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Ireland makes history

Irish gay marriageMillions of words have been written in reaction to the result of Ireland’s historic gay referendum in May. Not surprisingly, right wing religious commentators expressed shock and dismay, but their views served only to show how deeply out of touch they are with the real world. Even one of Ireland’s most senior Catholic clerics acknowledged after the vote that the Catholic Church now has to take a “reality check”. Diarmuid Martin, the Archbishop of Dublin, who voted “No” in the referendum, said the Church in Ireland needed to “reconnect with young people”. But it cannot possibly do so as long as the Church remains stuck with its official policy on homosexuality as laid out in its Catechism: Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity [Cf. Gen 19:1–29; Rom 1:24–27; 1 Cor 6:10; 1 Tim 1:10], tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved. When the results became known, I – in my role of secretary of the UK LGBT charity, the Pink Triangle Trust – issued a press release welcoming the result of the Irish referendum. It read: “This is splendid news and a major triumph for LGBT rights campaigning. “It is also a slap in the face for the Pope who has described same-sex marriage as the work of the devil and a ‘destructive attack on God’s plan’. The Pope has also said that gay adoption is ‘a form of discrimination against children’ and compared trans people to nuclear weapons. “It is clear that the majority of ‘No’ campaigners are motivated by a view of marriage informed by their religious faith. They argue that the vote is about the nature of the family, and that children are entitled to a relationship with their birth parents. A letter advocating a No vote was read out in Catholic parishes prior to the referendum. “Ireland is a country where the Catholic Church was an unassailable institution for decades. It didn’t even decriminalise homosexuality until 1993 – and only did so as a result of a European court judgment. “The result of the referendum is a huge blow to the Church which is already reeling from the scandal of predatory paedophile priests in its midst. Its hostile stance on homosexuality is given in its Catechism which describes homosexual acts as “intrinsically disordered”. This is in sharp contrast to the staunch support given by the Humanist and secular movements and prominent Humanists like Stephen Fry and Richard Dawkins.” What I found particularly encouraging was that commentators who are not high profile individuals such as Fry and Dawkins – and not even spokespeople for the Humanist and atheist movements – expressed their joy over the result. One particularly brilliant piece, for example, was penned for The Irish Times by Fintan O’Toole, who wrote: “We’ve made it clear to the world that there is a new normal – that ‘ordinary’ is a big, capacious word that embraces and rejoices in the natural diversity of humanity.

rainbow dublinLGBT people are now a fully acknowledged part of the wonderful ordinariness of Irish life. “It looks like a victory for tolerance. But it’s actually an end to mere toleration. “Tolerance is what ‘we’ extend, in our gracious goodness, to ‘them’. It’s about saying ‘You do your own thing over there and we won’t bother you so long as you don’t bother us’. “The resounding Yes is a statement that Ireland has left tolerance far behind. It’s saying that there’s no ‘them’ anymore. LGBT people are us – our sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, neighbours and friends. We were given the chance to say that. We were asked to replace tolerance with the equality of citizenship. And we took it in both arms and hugged it close.” Writing ahead of the referendum in The Washington Post, Shawn Pogatchnik, pointed out: “Gays in Ireland often have faced a stark choice between leading secret lives or emigrating to more liberal lands. This week, the Irish could turn that tradition on its head and vote to legalise same-sex marriage in the world’s first national referendum on the matter. “The campaign ahead of Friday’s constitutional referendum has featured searing testimonies designed to make the voters of this predominantly Roman Catholic nation look in the mirror. Members of many of Ireland’s most prominent families have come out of the closet in hopes of challenging their neighbors’ attitudes to homosexuality. “The contest has pit the waning power of the Catholic Church against the secular-minded government of Prime Minister Enda Kenny.” He quoted former President Mary McAleese as saying: “A Yes vote costs the rest of us nothing. A No vote costs our gay children everything.” She was speaking at a gay rights event in Dublin after her only son, a 30-year-old airline executive, revealed he is gay. McAleese, a canon law scholar and former legal adviser to the church, spoke of her son’s experience of bullying and isolation as a teenager, and of friends who learned that their own sons were gay only when they tried to kill themselves. He also quoted Conor Cusack, who is one of the few openly gay athletes in Ireland’s native Gaelic sports scene.“For too long now, people haven’t been able to be true to themselves,” she said. In media debates, Cusack has challenged the views of other well-known sportsmen who say they’ll vote no. Ursula Halligan, one of Ireland’s best known political correspondents, who came out as a lesbian in May this year at age 54, was also quoted in Pogatchnik’s article as saying: “Emotionally, I have been in a prison since the age of 17; a prison where I lived a half-life, repressing an essential part of my humanity, the expression of my deepest self; my instinct to love. “At every turn society assumes and confirms heterosexuality as the norm. This culminates in marriage when the happy couple is showered with an outpouring of overwhelming social approval. For me, there was no first kiss; no engagement party; no wedding. And up until a short time ago, no hope of any of these things.” I could go on forever quoting from some of the most uplifting reports I have ever read in the wake the Irish vote, but rather than bang on in a glow of elation I would rather draw your attention to the battle that now urgently needs to fought in Northern Ireland, where the Democratic Unionist Party government continues to block all LGBT rights legislation including same-sex marriage. This month (June) a mass rally in support of same-sex marriage is due to be held in the face of fierce religious opposition. The BBC reported on May 25 that the former moderator of the Presbyterian Church, Dr Norman Hamilton, said he believed legalising same-sex marriage would be resisted in Northern Ireland in the immediate future. ”I can’t see the Presbyterian Church or, indeed, any of the other Churches changing our fundamental position on same sex marriage in that we do regard marriage as being exclusively between a man and a woman,” he said. “But if there were changes to be made, then I would want to urge that they are made by the legislators rather than by the courts.” DUP Member of the Legislative Assembly Peter Weir said he did not see the need for a referendum in Northern Ireland. “We are defending the role of traditional marriage. This is an issue that has been debated on four occasions in the assembly and, on each occasion, it has been rejected by the majority of assembly members. We believe that the traditional marriage definition is correct one. We would be concerned about the impact on Churches.” He concluded: ”We don’t really run social policy in this country by way of referendum.” Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International, said: ”It is discrimination as usual in Northern Ireland for same-sex couples, for gay people. This is now the one region in the UK and Ireland where gay people are not allowed to get married.” Caitríona Ruane, Sinn Féin, said Patrick Corrigan from Amnesty was “absolutely right”. “I was part of the campaign in the south over the last number of weeks. There was a real conversation across family tables amongst the young and old. “For the first time my LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender] friends felt part of the conversation. An overwhelming population in the south voted for it - they voted yes for equality. “If we do not legislate I have no doubt there will be a legal case on discrimination.”

Atheist voices in Catholic Poland

bannerI am just back from my trip to Poland after speaking at the Atheist conference in Warsaw. I am still having to pinch myself that we actually spoke in the Polish parliament building right in the middle of fiercely Catholic Poland! It hadn’t been easy. The organisers headed by the lovely Nina Sankari met with many obstacles but were wonderfully supported by a brave Member of Parliament Wanda Nowicka, who is the deputy speaker. The sessions held in the parliament had to be renamed the “Freedom of Speech and Bio Ethics Conference”, because of objections to the word atheist by the Catholic Church. The conference, however, was truly brilliant, and the welcome I received was amazing. I had been asked to keep the presentation “personal” I think it would have been more than worrying if I had been openly critical of Catholicism, so I had to restrict myself to personal experience. But it was warmly received and very much welcomed. They are so aware of the rot within the church, and like the rest of the world there are so many victims of clergy in Poland who get very little justice.

It is hard to describe the level of power the church has in Poland, and the blind obedience that is constantly on show. On the trams people cross themselves every time they pass a church, (which is about every three hundred yards.) There is a radio station –Radio Maryja – broadcasting prayers and services around the clock. There are pictures of John Paul II everywhere, like a film star, almost deified, and many schools , roads, buildings, churches are named after him. In the main parliament building (like the House of Commons) someone , apparently in the middle of the night, nailed up a crucifix above the platform, and having been put there it can now not be removed because it is considered “historic”. There were Catholic anti- abortionists and anti birth control campaigners in the streets outside the parliament as we went in, shouting abuse at us. I heard some wonderful speakers all over the weekend highlighting many areas where religion of many different hues (although in Poland when anyone says “church” they mean Catholicism) is interfering in human rights, women’s rights and LGBT rights, sabotaging research, all of the things you would expect from a narcissistic organisation. Two main speakers had been stopped from attending, one from the Charlie Hebdo staff for “political reasons” and one from Pakistan was kept so long going through red tape at the airport that he was made to miss his plane. Despite that, speakers from France, the Lebanon, Germany, Belgium, and Canada were among the contributors, as well as from Poland itself.

One delightful lady told the story of being sacked after many years as a teacher. Forty of her colleagues, previously friends, turned against her. Her crime? to take down a crucifix in the staffroom of her school. In the session named “Bio-ethics” professors of genetics, anthropology, philosophy etc from various universities presented their experiences of religious interference in education and medical research. On the second day there was a “secular” march from the statue of Copernicus to the old town square where they re-enact the execution of a 16th century atheist who was tortured and killed for saying there was no God. Everyone dresses up and although it is a good-natured humorous event, it is also a very clever and significant play. As we marched silently with our balloons and banners, we were attacked by groups of Catholic louts, young people who had been organised to create havoc at the march. Singing and screaming abuse telling us we were all going to Hell, they were really quite alarming. There were young women who were part of the group, and I don’t think I have ever witnessed such hatred in anyone’s face. To my surprise, however, the police actually moved the loudest of them away! Some then infiltrated the march with a banner saying “Hell exists and we are praying for you”. Two men carried a huge religious banner silently praying all of the time, as if they were in the presence of the devil. Because of the drip drip drip of intense brainwashing and indoctrination there is huge Catholic paranoia. The faithful seem quite incapable of understanding anyone who has a different point of view. Freedom of conscience and expression is still a long way off from being accepted here. Some of the marchers thought the attacks were funny, and I am sure that is the best way to deal with them, but as someone who has already been abused by the Catholic Church I found myself feeling vulnerable and abused again. I came away realising how lucky we are in countries where free speech is not only tolerated but is celebrated, where although the catholic voice is venomous, it is at least “small” and I felt a close affinity to the wonderful atheists in Poland who will always have a big place in my heart!

• Sue Cox is a patron of The Pink Triangle Trust. This slightly edited piece first appeared on her blog on April 1, 2015.

Irish gay marriage vote 'a slap in the face for the Pope'

THE UK LGBT Humanist charity The Pink Triangle Trust (PTT) has warmly welcomed today's positive outcome of the Irish referendum on same sex marriage.

PTT Secretary George Broadhead said:

This is splendid news and a major triumph for LGBT rights campaigning. It is also a slap in the face for the Pope who has described same-sex marriage as the work of the devil and a ‘destructive attack on God’s plan’. The Pope has also said that gay adoption is ‘a form of discrimination against children’ and compared trans people to nuclear weapons.

PTT blasts Cameron's meeting with hate preacher

The UK gay Humanist charity the Pink Triangle Trust (PTT) had roundly condemned  the UK Prime Minister’s handshake with African homophobic witch-hunting Pastor Rev Enoch Adeboye.

Prime Minister David Cameron was photographed glad-handing the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God at the recent Festival of Life programme held in London, where Adeboye prayed for the Tory leader.