Monday, December 19, 2005

Observe the daughters of Ulster

Marching towards the registry office. Andrew Sullivan takes note of the historic civil partnership ceremony between Shannon Sickels and Gráinne Close at Belfast city hall today:

The one thing that has always united the Catholics and Protestants of Northern Ireland - as is the case with many religious extremists - is hatred of gays. I remember during the UK tour for "Virtually Normal," the first book to argue for marriage rights as the central cause for the gay movement, that I was on a TV show in Northern Ireland. It was the first ever network show on gay issues in Northern Ireland ever, I was told. I was beamed in remotely. They asked ten gay men and women to come to give their side of the story. Only three turned up. The rest were that scared of the social consequences. Yesterday, the first civil marriage took place in Britain for two lesbians. In Belfast. Gay sex was a criminal offense in Ulster as recently as 1982.

Now he's sort of right but the technically the post is a shambles. First, the ceremony was today, not yesterday, which he would have known had he not violated the first rule of Northern Ireland blogging: Thou Shalt Link to Slugger.

But what really dooms the accuracy of the post is its geographic impreciseness, especially for someone who displays occasional strains of Irish nationalism. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but it is not in Britain. If it was, then his claim that gay sex was criminal in Ulster (sic) until 1982 would not be valid, because this was an exception that Northern Ireland had from the rest of the UK. The law in Northern Ireland was aligned with that of the rest of the UK by the Homosexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 1982, following the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights against the UK in the case of Dudgeon (1981).

Note the implementation of this under direct rule from London -- bearing out Sullivan's point that it would not have met popular approval in Northern Ireland. But by the same token, his claim this is the single topic uniting Catholics and Protestants in NI is incorrect, because exactly the same state of affairs still exists with respect to abortion: legal in the UK, but not obtainable in NI by virtue of a special exception.

And we can't let that "Ulster" usage ago. While homosexual acts were illegal in NI until 1982, they were illegal in Cavan, Monaghan, and Donegal and the other 23 counties in the Irish Republic until 1993:

In 1988 [Senator David] Norris took a case to the European Court of Human Rights to argue that Irish law was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. The court, in the case of Norris v. Ireland, ruled that the criminalisation of homosexuality in the Republic violated Article 8 of the Convention, which guarantees the right to privacy in personal affairs. The Irish parliament (Oireachtas) decriminalised homosexuality five years later.

As the Slugger link explains, there is no immediate prospect of civil partnerships in the Republic, but their availability in NI will likely create legal pressures down the road to implement them.

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