The Message: The Catholic Church needs to be seriously confronted about its attitude towards homosexuality

The glorious colours of the rainbow which shone all over Dublin last weekend, may be about to give way to the Papal yellow. But before anyone gets too excited, the Pope and the Bishops should answer a simple, yet fundamental question: is it, or is it not, a sin, or even wrong, for two men or two women to have sex together? The time for hypocrisy and evasion is over...

Dublin has just been through a truly extraordinary weekend. The anticipation and excitement had been building through the week, but the city centre still felt like it had been hit by an explosion of colour, energy and good vibes, on the day of the annual Pride march. On the morning, at St. Stephen’s Green in the city centre, that great, long-standing gay rights campaigner David Norris spoke about the first Pride march, back in 1983. It must have seemed like a good idea to someone at the time, but David joked that only seven people showed up. Well, as the song says, “From small things mama, big things one day come.” In more ways than one...

Many grisly skirmishes were fought along the road to freedom. There were setbacks, and moments when it seemed that the old, religiously founded, funded and motivated, prejudices against homosexuals were too deeply hardwired ever to be defeated in Ireland – not least when, in that same year of 1983, the Supreme Court, by a vote of three to two, upheld the old British law, still on the statute books here, which criminalised homosexuality.

The Roman Catholic bigots who had their paws on the levers of power must have laughed like drains, and thought that was the end of the story. But David Norris was then, and is now, a courageous man. He took on the closely-knit, deeply entrenched, political, religious and legal establishment that ruled the roost on this island – and, eventually, with the aid of his senior counsel, the future President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, he won a truly historic judgement in the European Court of Human Rights. There, in 1988, it was ruled that the law criminalising same sex activities was contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights.


It had always been clear to even vaguely intelligent people that the law criminalising homosexuality infringed cruelly on the right of adults to engage in (sex) acts of their own choice. But that is precisely what the Churches in general, and the Roman Catholic Church in particular, wanted. They aimed to force homosexuality underground, and in many ways they succeeded. They wanted people to feel shame. And if that required that some of them might be slung in jail – well, that was okay with the bosses in the Vatican too.

Now, however, that had been declared a breach of human rights. It was a game-changer.

I think it is very important, with Brexit looming, to acknowledge the pivotal role that our involvement in Europe has played in modernising Ireland. Had Ireland not been a member of the EU – and had David Norris not had the courage and the stamina to go all the way to the highest court in Europe – there is little doubt that this country would still be in the merciless grip of the Roman Catholic equivalent of the Taliban.

The modern boys in dog collars might like to pour some kind of intellectually sneaky emollient over this reality, but it will not wash.

They were viciously anti-gay. Anything they could do to crush homosexuality, they did. Every resistance they could mount to the idea of affording freedom to homosexual men to get it on, and to fuck one another – yes, to suck mutual cock or fuck one another anally or whatever else they might have wanted to do – free of the threat of incarceration, they mounted.

It wasn’t against the law, as it happens, but they were almost equally opposed to the idea of any two women mutually licking pussy till they blissed out together in orgasmic delight. In fact, broadly speaking, they were against orgasms, unless they were motivated by a determination to conceive another little conscript into the ‘one true religion’. And this was the regime they had imposed – and still wanted to impose – on anyone and everyone who was capable of having an orgasm in every single one of the 32 counties of Ireland.

Fuck it: if they could have organised a battalion of anti-orgasm stormtroopers, and got away with it, that’s what they’d have done! It might seem extraordinary now, but it didn’t then, that it took a further five gruelling years for the law to be changed. There was one reason only. The religious old guard still had politicians by the short and curlies. They opposed the change, and did everything they could to delay it. In the end, a stupid trade-off was concocted which involved tightening the noose around the activities of sex workers, at the same time as decriminalising homosexuality. And that was the pretext under which it was ‘slipped through’.


It was Máire Geoghan Quinn, a Fianna Fáil Minister for Justice, who oversaw that change and she deserves considerable credit. But the reality is that when the Labour Party went into a coalition government with Fianna Fáil in 1992, they insisted that legalisation of homosexuality must be included in the programme for government. If there had been a way of kicking the can down the road, Fianna Fáil would have done that. But Labour refused to entertain any prevarication. They won the day.

Much of that has been rather conveniently forgotten. We are where we are today, only because enough good people were fully committed to the idea that we had to properly and definitively separate Church and State. Decriminalising homosexuality was a crucial step along the way. But there was then, and there still is, a lot more to be done.

And so here we are. It is estimated that as many as 60,000 people marched or demonstrated to celebrate gay pride in Dublin this weekend. But that is only a quarter of it. Throughout the city, and deep into working class suburbs like Ballymun, the rainbow flag was widely flown as a new statement of what Irish freedom means to people. This is a republic. All of our citizens, gay, straight, trans, and any – or every – where in between, are entitled to equal respect.

Dublin people, and newcomers to the city alike, as well as visitors, have embraced the rainbow colours of Pride with openness and enthusiasm. Of this we are entitled to feel immensely proud. There had been a sense always that – lurking behind the hard, sometimes thuggish front of religious intolerance – Irish people were naturally generous and kind. And so it has proved. Time, circumstance, activism and persuasion have together stripped away that dark, conservative, prejudiced exterior. Bigotry is much less in evidence. Instead, we are open to the light that we find in the eyes and the hearts of others.

It will be fascinating to see how this plays over the next few months. With the Pope due here in August, will people trade the rainbow colours of freedom and diversity for the deceitful connotations of the papal yellow? Or will we insist that the Pope and his tribunes answer unequivocally for their marginalisation and mistreatment of homosexuals, down all the days... and still, now, in 2018?

Will we insist that they answer the simple, fundamental questions: can you please confirm that it is NOT A SIN for men to fuck one another, or for women to fuck one another – as often and as openly and as deeply as they choose? And furthermore, is it fully accepted by the Roman Catholic Church that sex between members of the same sex is as capable of being fine, good, loving, kind and beautiful as sex between members of the opposite sexes? And that it is acceptable, without reservation, in the eyes of the Christian ‘God’?

And to go one step further – because it is the simple logical consequence of a ‘yes’ answer to the last two questions – do they accept that sex without any intention of recreating is also good, fine, wonderful and to be enjoyed without any sense of guilt or sin, no matter who is involved, as long as they are contesting adults?

There is no reason whatsoever for the Pope to duck these questions. Nor is there any reason for the Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops of Ireland to dodge them. Either they are on the bus – or they are off the bus. I suspect they are off. But – in fairness – we will wait and see. The Pope should know in advance, however: he needs to have a proper answer to a simple question. The time for dancing on the head of a pin is over.


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