20 years of being legally gay
Two decades ago, Mary Robinson signed a law decriminalising homosexuality. Life for gay people in Ireland has changed hugely since then, but has it changed enough?
This is where the real progress has been made in the 20 years since decriminalisation. The fact that children and young people are not intolerant; this is the bedrock of the further progress that will be made.
The late Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person to be elected in California, spoke of the importance of gay visibility. “Break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake. For the sake of the youngsters.” Gay people continue to do this. Proof, if it is needed, comes in a 2012 Millward Brown survey that showed 75 per cent of the electorate would vote in favour of same-sex marriage. Yet again our politicians are playing catch-up.
When President Obama said, “I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” with those 10 words he sent out a strong signal of support, value and inclusion. When Enda Kenny refuses to voice his views on marriage equality, and says it’s “a matter for the constitutional convention’’, he sends out an equally strong message to the contrary, one that undermines support for gay people.
A little over a year ago I attended the wedding celebration of two beloved friends who left the State to tie the knot in a place that recognised the marriage of same-sex couples. When they got back they and their families and friends had one of the most meaningful celebrations of marriage that I have witnessed.
By comparison, civil partnership was an insult to many gay people. It was as if we had to serve an apprenticeship, to prove our relationships endured and were valid and worthwhile.
Yet it’s uplifting to see young and not-so-young people being part of the growing visibility of gay life here, to witness the increased integration of young gay men and lesbians. There is a queer sensibility hitherto unknown. Gay bars evolved so that people who were unwanted elsewhere could congregate and be themselves safely and without fear of the consequences in a hostile world. And we now exist beyond the ghetto and the haven.
Twenty years ago a friend in California wrote to congratulate me on the reform of homosexual law. He said that it was a huge step forwards but that a long journey remained. We are hopeful that, with marriage equality imminent, the end may be just in sight.
I can’t help thinking of how my departed friends, people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time and are no longer with us, would make sense of the Dublin and the Ireland of 2013. I imagine there’d be some dancing involved.
Ger Philpott is a writer, director and journalist, and former director of Aidswise