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A Liberating Island

By Sexpress Editor Caoimhe Battault

At midnight on the 21st of October 2019, same-sex marriage and abortion became legal in Northern Ireland. Although these monumental changes for human rights in NI came from unfavourable circumstances, they are being undoubtably celebrated. After a gruelling Repeal campaign and successful referendum in the Republic in 2017, many campaigners turned their attention to helping their comrades over the border. This new law requires decriminalisation, free, and safe abortions for all in NI. This also calls an end to all investigations related to abortion, including that of a mother who acquired abortion pills for her teenage daughter.

Regarding same-sex marriage, the North have fought tirelessly for equality, with a bill passing parliament five times, each success being vetoed by the DUP. Now NI follows the Republic which was the first country in the world to democratically legalise same-sex marriage in 2015. With such major leaps and bounds in liberation, Ireland, while still having a long way to go, has created a much safer and more enjoyable place to live for the modern people. Considering this historic change in legislation, the long and arduous road towards sexual liberation in Ireland should be honoured.

In 1935, a law is put in place which criminalises the sale of contraceptives in Ireland. Although this law doesn’t strictly outlaw the use of contraceptives, it banned all advertisement and importation. This later led to the famous Contraception Train of 1971, which travelled from Connolly, Dublin to Belfast. The women on board, members of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement, hoped to bring the contraceptive pill to the Republic, however they needed prescriptions, so returned with condoms instead (although the women had planned to avoid “phallic imagery.”) In 1985, the sale of condoms and spermicides was legalised without prescription. Finally, in 2017, the Irish public vote to legalise abortion, with a landslide victory of 66.4%. This was largely aided by the tireless efforts of the grass roots Repeal movement.

In 1885 homosexual acts between men became illegal in Ireland, however no law was set in place for relationships among women. In 1983, Loafers, a gay bar in Cork was opened, ten years before decriminalisation. This shut down in 2015, just weeks before the success of the Same-Sex marriage Referendum. Bridie Bar, now known as the George, opens in Dublin in 1985. Although homosexuality is still illegal at this stage, this bar becomes a safe space for the gay community in Dublin and beyond. This has remained perhaps the most famous LBGTQ+ club in Ireland. On 22nd of May 2015, the Republic votes for the legalisation of same sex marriage with another outstanding win of 62%.

In June 1986, a proposal to amend the law restricting divorce is rejected by 63% with no constituency outside of Dublin voting yes. In November of 1995 the 15th amendment removes the constitutional prohibition on divorce by a very tight public vote (50.28% to 49.72%.) This was a huge blow for the Catholic Church, which has always played a significant role in the perpetration of sexual and personal oppression in Irish history. However, the Church later made it known that it was not a sin to vote yes. In May 2019, the Irish public vote to reduce the required separation time from four years to just two.

It is clear Ireland has steadily become more and more progressive throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, but the struggle is far from over. Rights for the LGBTQ+ community, particularly transgender and non-binary people, are undoubtedly still under attack. Women and minorities still struggle in their daily life here in Ireland and it is important to continue the fight for equality and a better standard of living. Each of these important changes which Ireland has seen have come directly from the determination and progress of the people. It is vital to remember the importance of the role you play in the sexual liberation and struggle for equality of your peers.