Eligible Irish voters will get to decide in May whether same-sex couples will be allowed to marry in Ireland.
Rights groups supporting the proposed reform to the Republic’s constitution are very confident the proposal will be adopted.
Sadly, not all citizens will have a say in this important referendum. Those resident outside the state – even for a short time – are not allowed to vote. But opinion polls point to such a referendum being carried.
The bookies too are saying the proposal will pass. Paddy Power has quoted 1/6 on a ‘yes’ vote with a ‘no’ vote pitched at 7/2.
An Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll published late last year reported 67 per cent of voters saying they would vote in favour, 20 per cent said ‘no’, with 9 per cent having no opinion and 3 per cent refusing to respond.
The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, has declared Fine Gael will campaign for a ‘yes’ vote. Fianna Fáil has been accused of not doing enough to back the change. Former Fianna Fáil minister Pat Carey said as much last week when he – like current Government minister Leo Varadkar weeks earlier – came out as a gay man.
Ireland has taken Varadkar’s revelation in its stride, which suggests that the country has moved on from its judgmental, church-ridden, conservative past. But the country is not perhaps as enlightened as people might like to believe.
Irish online news website The Journal has run a series of first-hand accounts by gay men and women who have experienced homophobia in Ireland. It is clear from the many stories that have been published that the country has plenty of work to do to eliminate entrenched discrimination and prejudice.
In particular, Irish teachers who are gay find themselves in a particularly precarious situation as religious schools – and other institutions – are allowed to discriminate if they believe the religious ethos of their institution is being undermined.
Groups such as the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the Irish National Teachers Organisation, the Irish Labour Party and Sinn Féin want to abolish this provision but neither of the major political parties – despite their apparent enthusiasm for same-sex marriage – seem to want to take on the Catholic Church – which owns and runs the vast majority of Irish schools – or other religious schools on this issue.
One of The Journal’s correspondents wrote about the horrible workplace experience he had endured after the principal became aware of his homosexuality.
“I was asked for a chat after the school with the principal and chairman of the board [the local parish priest],” he said.
“It was put as follows: ‘We are not asking you about your sexuality but want to make clear that this school will not tolerate any promotion, discussion or open displays of a lifestyle not fully in keeping with its religious ethos’. It was made clear in a ‘very nice’ way that they were just letting me know school policy.
“I was obviously shocked and rang my union. They were sympathetic … but told me the school had not done anything outside the law due to the religious exemption here. Their best advice was to ‘not rock the boat’ if I wanted to remain a teacher in the school.”
Subsequently, the man found he was replaced as coach of one of the football teams and the principal started dropping into his classes unannounced and sitting in on parent-teacher meetings. This is a current story and, based on The Journal’s accounts, not an isolated one. So, while the focus is firmly and understandably on the forthcoming referendum, it is apparent that the government needs to broaden the debate to address other areas of discrimination.
Furthermore, the Catholic Church, and other institutions need to be held to account for trying to camouflage their bigotry.