We can paint homophobia completely out of existence
Opinion: For lesbian and gay people equality is not ideological but a very practical matter in their lives
At the same time, great progress has been made in Ireland in combating prejudice and discrimination against gay people. The LGBT community and wider Irish society have been on a great transformative journey.
I grew up in a society where gay people were almost completely marginalised and silenced; where we were criminalised. It now seems bizarre that it was only in 1993 that gay people were decriminalised in this country. That was followed by powerful equality legislation. In 2010, all political parties supported the passage of civil partnership, which went as close to marriage as was possible within the constitutional limitations.
The overwhelming public support for the 1,500 civil partnerships that have already taken place in every county in Ireland has transformed the visibility and status of lesbian and gay relationships. Now, the love and commitment of lesbian and gay couples is increasingly seen by the vast majority of Irish people as the same as that of other couples.
Resulting from the progress that has been made, gay people are far more empowered. They are far less willing to put up with discrimination or exclusion from key constitutional rights such as the right to marry. And rightly so.
Since the early 1980s, I have spent much of my life campaigning for equality. Every inch of progress was hard-won – it was doggedly and actively resisted by influential organisations and individuals, lay and religious, who even campaigned for our continued criminalisation. Later they used all their influence to try to ensure that our loving and intimate relationships would have no legal protections – they failed in that too.
Was that resistance based on a refusal to accept that we are full and equal human beings, entitled to equal opportunities in life – was it based on homophobia? Yes I think so.
While the strength of homophobia – its power to impose its prejudices on our society, to restrict and diminish the lives of gay people – has declined, it has not yet gone away. Time and time again rejected by the Irish people, the Oireachtas and most civil society organisations, homophobia still exists.
I have said that our goal is to make being lesbian or gay in Ireland unremarkable so that, for example, a gay couple holding hands in the street would be so ordinary that it would hardly be noticed. Given all the progress that we have made in Ireland, I think this scenario is possible. Anti-Irish prejudice was a virulent force in the US and now does not seem to exist.
Anti-gay prejudice could also go the way of the dodo and become extinct in Ireland.
Kieran Rose is chair of Glen, the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network