Gay rights have become an international benchmark that indicate whether or not you live in an open society. They signal how serious your government is about inclusion and democracy. They also send a strong message to the world about what kind of people you are striving to be.
By each of these yardsticks First Minister of Northern Ireland Arlene Foster has just pinned an F grade on her own country.
Like a latter-day George Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door, Foster stood before the press and history this week, bitterly opposing every small advance being made by her own hard pressed LGBT constituents.
After the expected Asher’s bakery case ruling was handed down on Monday she ignored the writing on the wall and instead blasted her own Equality Commission in The Belfast Telegraph.
“We have an enormous amount of sympathy for the McArthur family," she said, omitting to show any to the gay group who - the Commission had ruled - had been discriminated against.
"We feel they (Ashers) have been through an absolutely horrific time - not helped I have to say by the actions of Equality Commission. I think the Equality Commission have not covered themselves in glory in fact I think it's quite troubling the way in which they have behaved in all of this."
Troubling? They did their job, which is to weigh the legal rights of all parties with recourse to the state’s equality laws, that is all.
It’s incomprehensible that a senior political leader of a modern state would lambast a nonpartisan commission for performing the task it has been created to administer, but here she was blasting “the metropolitan liberal elite definition of equality” like another frothing commentator on a Breitbart comments page.
The world took notice. Press reports immediately blasted her from Belfast to Sydney. Northern Ireland’s First Minister is well named because she fosters prejudice and division, the critics howled.
Further attacking her own Equality Commission Foster added: “I think they need to have a long hard look at how they work with faith communities in Northern Ireland… they need to look at what real equality is…”
That’s “real equality” Northern Ireland style, obviously - where one fundamentalist “faith” vote is worth ten of everyone else’s.
But Foster’s anti-gay crusade was only getting warmed up. On Thursday she announced she will use a petition of concern (a measure designed to safeguard minority rights in Northern Ireland, not block them) to postpone any change to the law regarding LGBT marriage equality for the next five years.
Five years. That’s a long time to wait to have your full citizenship granted (the rest of the UK has already adopted it without incident of course).
That means it’ll be 2021 before LGBT people in Northern Ireland can even expect another discussion of the marriage legislation their neighbors in the UK and the Republic of Ireland already take for granted.
DUP plans to block gay marriage for the next 5 years in Northern Ireland, the only part of Ireland or UK without it https://t.co/jHTh4zOvwy— Liam Stack (@liamstack) October 28, 2016
Laughably, Foster insisted that her party is not anti-gay, but this is the same Democratic Unionist Party that waged the notorious Save Ulster From Sodomy campaign. History contradicts her.
Part of her insuperable hostility to LGBT equality, Foster explained, is due to the "very, very vicious" online abuse she received from activists who are demanding a change in the law she told the press this week. Their actions made it less likely that the DUP would support such a move, she said.
"If activists want to have a conversation about where they are coming from, do they seriously think they are going to influence me by sending me abuse? No, they are not going to influence me by sending me abuse - in fact, they are going to send me in the opposite direction and people need to reflect on that."
In Foster’s world it is only other people who need to reflect on things, especially angry gay people, who have the audacity to repeatedly ask her for their rights.
Clearly Foster does not like the idea of equal marriage and thinks that is sufficient reason to block it, but as First Minister she is tasked with representing all the people of Northern Ireland, not just the people who vote for her.
Dismissing the legitimate concerns of her own LGBT constituency she high-handedly referred to them this week as a “sideshow” and a “storm in a teacup.”
Depressingly she also announced that she will not discuss the far-reaching changes that will be brought about by Brexit with her government colleagues in the Republic of Ireland this week because, she says, there is no need.
She has “better things to do” that debate the political and diplomatic tsunami that’s about to hit the relationship between the two states of the one small island and the EU.
This isn’t just contempt then, it’s an unconscionable direction of her duty. Foster has repeatedly demonstrated this week that she is simply out of her depth on the national stage.
Meanwhile it’s becoming clearer by the day that when it comes to her leadership style she prefers dictatorship to democracy. Call her Kim Jong Foster, she’s administrating Northern Ireland’s lamentable transition from open borders to a defensive fortress.
Pull up the drawbridge, man the borders, and march lockstep into the blinkered past having learned nothing.
Everyone else can take a good look at themselves, because Arlene has much "better things to do" than to acknowledge your rights or even your existence.