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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.

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2010 has been a fantastic year.

And if I could summarize it with just one word, it would be this: travel.

Las Vegas not once, but twice. Twice to DohaQatar, too. Colorado, Kansas and Chicago. Summer through Spain and Morocco, in Paris, LondonEdinburgh, and Toronto, and across Ireland. Phew!

Along the way, I ate, I drank, I laughed and I loved.

And then, come the fall, I returned to school, to the kitchen, to chase down a dream.

Yes, 2010 was a pretty good year. And while I doubt 2011 will look anything like it, I’m hopeful it will be as exciting — replete with new sights, new sounds, new tastes, new adventures.

Onward.

After almost a week in the Emerald Isle, I returned to London, my friends’ lovely flat, and a readily-accessible laundry machine.

Like before, tourism wasn’t at the top of my agenda. No, again, I spent my time relaxing, recharging and reading. However, I did manage to squeeze in a few museums — and why not, since London has so many.

Top of my list: Sir John Soane’s Museum. What a gem! If you ever find yourself in London, I highly recommend this eclectic little number. You won’t be disappointed.

Also on tap: Tate Britain. (I figured, since I’d been to Tate Modern during my last stint in London, I ought to round out my tour of Tate with the one that started it all.)

Other than that, as before, I did precious little and was happy for it. Even better: by week’s end, I was ready for the final leg of my two-month adventure: Edinburgh.

So much Guinness! So many cows!

The Emerald Isle—aptly named—is lovely, especially once you make it to the Atlantic coast and can truly appreciate the end-of-the-world-iness of the place.

Following a brief stint in London, I flew to Dublin to meet up with a cousin and her friend who had planned a little Irish getaway. Together, in just over a week, our travels, which began in the Irish capital, took us westward, first to Galway then to Doolin.

Dublin

Nice town; a Lilliputian London, really.

Looking back, I’d say, in the three days we were there, we managed to hit all the highlights (and some lowlights, too!) Of note were the Guinness Storehouse, honouring the man who started it all and celebrating his most glorious brew. We also visited the infamous Kilmainham Gaol, which was at once haunting and fascinating, and Trinity College, Dublin, wherein we glimpsed the Book of Kells, which was, if I’m being honest, an expensive disappointment.

(It’s not that I don’t mind forking over cash to visit such places—I happily handed over oodles of Euros whilst in Paris for the pleasure—but I do think the cost should in some way reflect the… scope of the place.)

Anyway, after three days, and more pints of Guinness than I care to recount, we boarded a train for Galway, on the western coast of the island.

Galway

Unbeknownst to us, our visit to Galway coincided with the city’s eponymous races. Thankfully, we still managed to find ourselves a room in a quaint little place just steps from the town’s main square. Reminiscent of Fawlty Towers (sans Manuel, sadly), our hotel served as a perfect jumping off point from which to explore the city’s lovely, pedestrianized shopping district.

Of course, as we did in Dublin, we also took great delight in imbibing on the country’s most precious resource!

Doolin

What an adorable place!

Picturesque little Doolin, nestled on the coast, south of Galway in County Clare, became our home-away-from-home for the duration of our time in the country. And we couldn’t have asked for a nicer, cosier place to hang our hats than Lane Lodge.

For three days, we ate, drank, hiked, and boated… to the southernmost of the Aran Islands, Inisheer.

Without question, however, the most extraordinary part of our time in Doolin was spent admiring the breathtaking Cliffs of Moher—from both the sea and the land. Incredible.

Sadly, as with all things, my time in Ireland had to come to an end. London was calling, again; Edinburgh, too.

And so, I bid farewell to my cousin and her friend and, pack on back, made my way to Shannon International for a return flight to London.

I once again find myself sitting in the departure lounge of Winnipeg’s airport. Bags checked. Boarding pass in hand. The exhilaration of take-off awaits.

And this time, I’m flying up and away with no return date and only the flimsiest of itineraries.

I do know this much: from Winnipeg, I’m flying to Toronto; from Toronto, Barcelona by way of Brussels; I need to be in Casablanca on the 14th of July, Dublin on the 24th, and Edinburgh on the 7th of August.

Other than that? No plans.

Amazing.

I’m luckier still, since I won’t be on this adventure all by my lonesome; I’ll be with various friends along the way.

So, here’s to summer, to friends, to sunny days, to safe travels and to happy returns.

Cheers!