Good evening everyone, I would like to thank Edmund Lynch, LGBT Synergy, the volunteers of LGBT History month and of course the Lord Mayor, Naoise Ó Muirí (FG) for his support and the lovely venue. I’m delighted to be here to launch the coming month’s programme of events.
Ireland is facing into a decade of important historical commemorations. There will no doubt be increased debate about these past events as the many anniversaries draw closer. These will be important social dialogues- dialogues that will assess our past but perhaps say more about our present than we may expect. Many of the narratives which have sought to explain our past have shaped the meaning of what it is to be Irish; shaped our understanding of what it is to be Irish. Too often these dominant narratives have excluded parts of Irish society that did not fit with certain ideas of what it is to be Irish. The lives and experience of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people were often hidden or side-lined when our history was being written. Ireland has changed, changed utterly, and continues to change. It is becoming an increasingly diverse and accepting place where there are many ways of being Irish - many ways of being human - a place where the spectrum of humanity is beginning to be recognised.
LGBT people have always been part of Irish history but it wasn’t until relatively that the LGBT community fought to have their part recognised. This year marks the 30th anniversary of Dublin LGBTQ Pride as well as the 25th anniversary of the foundation of Gay Community News. During 2013 too, we will mark twenty years since the decriminalisation of sexual relations between men. There now exists the first generation of young LGBT people who have never been branded criminals because of who they love. Indeed, it was the thought of these young LGBT people that inspired my partner, Dr. Ann Louise Gilligan and I to begin our own story of recognition. Our personal involvement- our decision to have our marriage recognised - was with a view to ploughing a better path for others and to see our love and our identities become as mainstream as the next couples.
The sexual or gender identity of our young people must not be a bar to accessing civil rights. It is these future generations of young people who must be considered in the upcoming debate on marriage equality at the Constitutional Convention in April. The nature and the merits of the institution of marriage, rightly, attract much debate. Give that it is an institution which continues to evolve I am sure these debates will continue but one thing is certain, as long as one sector of society is excluded from this civil right, that exclusion will negatively impact on our young people. The ban on marriage equality on our legislation signals to bullies that young LGBT young people can be treated differently and can be legitimately discriminated against on the basis of their sexual or gender identity. LGBT couples and families cannot be ignored and the cause of their isolation and exclusion must not remain enshrined in our laws in the 21st century.
In the context of the upcoming debate at the Constitutional Convention I think there is an importance attached to fact that the Taoiseach Enda Kenny generously chose to nominate, not only a married, openly-lesbian senator to Seanad Eireann but one who has and is again suing the Irish State in the Courts!
Recording history and experience is crucially important if we are to progress as a society. Edmund Burke once said, “People will not look forward to posterity who will not look backwards to their ancestors.” I see from the programme that you are all invited to tell your story of the marriage equality movement later this month and I would encourage you to do so. The marriage equality movement in Ireland is history in the making which gives hope to countries around the world where LGBT people are denied basic civil rights. Ann Louise and I have been invited to tell our story in Budapest as part of LGBT History Month in Hungary. This is the first time such a public event like this has been held in Hungary. Ireland has a significant contribution to make in term of advancing LGBT rights across Europe. Solidarity with our friends in Europe is a key theme as Ireland’s Presidency of the EU gets under way.
I recently had the honour of chairing a workshop of the European Parliament’s Committee on Justice and Legal Affair in Brussels. The workshop was held as part of the EU’s 5 year legislative programme specifically to examine issues around civil status and freedom of movement. Currently LGBT couples and families experience a disjointed set of laws across the EU. This veritable patchwork of laws gives rise to significant legal difficulties when moving from one member state to another in relation to marriage or partnership status, de facto relationship recognition or second parent adoption. The current legislative programme sets out a proposal that would require member states to recognize the effect of civil status documents from different member states thereby removing many of these barriers. The European Parliament and the EU Commission are hugely concerned to ensure that the fundamental right of freedom of movement can be fully utilised by all citizens. While LGBT and their families face specific difficulties it is worth noting that over 12 million people study, work or live in a Member State of which they are not nationals. Removing the barriers to the freedom of movement benefits member states, their citizens and their economies.
Achieving equality in Ireland and realising recognition of LGBT families across Europe is the next chapter of Irish history, European history and LGBT history. I hope that this month in Ireland we delve into our lost past, acknowledge present history in the making and look to making history into the future