Sunday, November 22, 2015

A mere bump in the road

Out of context, the news that a minority of right wingers in Northern Ireland have shot down the right of gays and lesbians to marry there is just another story of homophobia.   You grit your teeth, shake your head at the latest evidence that gay rights are a long hard slog, and ask yourself, cynically, what else is new?

The good news is at least you can drive from Belfast, in Northern Ireland, to Dublin, in Ireland Ireland in a couple hours and get married there, now that marriage rights for lesbians and gays have just taken effect.  It’s a small place, Ireland.  Even if you are one of the 72 people who live in Ballyvoy in County Antrim, it’s only 54 miles to Londonderry and across into Ireland to Bridge End, in County Donegal.  I can’t say for sure, but it’s likely that at least one person from among its population of 497 might marry you if you ask them right.

I know.  The problem with that is you still have to put up with being a second-class citizen, since your straight friends can pop down to the courthouse and do it locally.  Northern Irish folk need to keep up the good fight.

68% of the residents of Northern Ireland are in favor of the right of lesbians and gays to marry, and the Northern Ireland Assembly, after four attempts to get the law passed, finally succeeded on the fifth earlier this month (Nov. 2).  The fact that the Assembly voted for gay rights is telling, since fifty-six of the members are Unionists, members of the party associated with the conservative Protestant majority.  Only 43 are Nationalists, the more liberal (Catholic) bunch, who would like Northern Ireland to reunite with the Irish Republic.  People who understand Irish politics better than I do may have an explanation for why the Catholic vote here should be pro-gay and the Protestant vote anti-gay.  It would seem that the Catholics of the North are as good at separating themselves from official Roman Catholic church doctrine as their fellow Irish to the South.

But the labels “Catholic” and “Protestant” cover a multitude of sins.  The Protestants are mostly of the evangelical sort, doctrinaire literalists who ignore injunctions in the Bible against divorce at the same time they come down on gay people, missing the irony that their finger-pointing at “sinners” makes them a shoddy bunch of hypocrites.  As usual, the terms Protestant and Catholic actually misrepresent what’s going on.  The majority of both Catholics and Protestants are in favor of full rights for gays and lesbians.  Only the officials of the Roman Catholic Church – not the people in the pews – and the literalist-type evangelical radical branch of Protestant Christians would conserve the pre-enlightenment view of homosexuality as wickedness and use every means at their disposal to get their way.  When you hear of the religious war between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, keep in mind how this important social and legal rights issue reveals the real line is between open-minded progressives (Catholic and Protestant majorities) and “the way we’ve always done it” conservatives (Catholic and Protestant).

The Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland, one of the conservative lot pushing to prevent gay rights, has this remarkable quote on their website from Matthew 24:12: “Jesus describes days in which, “because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.”  Lawlessness will be increased?  No, dear.  The Assembly created a law actually extending rights to a minority previously denied those rights.  It was you guys who thwarted that extension.  And, that bit about love growing cold?  You need to get out more.  And read the papers.  Those gays knocking at the door are celebrating their love in all sorts of ways.  Just look at these crowds in Dublin.   

The subversion of the pro-gay vote reveals a conservative minority ignoring majority rule to get their way, a move neither Christian nor democratic.

You remember the “Troubles,” as the Irish called the three decades of deadly strife between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, which led to 50,000 casualties, including the loss of well over 3000 lives.  And the happy day when everybody agreed to lay down their arms and form a two-party peace government, where the two sides could agree to disagree on the fundamentals without offing each other.  Part of that agreement involved a safety valve.  In case the legislature should find itself on the verge of legislating against the rights of minorities, either party can file a “petition of concern” to protect that minority.

We are familiar in the United States with the chutzpah of the religious right when it insists that its right to discriminate against gays and lesbians is a “religious right.”  Well here’s the same thing going on in Northern Ireland.  The Protestants are a majority in Parliament.  But when some of their members vote with the opposition and the total number of yes votes is sufficient to get a law passed, the Protestants then submit a petition of concern,  effectively vetoing the majority decision.  What the petition does is change the rules and require a majority in both parties for the vote to win. 

Badges?  We don't need no stinkin' badges!  Or, in this case, rule by majority. We’ve got a god-given right to stop those gays any way we can. A mere 30 members of the Assembly can force a petition of concern.  The U.S. is not the only country where the Tea Party tail wags the congressional dog.

So the law extending the right of gays and lesbians to marry in Northern Ireland will be delayed a while longer.  And more pounds and pence will be spent on legal battles to fight this obstruction and bring progress to the fifth and last segment of those islands off the coast of France which are England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Northern Ireland – by extending marriage rights to same-sex couples.  Already there is talk of taking the case to the courts, the way same-sex marriage rights were finally established in the United States.  At least three couples are prepared to take their case to the European court of human rights, if necessary.  

Meanwhile, down in the Republic of Ireland, they’re taking a more welcoming approach to same-sex marriage.  If you are already in a same-sex civil partnership, you don’t need to wait the usual three months after getting a license.  You can get married right away. 

The slog continues.  But these days, in the land where the fairies have beards and will fix your shoes for you – I’m talking about the leprechauns – there’s a rainbow to be seen down at the end of the road.

May that road rise up to meet you.  And the wind be always at your back.

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