Archives for posts with tag: human rights

It all comes down to this. Do I want to live in a country that is accepting of people at a fundamental level, or would I prefer a place that is happy to continue a historical tradition of intolerance for those people who don’t quite fit?

For decades, Ireland was a country blemished by unhealthy attitudes towards those who couldn’t live up to standards that a comfortable majority had set for themselves. For those who did not conform, or could not do so, the realities of life were quite incredible. Wider society treated them with contempt – the orphaned, the unmarried mothers, the mentally ill, the sexual misfits – for them, our country was a barely more than a prison. Little wonder that many took the boat as soon as they had half a chance. Maybe it was the Famine that made us like this, or the Catholic Church, or the excessive nationalism of our country’s early years – whatever the reason, our recent history is obscured by shadows and skeletons.

This is not the Ireland I see around me today. Despite the trauma of our past, my gut tells me that we have grown as a nation. I like to think that our country has gone a long way to accept difference, whether that be religious, cultural, national, mental, racial or sexual. There is much humour, much love and much intelligence in our culture. We aspire to a fairer society that treats everyone as equals. Maybe I’m wrong, but I have a sense that I should be proud of this little nation. Hopefully, this impression can be copper-fastened on May 22nd.

If the country votes Yes, we will be the first country on the planet to give gay people the right to marry by popular mandate. It will send a message to the world that is much wider than the issue at hand. It will tell everyone that we really are a nation of a hundred thousand welcomes, and that’s no bad thing.

In opposition to this notion are people whose idea of a future Ireland is also much wider than the issue at hand. To them, extending marriage to gay people is just one more step in the secularisation of Irish society. Sure, they use fancy words and nuanced rhetoric, but I remember well the divorce and abortion referendums of the 1980’s and 1990’s, and I can tell you that their approach is always the same. It’s all just a big smokescreen, designed primarily to inject fear and suspicion into middle Ireland. It’s progress they are against and they will fight with tooth and nail every attempt to introduce positive changes to our society. Why else would they mount such implacable opposition to a legal change that will affect such a small number of people in our country?

I want Ireland to be open, accepting society that embraces change and difference. A positive outcome will be a massive step along the way. I am voting Yes.

“I confess to almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned through my own fault, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do”

Confetior

The debate over the upcoming Marriage Referendum in Ireland continues to fascinate me. The NO campaign is largely driven by bishops, priests and spokespeople linked to the Irish Catholic church. In principle, the Church calls itself a beacon of humanity and compassion in the world. The utterances and actions of recent weeks belie such lofty aspirations. In doing so, they wilfully ignore a historic injustice they had some part in propagating and prolonging.

The past few centuries have not been kind to homosexual people. They have been bullied, scorned, laughed at, imprisoned, threatened with violence, assaulted, killed and gassed. Up to very recently, society saw them as deviants and predators and censured them accordingly. There was never any recognition that homosexuality was something you were born with; something you had little control over. The authorities at the time felt compelled to repress it and push it under cover. In doing so, countless lives were destroyed. We were driven to fear the enemy within.

Even to this day, governments around the world have laws against homosexuality. In Russia and Malaysia, gay people are routinely thrown in jail. In Uganda, legislators are trying hard to impose the death penalty for homosexuality. These malignant injustices are here with us today and, presumably, for a long time to come.

Surely this is a cause we should all support: for all members of our society to be given a chance, to be treated the same, to have past wrongs acknowledged and prevented. Unfortunately – despite the lip-service they pay to human rights – we are not seeing this from the elders of the Catholic Church.

You would think that any organisation professing to defend the downtrodden and the oppressed would see this referendum as an opportunity to provide positive leadership, but no. They have come out as dismissive, reactionary and uncaring; using precisely the same Jesuitic rhetoric in 2015 as the defenders of past injustices did back in years past. In all this debate they have forgotten whose side they should be on, preferring instead to champion ancient prejudices.

Not just one, but two generations have been alienated by such pronouncements. What we have is an organisation arguing itself into obsolescence, not caring about the consequences or how such views will be perceived by future generations. Not in our name, we say. Some day in the future, a pope will issue an apology for these wrongs, but by then it will be far too late.

My shame is that I don’t get sufficiently outraged by pictures such as this.

Or this.

gaza-children-3

I am ashamed that my typical reaction is that that it’s all very complicated really, that the other side have their reasons, and that the aggressors were probably forced into it.

I see democratic countries – free countries – countries that could and should be providing leadership by example, lowering themselves to the tactics of their enemies, and I shrug my shoulders. I am ashamed that over time I have become morally neutral about such things.

But I look at the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, and even though I know it’s more complicated than this, and even though I appreciate that the other side are far from blameless, and even though I recognise the anger and frustration on the other side, and that there is a strategic logic in play, I can’t help feeling that the bombardment is nevertheless utterly wrong.

When a government bombs mainly innocent civilians, when they show scant regard for the lives of small children and when they don’t give the inhabitants of Gaza the opportunity to flee the fighting, when we see phosphorous devices being used in urban areas, then lets call a spade a spade, we’re witnessing war crimes.

To all those men and women who are prepared to stand up on the side of human rights, I salute you.

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