jump to navigation

Irish Left Archive: The path to marriage equality in GCN – II June 6, 2016

Posted by Tomboktu in LGBT Rights, Marriage equality, Social History.
1 comment so far

To mark the anniversary of the marriage equality referendum, The Cedar Lounge Revolution is publishing a short series of posts on the evolution of discussion of same-sex couples, lgb families, and their legal recognition, as portrayed in the pages of Gay Community News in the 1990s. The first post in this series covered the years 1990 to 1994; here we continue the story with material from 1995 and 1996. The articles are from my collection of GCN issues from the 1990s. (My collection is incomplete, and important developments may not be included because of that.)

The first piece is from the April 1995 issue, and it is a short review of John Boswell’s The Marriage of Likeness: Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe, which is an atypically scholarly book to make the review section of GCN. However, as the review itself explains, this particular book had ‘broken out’ of academia and had garnered attention in Newsweek. I notice, but don’t know what significance to attach to, the fact that the reference in the article to ‘same-sex “marriages”‘ places inverted commas around the word marriage.


Irish Left Archive: The path to marriage equality in GCN – I May 23, 2016

Posted by Tomboktu in LGBT Rights, Marriage equality, Social History.

It is a year since we voted not only to lift the ban on same-sex couples getting married, but to place an obligation on the state to put in place a law for marriage equality.

Marriage equality was not always the priority for the gay community. This post looks at the evolution of interest in that topic and the related questions of gay families and of the recognition — both legal and unofficial — of partnerships. It is far from a scholarly article: First, it uses just one strand of data: the pages of Gay Community News (GCN) in the first half of 1990s; second, my collection of back issues is incomplete. Never the less, they illustrate what the gay community’s leaders were saying and what its media felt was important to report.

The first issue of GCN in my collection is from 1990, and even that is too late if you want to do a complete analysis, because it does not show if or how the Irish lesbian, bisexual and gay community reported on or reacted to the introduction of civil unions in Denmark in 1989.

As the Marriage Bill passes to the President, a tribute to an unnamed leader October 23, 2015

Posted by Tomboktu in LGBT Rights.
1 comment so far

I just watched Thursday’s Seanad final debate on the Marriage Bill. When the last ‘vote’ (by acclaim) was passed, many senators rose to make speeches on the significance of the occasion and to congratulate those who had contributed to the achievement.

It was sad to see none of them mention Niall Crowley, who was the CEO of the Equality Authority in 2002, and who led that organisation to become the first state agency to call for equality for same-sex couples. It can be easily forgotten now that the wording of that report had to be carefully constructed (some saw it as convoluted) in light of the views and legal analyses in Ireland at the time. Up until then, even GLEN had not been ready to seek something as all-encompassing as that which Crowley’s Equality Authority called for.

And a few years later, when Michael McDowell charged the Colley Working Group with the task of identifying options for civil partnerships and explicitly excluded marriage from the Colley Group’s terms of reference, behind the scenes Crowley pushed for the Colley Report to state that only marriage would achieve equality, which the Colley Working Group did.

Of course, marriage equality was not given to us by Niall Crowley, alone or in tandem with others, and even without his work in 2002, it would probably have been legalised, but later.

But it was he who led the Equality Authority to recommend that the government

should ensure that same-sex couples are treated in an equal manner by extending the right to nominate a partner with legal rights to same-sex couples, comparable with those recognised for a spouse.* [page vii in this PDF]

In doing that, he led not only the Equality Authority, but the lgb movement and Ireland, and today it arrived ahead of schedule because he gave it that push in 2002.

So, if you’re having a beer or a glass of wine between now and the day the President signs the Bill into law, may I suggest you lift it in a toast to the leader who was forgotten today in the Seanad?

*Maybe he thought this cumbersome mouthful would motivate people to look for the easier-to-say ‘marriage equality’.

A ‘Yes Equality’ mythology? October 8, 2015

Posted by Tomboktu in LGBT Rights.

One of the messages that Yes Equality pushed early in the campaign was that conversations would win the referendum. And it came up in, eh, a conversation I had last last week at a social event in the Dublin lgbt community, where my interlocutor sang the praises of Yes Equality’s use of conversations. She seemed surprised when I didn’t immediately agree with her.

It’s a lovely idea that Yes Equality discovered a new and effective campaign tool. And it might well have been one, but I’d love to see the evidence.

What I did see were three factors that were key — two under the direction of Yes Equality and its allies (allies whose key roles have often been overlooked in the subsequent discussions), and one a monumental misjudgement by the ‘no’ side.

First, it needs to be remembered that Yes Equality mobilised an old-fashioned, tried, and tested door-to-door canvas (with guide). Its scale varied widely, with small but dedicated teams in some constituencies selecting priority areas and skipping others, while in other constituencies some directors of canvassing struggled with the logistics of large numbers showing up at 7.00 p.m. I know of three constituencies — two in Dublin, one outside — where the canvas of the entire constituency was completed eight or nine days before polling, and much of the crew was distributed to other constituencies for the final week.

Second, Yes Equality used effective demographic segmentation to target different groups of voters. Hurling stars, retired RTÉ personalities, a former FF minister, etc. for older voters; Facebook and Twitter for younger voters. One of the key tactics that was overlooked in the commemorative issue of Gay Community News was the role of the USI, which started its work a year ago, last October, getting students registered to vote, and continued that right up to the deadline for late registration once the date of the referendum was set. (When did we last see people queuing in council offices to lodge their applications to be on the register of voters on the last day?) That young vote was key: they were known to be more supportive, but traditionally less likely to turn out. However, the anecdotal evidence from names crossed off supplemental registers in polling stations is that USI’s second campaign to get its members out on polling day did indeed work.

The third aspect was an ineffective and counter-productive ‘no’ campaign. I don’t know how many single parents whom the ‘no’ side provoked into voting yes with their poster arguing that a child deserves a father and a mother. However, a sense of the size of that demographic group is available from the CSO: 215,000 parents four years ago (not counting those where the children are all now over 18 years of age, and the aunts, uncles and grandparents who see those children being raised). And that pattern of alienation by the ‘no’ side was not confined to the posters from David Quinn’s special purpose vehicle for the campaign. The primates in the Irish Roman Catholic Bishops ordered one of their senior crew (the leader of their commission on the family, no less) to keep his mouth shut after he repeatedly offended with insensitive and clumsy language.

There are about 130,000 in the electorate who are lgb. The yes vote was 1,201,607, and the majority was nearly 470,000. Taking the total yes vote, did nine-point-something conversations per lgb person really win it? Taking the second figure, did 3.6 conversations lgb people had land that majority? Or was it the combination of a more traditional effective campaign combined with effective use of social media?

Intimidating voters June 22, 2015

Posted by Tomboktu in LGBT Rights, media.

Rev Dr Vincent Twomey’s piece in the Irish Times on Monday last has lots of points, and both letters to the editor later in the week and comments under the article on the newspaper’s website dismantle the article, with a few defenders in the mix.

One point Twomey made twice in his article piqued my interest: that voters were intimidated.

He makes this claim first in a broad way, saying that there were threats — and he does use the word ‘threats’ — about how the world would see a ‘no’ vote. That is over-stretching the concept of intimidation in an electoral context, and Twomey should educate himself what real intimidation means from the reports of international election monitors (available at the website of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights).

In his second use of the term, he claims that “[t]he entire Yes campaign … was intimidating”. (In the part of that sentence that I have replaced with ellipses, he lists organisations actually behind a ‘yes’ vote — political parties and trade unions — and an official distinctly not part of the ‘yes’ side: the Chairman of the Referendum Commission, Mr Justice Cross.)

Twomey goes on to ask “How many of the 40 per cent of those registered to vote (more than 1.2 million!) failed to vote because they were intimidated?” The numbers who stayed at home was not high for an Irish referendum which either undermines his point or suggests that intimidation has been an unnoticed feature of Irish referendums for a long time.

Nor does the number and size of organisations on the ‘yes’ side mean that debate was restricted or the opportunity for the arguments against to be presented to voters. Indeed, it was the ‘yes’ side who consistently complained during the campaign that the ‘no’ side refused to debate the real issues and instead brought in matters such as surrogacy and and parenting.

It’s not the first time that a claim of intimidation has been made in the debate on marriage equality. In April 2013, the Convention on the Constitution voted, by secret ballot, by 79 percent to recommend that the Constitution be changed to allow for civil marriage by same-sex couples. The following day Senator Rónán Mullen claimed that he had witnessed members of the Convention being bullied into voting yes, but refused when asked to provide details.

At the level of the individual voter, our electoral laws are very tight on voter intimidation. The reason any extraneous writing on a ballot paper results in it being spoilt and not counting is to prevent voters being pressured to reveal their vote through an agreed code being put on the ballot paper. It is the reason why there are protections in place for those who cannot vote in secret because they are blind or illiterate (for example, restrictions on who and the number of times a person can assist a voter).

At the collective level, it is hard to see how an argument about how the world would see a ‘no’ vote can be construed as intimidation. Not can the weight of support from civil society. The No side had equal time on broadcast media, was afforded space in newspapers to make its case in op-ed columns and in letters, and mounted a substantial postering campaign (and made great play of a small number of those posters being taken down).

In fact, the only collective intimidation I saw came from Twomey’s colleague in holy orders, Archbishop Eamon Martin, who said during the campaign that the Roman Catholic bishops in Ireland would need to consider if their priests would continue to undertake the civil marriage procedures as part of its church weddings if the referendum passed. The threat, although the Archbishop denies it was a threat, of course, was the inconvenience for many couples, who would be required to go through two ceremonies, one religious and one civil. It would also have implications for the state, which would need to increase significantly the staff assigned to conducting marriages.

Twomey has misused the term ‘intimidation’.

The planned marriage referendum: Some sense in the Dáil October 10, 2014

Posted by Tomboktu in Bunreacht na hÉireann, Inequality, LGBT Rights, Marriage equality, Uncategorized.

Yesterday in the Dáil, Michael McNamra made an interesting contribution to the debate on a bill amending the Civil Registration Act. At last somebody has asked this rather obvious question,

Another issue is impediments to marriage. This is an amendment to the Civil Registration Act 2004, which was the first legislation to note that being of the same sex is an impediment to marriage. The Government tells us there will be a referendum on this but I question the need for that. Can we not simply legislate for the issue? It will be a divisive and hurtful campaign for many people and it may not be necessary to engage the public in a referendum. After all, we Members of the Oireachtas are paid to be here and the Constitution says we are legislators, although Departments are the de facto legislators and we merely apply the rubber stamp. Do we need a referendum? I am led to believe a former Attorney General said a referendum is required on this in an opinion supplied to the Government. I have not seen this opinion nor has anyone else because no one sees the opinions of Attorneys General. Can an exception be made in this case? Is there a reason such opinions are not made available? Should such opinions be made available as a matter of course? If it is a matter where the State is being sued and there is a potential liability to the State, the Government will not wish to show its hand by publishing an opinion. Surely, however, opinions relating to matters of public importance that require the time and expense of a referendum could be published. Very few people want a referendum on this issue if it can be legislated for. That is certainly the case for most of the gay people who want to marry and to whom I have spoken. Why is it not possible to legislate for this?

I am aware of cases relating to this topic such as Murray v. Ireland and a high-profile one involving Senator Zappone. In Murray v. Ireland Mr. Justice Costello of the High Court and once of this House said the Constitution makes clear that the concept and nature of marriage, which it enshrines, are derived from the Christian notion of partnership based on irrevocable personal consent. It is clear, then, that the judgments refer to the Christian notion of marriage in the Constitution and on this basis the court found it was acceptable for Ireland to refuse to recognise same-sex marriages from abroad. There is a world of difference, however, between saying it is acceptable for the Oireachtas not to recognise same-sex marriages and saying it would be unlawful for the Oireachtas to legislate to recognise same-sex marriages or allow same-sex marriage in Ireland.

It is clear the notion of marriage in the Constitution is based on a Christian notion of marriage, but that does not mean civil marriages are unlawful in Ireland. Even divorce is lawful in Ireland since the constitutional referendum on that issue. Our notions of what provisions of the Constitution mean constantly evolve. Many people accept that gay marriage is part of the right to have a family, that the security of family life should apply to heterosexual and homosexual people equally. I question the need for a referendum on this issue if it is possible to legislate for it.

Pride – the film of the 1980s Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners campaign opens this month August 31, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in 1984/85 Miners Strike (UK), Culture, Economy, LGBT Rights, The Left.

This looks fantastic. A film on how the Miners were supported by the LGSM campaign. The way both groups interacted and, in a sense, further radicalised is educative, not least in later strong support from Miners groups against Section 28 but also in a sense of shared defiance against the right. As can be seen in this piece in the Observer, this is an history that is important because it proves how supposedly different struggles can be linked in a way that generates a mutual solidarity. The film opens in the UK later in the month.

Awkward question on trans rights. November 18, 2013

Posted by Tomboktu in Gender Issues, Human Rights, Inequality, LGBT Rights.
1 comment so far

The government was asked last week to explain what it is doing to recognise transgendered people’s rights. The UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) included a question on the issue to the State in its list of issues it wants Ireland to explain at the periodoc review next year of Ireland’s obligations under the International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights.

It is now six years since the High Court found that Irish law breaches European human rights standards on the right of a transgender person to obtain a birth certificate in their true gender. That was followed by a government decision to set up an advisory group — consisting of civil servants — to prepare a report, which was published in July 2011. (My post on that is here.)

It took a further two years to produce the Heads of Bill, in July 2013.

The HRC has asked the government to provide “detailed information on the steps taken to issue birth certificates to transgendered persons” (Link to Word document here). The government will have plenty of “outputs” to report to the Human Rights Committee:

  • the establishment of the advisory group,
  • publication of its report,
  • decision of cabinet on the heads of bill,
  • publication of heads of bill, and
  • discussion of them by the Oireachtas Committee on Education and Social Protection.

It would not surprise me to see the Oireachtas Committee put under some backroom pressure to get a report of its hearings out so that there is another “output” by the time the HRC holds its hearings.

I hope the HRC puts the Irish officials who appear before it under close scrutiny about a new clause it introduced between the publication of a the report of the advisory committee and the publication of the heads of bill. That provision would allow sporting organisations to prohibit trans people from participating in some acivities. Now, there are pros and cons in such a provision, but their introduction into the heads of bill stinks. It has nothing to do with the issuing of a new birth certificate and the processes and requirements for that, and lies well outside the expertise of the Department of Social Protection. It amounts to a change in anti-discrimination law, although is not framed as such. Tellingly, the Department of Social Protection introduced a new proposal to allow discrimination in one area because of a person’s gender identity or the fact that they are transgendered without addressing the need for proposals to prohibit discrimination in other areas. I would not be surprised if it were dropped during the passage of the bill as a “concession” to trans people while leaving the core proposals that are hurtful and demonstrate a lack of any understanding by the drafters of the human cost of what they say should be enacted into law.

The second question that the HRC has asked will provide not so much an opportunity as a need for weasling by the State. The HRC asks “how transgender organizations have been included in such process, including in relation to the Gender Recognition Bill”. No doubt, the government will tell the Human Rights Committee that TENI (Transgender Equality Network Ireland) made a submission to the advisory group which was considered in preparing the final report, and has appeared before the Oireachtas to speak about the issue a number of times. They will probably also refer to the “engagement” with trans organisations by the Minister when she spoke at the Transgender Europe conference in Dublin in 2012.

I expect that the Department’s reply to the HRC will not record that

  1. the advisory committee did not include a single representative of trans people,
  2. the report and heads of bill do not comply with European human rights standard and
  3. the Minister has refused to meet TENI herself.

I hope the officials are called to account on that and squirm while explaining their approach.

* — ** — ** — ** — ** — ** — ** — *

TENI’s submission to the Human Rights Committee sets out in stark terms why action is needed, and needed urgently, and why the Government’s leisurely pace is itself an offence.

(a) Access to services: Formal, legal recognition of one’s identity – by the issuance of an accurate and correct birth certificate – is the gateway for enjoying numerous foundational rights in Ireland. Irish transgender persons who, on the basis of their expressed gender identity, seek to avail of important public services are frequently denied access because the Irish state only recognises the sex and identity assigned to them at birth. In Ireland, obtaining, inter alia, social security, Personal Public Service Numbers and marriage certificates all require the presentation of a birth certificate. The failure of the Irish state to issue new birth certificates to transgender persons means that, in order to access these foundational services, transgender people must present an official document stating that they are somebody other than their true self. Transgender people in Ireland cannot access services on the basis of their self-identified gender, even if they have lived in that gender for the greater part of their life.

The current legal situation creates an impossible and unfair choice for Irish transgender persons: the right to self-determination and dignity, or economic survival. Some transgender individuals ultimately decide to forgo their most basic rights because of the impossibility of presenting in a gender identity not their own. Others choose to access services on the basis of their birth-assigned identity and frequently confront widespread bigotry and discrimination.

(b) Restrictions on travel: The failure of the Irish state to issue new birth certificates restricts the ability of transgender people to travel. In this regard, journeys aboard can be particularly challenging. The 2008 Passports Act gives a transgender person the right to apply for a passport with their correct gender marker. However, the fact that a person’s birth certificate will not match the passport they are requesting means that issuing passports has, despite the existence of a clear legal right, become inconsistent and arbitrary. TENI has worked with people who have had difficulty obtaining a new passport. A transgender male who attempted to access a new passport but was told that not enough time had passed since his transition to apply for a passport with the male gender marker. When the individual tried to reapply with a female gender marker, he was told that he would need to provide “proof of use” of his female gender marker. In addition, many trans people are forced to pay the cost of a ten-year passport in order to obtain a two-year passport.

(c) Discrimination by state and non-state actors: Lack of recognition legitimises discrimination. Examples of prejudice which transgender persons experience from state actors include inappropriate and degrading questions, refusals to respect expressed gender identity and wilful misunderstanding. A transgender woman told TENI how, while attending a community care clinic, a member of staff had insisted upon loudly and publically calling her by her former male name. The individual recalled how “the room was packed and the laughing and comments were unbearable.” One woman received a phone call from Social Welfare querying her change of name and gender. She explained her transition, and the government agent laughed, said ‘You’ll never be a woman!’ and then hung up. (TENI has heard several similar accounts from people across Ireland.) An Irish transgender woman returning from abroad recalled how her letters to update her Irish bank account and Social Welfare with her change of gender and name were ignored: “The Social Welfare Department sent me a tax certificate in my old male name and informed my new employer of the details.”

(d) Detrimental effect on young people: The failure to issue a new birth certificate may have an especially negative impact on transgender youth. Transgender youth are particularly vulnerable to peer bullying. The perpetuation of young transgender persons’ exclusion through the failure to legally recognise their gender identity reinforces the stress and isolation which Irish transgender youth often feel. TENI has documented the story of a young transgender male who is surrounded by supportive family and friends. However, he is currently required to wear a skirt into school each day because his Principal does not recognise his gender identity.

The refusal to issue new birth certificates also creates significant difficulties for transgender students in applying for university in Ireland. Transgender people regularly miss out on college placements, as the Central Applications Office (CAO), the body responsible for assigning university places in Ireland, is unable to cope with transgender identities. One student transitioned and subsequently decided to re-sit his Leaving Certificate Exam (Ireland’s end-of-secondary-level-education national exam). He gained the required grades for his chosen course of study. The grade the student achieved for English in his first examination results should have been carried over and added to his results the second time he sat the exam. However, the CAO noted the discrepancy in name and gender and assumed an error had been made. In such cases, the CAO office dismisses the application without query. The young man missed out on his college place. TENI has heard of several such cases.

The Government’s Draft Heads of Bill for gender recognition excludes people under the age of 18 from applying for the rights contained within. This is in conflict with the recently passed Children’s Referendum, where the Irish people voted to amend Article 42A of the Constitution to read: “The State recognises and affirms the natural and imprescriptible rights of all children and shall, as far as practicable, by its laws protect and vindicate those rights.”

My flag among the nations June 27, 2013

Posted by Tomboktu in Culture, Imagery, LGBT Rights.
1 comment so far

To mark the Irish Presidency of the EU Council of Ministers, for the last six months Dublin City Council has flown the flags of the 27 EU member states on the south quays, in protocol-respecting alphabetic order beginning with the Bs for België/Belgique and България/Bulgaria near O’Connell Bridge at Aston Quay, ending with a U for United Kingdom outside the Civic Offices at Wood Quay, where the sequence is ended with the EU flag and a second appearance of Ireland (which is also flown in the Es for Éire furthter back). For some reason unknown to me, the sequence skipped a flag pole at Capel Street Bridge, which has had a banner for the Presidency instead.

At this time of the year, those flag poles would normally be flying one of the two versions of the Pride flag (a six-stripe version and a seven-stripe version) that are held in stock here, but this year the Presidency has trumped Pride.

However, two Pride flags have been added to the end of the Presidency sequence at Wood Quay, and the presidency banner at Capel Street Bridge has been replaced with a Pride flag.

Given the attitude of some of our EU partners to lgbt rights, I hope somebody can make a film of the full set of flags, driving down the quays, showing how the city has marked the presidency and has integrated the lgbt Pride flag into it. It may not be a killer punch in any hard political neogitations in Lithuania or Poland, but it would be a nice piece of footage to boost the morale of my fellow EU-citizens who do not have the social and political atmosphere that I enjoy.

Incivility…and worse June 4, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Feminism, LGBT Rights.

Well here’s a display of incivility, misogyny and anti-lesbianism, as related by Julie Bindel. What’s amazing to me are two aspects of this, firstly that a Radio 5 ‘satirical’ panel debate thought that it was appropriate to discuss – even, perhaps particularly, in a ‘humorous’ way – the proposition “Give me 20 minutes with her and I’m pretty sure I could turn around Clare Balding”, and then some of the incidents Bindel recounted of male antagonism to her as a lesbian.

I like Balding’s response in the following, even if it is descending into a ‘fight fire with fire’ dynamic:

Last year she reopened a feud with the Sunday Times television critic AA Gill, who described her as “a dyke on a bike” in his column in 2010. Balding described Gill as a “great twat” and claimed he hates clever women as she spoke in defence of Mary Beard, the on-screen historian who Gill suggested was too ugly for cameras.

Bindel argues that:

Lesbianism is a significant threat to men [just to be clear she modifies all other instances of the term ‘men’ to ‘a lot of’ or ‘men of the sexist variety’, so no she doesn’t mean all men – wbs]. After all, we are rejecting them sexually and, more importantly, making it clear we do not need to be desired by or betrothed to a man in order to have an identity. Clare Balding needs to be put in her place, according to the sexists, because she has no right to be a successful professional, a well-loved public figure and an out-and-proud lezzer.

This concept of threat is very important and deeply disturbing because of the potential for it to take very dangerous forms. I think she’s also exactly right when she argues that this is essentially a part and parcel with other forms of misogyny.

But you know, I think her conclusion is where it’s at.

What they need is a bloody good lesson in keeping their opinions to themselves.

%d bloggers like this: