Paula Devine and Gemma Carney will present at this year’s OUTing the Past Conference as members of the “Solidarity, Public Attitudes, and the Media” panel. They are both members of the ARK (www.ark.ac.uk) team, and are based in the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen’s University Belfast. Paula is coordinator of the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey (www.ark.ac.uk/nilt). Gemma is a lecturer in Social Policy.
Exploring the Archives of public attitudes to same-sex relationships in Northern Ireland: a BBC and ARK Collaboration
Northern Ireland remains the only place on the islands of Britain and Ireland where same-sex couples do not have the legal right to marry. The legal, social and media debates around same-sex marriage, or issues like the Asher’s cake case, show that LGBT issues are highly contested in some sections of Northern Ireland.
Our interest in LGBT+ history stems from our research into public attitudes. For over 20 years, ARK (a joint initiative across Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University) has been recording public attitudes and informing social policy in Northern Ireland. Two annual surveys provide an intriguing snapshot of what people living here think about issues affecting their lives: the Northern Ireland Social Attitudes Survey (1989 to 1996) and the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey (1998 to present).
The survey data indicate that people have become more accepting of same sex relationships. In 1989 77% of people thought that sexual relations between two adults of the same sex was always wrong. By 2013, this had fallen to 27%. In that same year, 58% of survey respondents supported same-sex marriage. This provides evidence that government policy does not necessarily reflect the public opinion, and shows the need for surveys to continually monitor attitudes, and to contribute to debate.
In 2018, we teamed up with BBC Rewind to use their TV archive to bring our data to life. The BBC archival footage vividly illustrated this shift in attitudes through language and images, reflecting the contemporary social and political context.