IRELAND, THE LAW AND GAY COUPLES

Gay-Couple
AS IT STANDS, IRISH LAW SPECIFICALLY AND ONLY DISCRIMINATES AGAINST GAY COUPLES, RATHER THAN GAY INDIVIDUALS.

I was in a discussion the some weeks ago with a good friend, who happens to be straight, on the subject of the recent ‘homophobia’ controversy surrounding RTÉ, Rory O’Neill, some journalists and The Iona Institute. It struck me there might be some benefit in clarifying one thing regarding the issue of equality, as opposed to homophobia.

Both my partner Alan and I, as gay men, can individually apply to adopt or foster children. But if Alan and I were civil partners, we could not apply to adopt. So, in effect, Irish law, as it stands, discriminates against gay couples only, as opposed to gay individuals.

My friend wanted to know what’s stopping gay people adopting a child and rearing it as a couple? The short answer is there’s nothing stopping us, but that child would have legal rights to only one of us.

Meanwhile there are many children being reared in perfectly normal family environments by gay couples, but only one half of the couple is legally recognised as the child’s parent. In the matters of sickness, education, separation and death, the law is completely at odds with what is likely to be in the best interests of the child, in that it cannot look to one of its parents for security. The non-parent partner has absolutely no legal standing.

There are indeed some couples where, after getting married, one of the couple underwent gender reassignment, so technically they are now in a same-sex marriage, but the law neither recognises this, nor condemns it. As far as the law is concerned their status became frozen in time, when they both said ‘I do’.

You can be female, black, a Traveller, a Muslim or a Jew, and experience prejudice on a daily basis. But in the eyes of Irish law, as long as you are heterosexual you and your families have full equality. As it stands, when it comes to marriage and forming families, gay couples are the only unit of civil society in this country that are second class citizens under the eyes of the law,

The issue at hand is not about allowing gay couples to marry. It is about giving gay couples the same right to choose whether or not they want to marry and/or raise families. The Government has promised to address the situation around gay couples adopting, in Children and Families legislation in advance of the referendum on same-sex marriage next year. Until this bill is passed in full, and marriage equality is achieved, the law is an ass.

 

This blog post first appeared in GCN / theoutmost.com January 2014

© David Wilkins – January 2014

HOW THE WEST INFLUENCES AFRICA’S ANTI-GAY LAWS

Africa is not a good place to be gay in 2014. Indeed, in the early stages of the 21st century Africa is in fact, an extremely dangerous place to be gay – or more importantly, to be found out, or to come out, or to be identified as being gay. Out of 54 countries on the continent of Africa, 38 now criminalise homosexuality.

Image

Many African states have bizarrely straight borders. In colonial times, these lines were almost arbitrarily drawn, as the continent was divided up among Western powers. As Africa was carved up, thousands of years of tribal culture were ploughed into the desert. Ancient animosities were stored up over decades until, after the Europeans left, festering tribal hatreds erupted. The late 20th century saw bloody conflicts across the continent, a scourge that continues today. So on a continent full of deeply suspicious in-fighting, where has the nearly blanket hatred of LGBT people come from?

There is evidence to suggest that in ancient Africa, many cultures, while not quite celebrating homosexuality, were tolerant of it. But as the Western European powers divided up the continent, Victorian and pathologically Christian moralities were imposed with an iron fist upon the ‘savages’. For many modern African nations, the statutes that criminalised homosexual acts in the 19th century still exist today. (Bear in mind that when Ireland decriminalised homosexuality in 1993, the Acts of Parliament we committed to history had been imposed by the British in 1861 and 1885.)

From that time, well into the 20th century there was also a sharp upswing in Christian proselytisation in Africa. In 1900 there were nine million Christians; by the year 2000, there were an estimated 380 million. European missionaries essentially swapped souls for food and education, and the practice has in recent years been taken up by American style evangelicals, whose fervent brand of Christianity is equally, if not more homophobic. The other great religion in Africa, of course, is Islam. But depending on your take on the Koran, the attitude towards homosexuality is no more forgiving. Indeed, Sharia law demands the death penalty for homosexual acts.

The other great trauma that effectively emasculated the African male was the slave trade. Hundreds of thousands of men women and children were sold as chattels and treated as livestock. A deep-rooted hatred of and animosity toward the ‘white man’ percolated into the African, and indeed African-American, psyche, and is still part of society today. In recent years, many of Africa’s current political leaders have castigated Western politicians pronouncements on human rights, including gay rights. As Uganda’s President Museveni finally signed the hateful new bill into law, he told President Obama and Secretary John Kerry to keep their unwanted noses out of Ugandan affairs. They can manage just fine without them.

As the West’s thinking on morality and sexuality became more liberal over the past 50 years, Africa was busy freeing itself from the yoke of its former masters, looking for it’s own identity. Many African’s regard the West with a mixture of envy and resentment. Their view is that the West is largely responsible for the perilous state of many of the African nations’ economies and infrastructures. Recent political leaders are implying the West has some nerve lecturing others on morality, after its record in Africa over the last 200 years.

In recent history, the current African hatred of homosexuality has been largely of the West’s own making. But what, if any, responsibility does that impose on the West to protect those who fear persecution and even death for being gay in Africa? Many recent comments on social media sites against Uganda’s actions have been incredibly reactionary and in some cases rascist and xenophobic. There have been calls for a blanket ban of Western aid to African states that impose such harsh legislation on their own populations. However, I believe that will achieve nothing only to stiffen Africa’s resolve to go its own way.

The West bears a responsibility to articulate a more global, United Nations-based view that those attitudes towards homosexuality, along with women’s issues, slavery and the treatment of children belong in the past. They reflect the norms and mores of a time and a civilisation that no longer exist. We in the West need to try and differentiate between those elements of African society and culture we have no part in interfering with, and those darker elements of modern Africa that must be managed and dispatched to history if African nations are to become fully fledged members of a peaceful and tolerant global community.

Our approach must be one of sensitivity, understanding and empathy, coloured with respect for tolerance. There is nothing to fear about difference and everything to gain from inclusivity.

This blog post first appeared on theoutmost.com – February 2014

© David Wilkins February 2014

 

Mandela: Long walk to Freedom

Mandela: Long walk to Freedom

Directed by Justin Chadwick

Starring Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela, with Naomie Harris as Winnie Madikizela

Running time: 146 minutes

Image 12A

There’s a heart wrenching scene in Fred Zinneman’s classic 1966 film “A Man for all Seasons” where Sir Thomas More’s family have been sent to try persuade More to swear to the Oath of Accession and thus ensure his release from The Tower of London. With reference to the dreary place that is his cell, and fighting back overwhelming emotion, More tries make light of his separation from his loved ones and quips:

“Except it’s keeping me from you, my dears, it’s not so bad. Remarkably like any other place.”

More would eventually lose his head for standing by his beliefs. A fate narrowly avoided by the title character in Justin Chadwick’s bio-pic “Mandela: Long walk to Freedom”.

Chadwick’s film of the life of Nelson Mandela uses a similar tack. It’s not simply a documentary, recounting the events of Mandela’s life and times in a segregated South Africa, but rather an insight into the person and the emotional effects on his life as events over take him and he becomes bound up in the fate of a nation struggling for freedom.

Idris Elba plays Mandela deftly, and with great compassion reveals the Mandela’s life journey. We travel from his childhood home in a rural village, through to his meeting Winnie Madikizela, ably played by Naoimie Harris, and on to marriage, children and his practice as a lawyer in a segregated South Africa.

Mandela might‘ve had a fairly privileged life but that all changed when he was persuaded to join the African National Congress, the ANC. Increasingly angered by the brutality of the apartheid system Mandela, becomes a political agitator and publicly renounces any cooperation with the authorities by burning his identity papers. His activities mean he has to go underground, hiding out in safehouses. Things changed dramatically after the Sharpesville massacre in 1960, when 69 unarmed black protestors, including children, were mowed down by the police. It was a catalyst that saw Mandela finally embrace an armed struggle and ultimately would lead to his arrest, with a cadre of ANC colleagues, and indictment for treason.

Rather than risk the men becoming martyrs, the judge decides not to sentence them to death but rather to life in prison on the notorious Robben Island. William Nicholson’s script, based on Mandela’s autobiography of the same name, wonderfully describes the slow pain of years slipping glacially by as he struggles with the emotions of missing his children growing up, and the funeral of his eldest son tragically killed in an accident.

For the people of South Africa, Nelson Mandela becomes the near mythical lightning rod of the anti-apartheid movement, and his cause becomes a global campaign. In his absence Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is increasingly involved in the armed struggle and after several incarcerations and physical abuse at the hands of the authorities she becomes deeply embittered. Winnie’s deep seated anger causes her to become disenchanted with her husband’s decision to renounce violence and follow the path of peaceful negotiations and they ultimately separate. She does however join him on that fateful day in February 1990 when, after 27 years detention, Nelson Mandela was released from Victor Verster Prison

Ultimately, under the crippling weight of international sanctions, the last white President of South Africa, F.W. De Klerk, well played by Gys de Villiers, accepts that the apartheid system is unsustainable. He quickly moves to implement reforms and works with the ANC and other organisations with the goal of dismantling the system and delivering full free democratic elections. Mandela is momentously elected as South Africa’s first black President.

Although well over two hours long, the film seamlessly carries the audience through a roller coaster of emotions and leaves you more than a little drained by the end. Chadwick’s impeccable use of the camera and lighting draws you into every scene and engages you at each step of the journey, making you invest personally in the narrative. The sweeping beauty of the South African countryside is also used to great visual effect as we follow the story to it’s conclusion.

Topped off with U2’s Oscar nominated original song ‘Ordinary Love’ – “Mandela: Long walk to Freedom” is an absolute superb film, you really must see.

© David Wilkins – March 2014

Available for download from The Apple iStore from April 28th, HD version €13.99.