themselves as gay-friendly haven’t at least raised a hullaballoo about this.

Because that would mean putting the institutions at risk by facing down the DUP on a matter the Cabeban regards as a red-line issue.

Once it was, in De Valera’s words, that “Labour must wait”. Now it’s gays and women to the back of the queue.

Isn’t it a grand wee country now that we have a bit of peace?

EAMONN McCANN  writes a column for the Sunday edition of the Derry JournalHe can be reached at Eamonderry@aol.com

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Eamonn McCann is an Irish journalist and political activist. He can be reached at Eamonderry@aol.com

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