What we are seeing in Ireland is an attack by right-wing conservative forces designed to chill the marriage equality debate, says Paul Murphy MEP.
Along with two thousand others last Sunday, I attended the protest against the disgraceful decision by the RTÉ to censor Rory O’Neill and pay a reported €85,000 in damages for ‘defamation’ after he labelled individuals prominent in opposing marriage equality in Ireland ‘homophobic’.
When I returned home, my office email account had been spammed with emails from across Europe opposing a report in the European Parliament called ‘EU Roadmap against homophobia and discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity’. The emails told me that this report was an attack on freedom of speech, another that it “represents an astonishingly shameless attempt by LGBT activists to twist what is meant by fundamental human rights”. One came from European Dignity Watch, which argued that this report “calls for special protection and special rights for LGBTI, but not for all citizens”.
As I said in my speech in the European Parliament, this false claim about a threat to the freedom of speech is deeply ironic given the silencing of Rory O’Neill by RTÉ (you can see my speech here.) It is also hypocritical and offensive because the right to freedom of speech of LGBT people is trampled on regularly.
Gay Pride demonstrations have been attacked by far right thugs. Within the EU, Gay Pride demonstrations have been banned recently by local authorities in Poland and Lithuania. In Lithuania, there are even laws similar to that of Putin’s Russia which bans “propaganda” which “profanes family values”.
Needless to say, the report does not give LGBT people any special rights. It simply addresses ways of tackling homophobia, which infringes on their human rights. Indeed the report is a response to EU inactivity in challenging homophobia. Ten times the European Commission has refused requests from the European Parliament to develop a roadmap against homophobia. The leaders of the European Union, while rightly criticising countries such as Russia and Uganda for their violations of the human rights of LGBT people, are largely silent when comes to addressing homophobia inside the European Union.
What is worrying is the extent to which homophobic organisations have been able to mobilise. According the author of the report, MEP Ulrike Lunacek, she received over 40,000 emails against her report in the last week. A previous report, which included LGBT rights in terms of sexual and reproductive rights, was defeated due to a mobilisation by right wing organisations.
These individuals and organisations know that people are not interested in their rants about sin and sodomy so they wrap their reactionary views up in more acceptable rhetoric. So for example, in the debate in Ireland, homophobic individuals and institutions have tried to redefine what homophobia means. In the debate in the European Parliament, they have tried to claim gains for LGBT people infringes on their fundamental rights. This at a time when a new report from Amnesty International outlines how across Europe, transgendered people’s “fundamental rights” are being violated.
What we are seeing in Ireland is an attack by right-wing conservative forces designed to chill the debate in advance of a likely referendum on marriage equality. This chimes with a growing confidence of homophobic groups across Europe. The dangers they pose must be taken seriously. In France, right wing populist politicians were able to organise large protests against gay marriage, with the result that the Hollande government has now wavered.
Shortly after Croatia recently joined the EU, it passed a referendum limiting marriage to heterosexual couples. This coincided with a new anti-worker law including the right of employers to sack pregnant women while on maternity leave. This is an example of how attacks on LGBT right are linked to other attacks on social gains, and as happened in the past, by linking arms with others under attack it is possible to strengthen the fight for LGBT rights.
Opinion polls in Ireland consistently show that a strong majority supports gay marriage. Winning a referendum on this will be a big step forward and a blow to the forces of conservatism. What is clear, however, is that winning legal rights is not enough. Not only have we seen in different countries how these rights can be won and then lost again, but also on many occasions having legal rights does not translate into change on the ground.
For example, the EU Employment Equality Directive was introduced 15 years ago and included the banning of discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. Yet according to a recent report, 20% of LGBTI people and 29% of transgendered people say they have been discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The same is true in relation to other struggles for civil rights. In America, the Civil Rights Act was introduced in 1964, yet it took mass movement to continue to ensure that the act was properly implemented.
It is that tradition of confidently mobilising to challenge bigotry and for full equality that will force these homophobes back. The legal bullying by the Iona Institute looks set to backfire spectacularly with Panti’s incredible speech at the Abbey going viral worldwide. The stark contrast between that courageous speech and the cowardice of the national broadcaster should push more people to get active and struggle for a society based on real equality.
Paul Murphy is the Dublin MEP for the Socialist Party. He is a member of the European Parliament’s intergroup on LGBT Rights and speaks on these issues in the European Parliament. Most recently, this involved condemning RTÉ’s censorship of Rory O’Neill and using the platform of the Parliament to call out homophobes.
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