Jade Wilson chronicles a history of LGBT+ discrimination in Ireland through legislation.
In May 2015, Ireland became the first country to legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote in a national referendum and in June 2017, Leo Varadkar became Ireland’s first openly gay Taoiseach. How did Ireland, previously known as a conservative Catholic country, earn itself a reputation around the world for liberalism and LGBT+ acceptance?
Just over 25 years ago, homosexuality was still a crime in Ireland. In 1982, a series of homophobic beatings took place in Fairview Park, which was used as a meeting place for gay men at the time. Declan Flynn was attacked and killed there in September 1982. His death led to public protests and Ireland’s first gay pride festival in March 1983.
The same year, both The High Court and The Supreme Court ruled against David Norris in his case against the criminalisation of homosexual acts. Norris then took his case to the European Court of Human Rights, represented by Mary Robinson, and in 1988 they ruled that Ireland’s anti-gay laws went against Article 8 of their Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to privacy. The Irish government later passed the Criminal Fraud (Sexual Offences) Act decriminalising homosexuality in June 1993.
“We live in a much better place than where we found ourselves before Marriage Ref or decriminalisation.”
Tonie Walsh, LGBT+ activist and journalist said, “We live in a much better place than where we found ourselves before Marriage Ref or decriminalisation. We are blessed with an array of positive images in the media and pop culture. Two lesbians or gay men can hold hands and kiss in public without fear or censure, or worse a murder.”
While it was no longer illegal to be in a same-sex relationship, it was not until 2010 that The Civil Partnership Bill passed in the Dáil, allowing same-sex partners to register their relationship and be treated in the same way as spouses under the tax and social welfare codes. However, even after this came into effect in January 2011, the law specified that married couples or single individuals may adopt, but same-sex couples could not jointly because same-sex marriage was not legal at the time. This meant that only one parent in a same-sex relationship could sign the adoption papers, and if the couples separated, only one parent would have rights to the child. One month before the Marriage Referendum, which passed by a landslide of 62%, same-sex couples were granted the right to adopt children together.
Since July 2015, all individuals over the age of 18 are entitled to alter their birth certificates and passports to state the gender they most identify with. Thanks to The Gender Recognition Act, transgender people can now avoid being wrongly gendered, or ‘outed’ when applying for work or college places as long as they are legally an adult. This plays a huge role in reducing discrimination and violence against the transgender community.
“We are nevertheless moving to a new and beautiful place that none of us back in the 1970s or 1980s could have ever imagined.”
A huge component of discrimination against the LGBT+ community in Ireland has undoubtedly stemmed from the country’s deep roots in Catholicism. In Ireland, over 90% of schools are Catholic, and a number of major hospitals also have religious affiliations, such as the Mater Hospital, owned by Sisters of Mercy. Earlier this year thousands signed a petition and protested against the proposed role of Sisters of Charity in the new National Maternity Hospital in Dublin. David Gough, a well-known Gaelic football referee who has also taught in a Catholic primary school, recalls feeling anxious back in March 2015 when he decided to make his sexuality public by wearing a rainbow wristband in Croke Park. However, he describes the reaction of his principal, Board of Management, and pupils’ parents as “very supportive.”
Ireland has certainly come a long way over the past century. However, despite the momentous changes in Ireland’s laws and the massive shift in public perception of the LGBT+ community, discrimination on a smaller, day-to-day basis remains. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are still unable to leave a pension to their same-sex widow or widower, while opposite-sex couples have always had the right to do so.
In May this year a man was charged for vandalising The George (Dublin’s best known gay bar) with a homophobic insult and a Nazi swastika symbol. Issues such as the ban on homosexual men donating blood (for a year after sexual activity) and bi-erasure remain and need to be addressed. Walsh concludes “We still have work to do where marginalisation and subtle discrimination continue to exist, but we are nevertheless moving to a new and beautiful place that none of us, back in the 1970s or 1980s, could have ever imagined.”