Thursday, May 28, 2015

Irish Eyes Are Smilin’ ?

My lineage goes back to Ireland. My name usually gives that away, but if ever there was a doubt my physical traits are a dead giveaway to familial roots in the land of lepercons and potatoes. I haven’t spent a whole lot effort on a genealogical analysis, but through the generations there’s been a dilution; I’m by no means a purebred. The prejudices heaped upon my ancestors in the “new” land of America are well documented. Through the years the discrimination migrated against 'my people' to Italians, Jews, Blacks, Hispanics and many other groups. The world took notice May 23, 2015 when thousands of Irish returned to their homeland to vote on a referendum. 62+% of them voted for LGBT Equality. And that’s a problem.

The “Yes” campaign has been credited with an effective social media and advertising effort – telling personal stories and  mitigating the concerns that the “No” side had. If that political analysis is to be believed the merits of the argument aren't why it passed - just good adverts. 

The Good Friday Accord in 1998 moved beyond a many decades dispute whether the Protestants would get their way by keeping Northern Ireland aligned with the U.K. or whether the Catholics would align for a United Ireland. In the end a hybrid was agreed to by all major political parties and voters. That was a conflict that dated back to 1602 with lots of battles and bloodshed. While rights have been equalized  for gay people since the 1990’s, it was in 2004 that same-sex marriage was determined to remain outlawed - making the recent election results a fairly fast transition. It’s a particularly supportive and powerful message the people of Ireland sent to the world for a Roman Catholic country to embrace marriage equality for LGBT people. The Vatican response: "defeat for humanity."

There lies the rub. Thanks to people being out, changing social mores in the media and other factors Marriage Equality is currently “popular.” For supporters, that’s great. But the premise is very disturbing. A right is granted only when it’s popular? So if fewer people came back to the homeland to vote, or the campaign had a misstep (like the Proposition 8 team did in California some years back) that would have changed the result? How can a human right – a civil right – be up for a popular vote?

Ireland is a Parliamentary Democracy where the “sole and exclusive power of making laws for the State is vested in Parliament.” The Constitution “declares that all citizens are equal before the law; it guarantees to defend and vindicate the personal rights of citizens in its laws.” So why was a referendum needed to grant rights that are empowered to Parliament? In 2004 (ten years after LGBT rights were opened up) the Civil Registration Act re-stated the common law definition of marriage, specifically stating “a marriage would be invalid if both parties to a marriage are of the same sex.” In 2010 Civil partnership legislation passed but did not provide the same protections as marriage does.

By having a majority of the country vote to grant this right, members of Parliament can now change the law and are protected from any potential back-lash. A win-win? Was it a win when the Italians or the Jews or the Blacks were discriminated against instead of the Irish?

In 1999 I produced a documentary of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles as they toured Moscow, St. Petersberg and Tallin. At that time the rights granted to LGBT people in the Russian Constitution far exceeded the rights permitted under the U.S. Constitution as sodomy was illegal at that time. People were accepting and it was a refreshing place to be. 15 years later as the economy had collapsed and people were no longer free to be out, the leaders and people of Russia have regressed and are no longer as open and welcoming of LGBT people. The result of the change in opinion is an amendment to the constitution plus new laws have been put in place. Today Russia is one of the most dangerous places to be out as a LGBT person. 

Will this happen in Ireland? Doubtful, but it could. Repercussions and blame are part of human history. In America we see a spate of “religious freedom” laws sprouting up that undermine decades worth of work. When we as the LGBT community accept the premise that it’s okay for another group of people to judge us and accept us by giving them permission to vote on what rights we are entitled to – that’s when we have not fully come of age or fully embraced our own equality. “When Irish hearts are happy, all the world seems bright and gay, And When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, sure, they steal your heart away.” 

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