Ireland overwhelmingly approved the legalization of same-sex marriage in a popular referendum last week. The initiative, while strongly opposed by the Roman Catholic Church, was endorsed by every political party and party leader and received a plurality of votes in all but one of Ireland’s forty-three constituencies. There is no way to overstate the significance of this event for the Irish Republic, or indeed for the gay rights movement globally.
Just twenty years ago, divorce was illegal in Ireland, as was homosexuality until 1993. That a country can move so quickly from there to here — bringing the entire democratic political establishment with it — is nothing short of extraordinary.
Of course, Ireland isn’t the first country to legalize same-sex marriage: nineteen countries had already done so, including Canada in 2005. Ireland is, however, the first country in the world to legalize it by way of a popular vote. And of all the countries to do so by way of a referendum, Catholic Ireland. Again, extraordinary.
Not to dampen this historic leap forward for the Irish people, but abortion remains illegal in that country and blasphemy laws are still on the books. Hopefully, the people of Ireland will see fit to do away with both in future referenda. Because both, also byproducts of Ireland’s religious past, are incompatible with the Ireland of today — and of any enlightened society.
Unfortunately, Ireland’s decision to join the twenty-first century also serves as a chilling reminder that too many countries remain firmly in the Dark Ages, and countless LGBT people worldwide remain at risk of persecution, even death, for living openly as their authentic selves. With the exception of South Africa and Lesotho, sexual activity between two men is illegal throughout the continent of Africa, parts of the Caribbean and many countries in the Middle East and Asia; men face stiff prison sentences, even corporal punishment if they are found to have engaged in sexual activity with other men; in Sudan, Mauritania, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Yeman, Afghanistan and Brunei the penalty is death. Fifty-seven UN member states actually signed a 2008 statement opposing rights for LGBT peoples, in case there were any doubts about their commitment to bigotry and homophobia amongst the diplomatic set.
So, even after the Irish people’s momentous decision, Ireland, Canada and those other progressive countries remain outliers; the Canadians and the Irish amongst a fortunate few.
It has been ten years since Canada’s Bill C-38, the Civil Marriage Act, received Royal Assent. A decade with gay marriage and Canada still stands. Lightning has not struck down our leaders; plagues have not ravaged our people. Any day now, surely?
Surely not. The fear mongering peddled by politicians and priests alike from pulpits and parliaments ten years ago were nothing more than bigotry draped in the defence of religious freedom. A fundamental freedom some seem to think ought to trump other, more human freedoms like the right to life, liberty, security of person and equality before the law. How wrong those people were; how wrong they remain.
In those instances where religious rights conflict with other protected human rights, you would think there would be little room for debate: after all, those things that cannot be controlled — sex, gender, ethnicity and age for example — must surely supercede those things that can be, like religious belief. And yet, too often these conflicts remain contentious ones, and room actually afforded to the side that favours rabid religiosity over basic human decency. Lest we offend!
Of late, religious rights have again been invoked in defence of dogmatic ignorance about human sexuality. In Ontario, where a revised sex-ed curriculum is set to encourage rampant, unprotected, premarital sex amongst that province’s teenagers; in Canada’s Senate, to prevent trans people from using restrooms that do not conform to their sex organs. Heaven forfend! Think of the children!
Of course. It is always about the children. About the family. About the sanctity of life (not to be confused with the livelihoods of those already living, mind you). Jesus says. The Bible ordains. It is the word of god. Allah commands it. Mohamed would do the same. Yadda, yadda, yadda. It must be so exhausting to spend so much time deciding who to hate and just how much to hate them; just enough to deny them equal rights and protections under the law, or so much you jostle for a prime spot from which to watch them stoned to death.
In too few parts of the world, Ireland’s decision is rightly being heralded as a victory; in too many it remains a “mortal sin.”
Originally published on Spectator Tribune.