By Lauren Norton
I’m not always proud to be Irish. We have been an independent nation for less than a century, and our track record in that time has drawn the attention of both Nobel Prize committees and human rights watch agencies. While we produced art and literature and music that delighted and moved a global audience, we brutally oppressed and incarcerated men, women, and children who didn’t fit the State and Church sanctioned definition of “the family.” Anyone who has watched a film like Philomena will be familiar with the practice that existed in Ireland to punish women who became pregnant out of wedlock. The offending female was handed over to an institution where she could atone for her sins through back-breaking labour; her child adopted out to more deserving parents.
In 1993, homosexuality was officially decriminalized, some five years after the European Court of Human Rights instructed the Irish government to dismantle our embarrassingly arcane laws. In 1998, we voted to introduce divorce. Yes, it was not legal to get divorced in Ireland until 1998, when Brandy and Monica’s hit track “The Boy is Mine” played endlessly on the radio. Abortion is still illegal in Ireland unless it occurs as the result of a medical intervention performed to save the life of the mother. This helpful amendment came about after Savita Halappanavar died of septic shock in a hospital in Galway while suffering a miscarriage.
So when I’m having a drink on the patio at Low Brau, and someone overhears my accent, and tells me how much they LOVE IRELAND, I find it hard to share their enthusiasm. I credit spending the last six years in California with making me a more progressive, open minded, and happier human being. While I too love Ireland, it is an undeniable fact that I enjoy greater freedoms as a woman living in California. Endless sunshine and access to safe reproductive health care are not things I take for granted.
Recently however, I’ve had real cause to be proud of where I come from. It started in February of last year, when Ireland’s foremost drag queen, Panti Bliss, gave an eloquent and impassioned speech about homophobia. It immediately went viral. A couple of months later, the video for Hozier’s song “Take Me To Church” featured a gay couple as the song’s beautiful and doomed subjects. The lesser-than rights of LGBT people in Ireland, which for so long had seemed normal and natural, began to be as noxious to our imaginations as the other injustices meted out to people who didn’t fit our notions of the Irish family.
On May 22nd, the Irish electorate will once again be asked to vote on what kind of society we would like to live in, this time with a referendum on marriage equality. The Pro Equality side has produced a moving and intelligent campaign and it is my sincere regret that I am not in Ireland to join the droves of young people knocking on doors canvassing for a Yes vote. The number of Irish citizens living abroad is enormous, but we have no means to participate in our democracy through a postal vote.
Fortunately I have access to an aware and mobilized community right here in Sacramento–a city in which a thousand men are willing to don a pair of heels for the “Walk a Mile in her Shoes” fundraiser. I’m calling on this community to check in with the #YesEquality campaign and show support for Irish activists who are working so hard to build a country that values all of its citizens. Currently the polls are very close, with the No Campaign’s “think of the children” hysteria reaching a fever pitch. By bringing more international pressure to the debate we can ensure that come May 23rd, I’ll be wearing green in the Rainbow District, proud as gummy bear punch to be Irish.