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same-sex marriage

Oscar smiles in his grave

A commentary on the legalization of same-sex marriage in Ireland by Northern Irish expat Finn Ballard

Finn Ballard (c) Alexa Vachon

24.05. - Ireland – North and South – will never be the same again. Five days ago, to the horror of First Minister Peter Robinson, the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland won its case against Christian-run Ashers Bakery, found guilty of unlawful discrimination after refusing to bake a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan. Yesterday, the Republic of Ireland became the 19th country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage – and the first to amend the law in accordance with a popular referendum. Despite the best efforts of the naysayers (“Should children be exposed to sounds of sodomy?”, one instantly satirized leaflet asked), the “yes” campaign, backed by prolific Irish figures from Prime Minister Enda Kenny to the country’s foremost drag queen Panti Bliss, won a 62% victory, with over a million votes – including those of thousands of Irish migrants who travelled home to cast their ballots. Stephen Fry, who portrayed Ireland’s most famous literary son in Wilde, tweeted: “Oscar smiles in his grave.”

Even a few years ago, these milestones in LGBT rights would have been inconceivable. Homosexuality was illegal in Ireland until 1993; despite the growing secularization of the country and numerous revelations of church-sanctioned abuse, religion remains a powerful political force. A Dubliner friend of mine tells the story of a priest suffering a heart attack in a cruising sauna and being dragged out in the street to die, rather than face the ignominy of an ambulance being called to a gay establishment. And for me, a queer trans boy growing up in Northern Ireland in the 80s and 90s, at an all-girls’ school in a country at civil war in which queer sexuality and non-conforming gender identity were simply not on the discursive barometer, the rapidity of this joyous change is overwhelming. Across the border from the Republic, on that tiny island, my own country remains the only part of the United Kingdom to disallow gay marriage. And as the pernicious influence of religious conservatism wanes, there is still so much ahead of us.

Finn Ballard



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