Equality Is on the Horizon: What 2012 Said About Ireland

Last year saw some major advances toward achieving a reality of equal treatment and equal opportunity for every person in Ireland in matters relating to gender and orientation. 2012 saw a shift in attitude, a shift in opinion, a shift toward justice and fairness. Over the course of the year, one of the most reasonable and optimistic statements, to my mind, came from the American artist P!nk. She said:

I think that the best day will be when we no longer talk about being gay or straight -- it's not a "gay wedding" it's just a "wedding", it's not a "gay marriage" it's just "a marriage". It's not a "black man" or "white woman", it's just "a man" and "a woman" or "a human" and "a human". I'd just like to get to that.

Can we get to that? I believe that we can. And I believe that we are.

It was over the summer that RTÉ radio host Derek Mooney openly discussed his attraction to men. When asked about coming out, he replied, "Out where? I was never in." He told the RTÉ Guide, "I just didn't talk about my sexuality. I'm a guy who presents a radio show and that's it. I shouldn't have to talk about my private life. It should be about what I'm doing for a living." He added, "Yes, I'm gay ... but it's no big deal." And he's right.

Who doesn't want their love life to be a private matter? Whether one is attracted to women, men or both has nothing to do with what one does for a living. In fact, it has it nothing to do with any aspect of life, only, one's love life. That's the significance of it, and that's the crux; it concerns your love life, not your whole life.

Much-loved X Factor contestant Lucy Spraggan often echoed this sentiment when asked about her orientation and her attraction to women. She said, "To me, there has never been a question about being openly gay or closed gay, it is only an issue for people that make it an issue." She added, "I don't think it matters."

Does it matter? No, it doesn't matter. And this is the conundrum. It should be a non-issue, it should be a non-event. And it will be; the wind of change is blowing. But for now, in the meantime, visibility is most important. It would appear that being out and being visible is par for the course in achieving equality and finally getting over this needless hurdle. Visibility firmly establishes the fundamental fact that people are no different by reason of their orientation, and that orientation has absolutely no bearing on a person as an individual. It does not put one on a different course for life, and it does not determine one's opportunities in life. This is why the likes of Derek Mooney, Lucy Spraggan and others being out in the public eye operates to challenge and correct conditioning. Their visibility dismantles any notion that one's orientation and being out is of any disadvantage or detriment to succeeding in any part of life. Visibility, while offering an educational value for society at large, and very importantly for younger people, is coupled with a valuable reassurance. To this day, some young people struggle to come to terms with an aspect of themselves that they should never have to struggle to accept. Each and every one of them will come to learn the truth. The truth they will learn is that it changes nothing and does not mean that one is different. As Derek Mooney said, it's no big deal! And as per Lucy Spraggan, it doesn't matter!

For sure, times have most definitely changed, and for the better. I remember when Ellen DeGeneres, a most beloved and respected advocate of equality, publicly came out. I remember being a frightened teenager back in 1997, harboring what I thought was my little secret. I loved her show. And I knew why! And I now know that there was no reason to be frightened and nothing to be afraid of. The difficulty was that there were no role models on Irish television or in the Irish public eye at the time. I knew I would never want a boy, but I never thought I could have a girl. It wasn't something I could see in my future, because I couldn't see it in my present. It wasn't there to see. My teenage mind was in need of education. My teenage self was in need of reassurance. Society always needs positive role models in all areas, and positive role models advance positive change for all.

Ultimately, progress will necessarily present a situation whereby "coming out" will be replaced by simply being out. There will be no perception of difference, no fear, no worry and no anxiety. No declarations, no announcements, no revelations need be made. Nothing is questioned or second-guessed. We are moving away from a situation in which heterosexuality is viewed as some kind of benchmark and always to be assumed unless stated otherwise. We are moving toward a situation in which diversity is understood to encompass heterosexuality, that heterosexuality is not a yardstick by which to measure diversity against. It is an orientation that shares equal status and equal validity with all orientations. And all orientations share the same valid existence under the unifying umbrella of diversity. Diversity is variety, and diversity encompasses all varieties.

It was Linda Ellerbee who suggested, "People are pretty much alike. It's only that our differences are more susceptible to definition than our similarities." It was while talking to the RTÉ Guide that Derek Mooney mentioned that he knew of his orientation from a young age, which is often the case, and he remarked, "But I didn't feel different from anyone else." And he asked, "Why should I?" It begs the question of why, in the context of orientation, there is any real difference. The lesson is loud: Treating people differently, or thinking people are different, does not make them different.

Perhaps a stumbling block concerns the language that is used. We speak of sexual orientation, homosexuality, bisexuality, heterosexuality. To be fair, in all of history, any sexual activity has always been somewhat taboo, and that's regardless of whom it involves. That said, one's orientation concerns not simply the issue of sex but, more importantly, the issue of love; it concerns one's love life. And what does anybody's love life entail? Of course, there is often a sexual element, but love lives also bring experiences of attraction, romance, intimacy and love, tender emotions producing tender experiences between two people -- at the core, between a human and a human. I think Boy George put it best when he said, "There's this illusion that homosexuals have sex and heterosexuals fall in love. That's completely untrue. Everybody wants to be loved." This is precisely the point. It's not all about sex; it's more so about love. That's why President Obama, during the year, proclaimed that "no one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hands of the person they love." Very importantly, orientation concerns not simply one's sex life but one's love life.

How important is love to anybody's life? Is love connected to happiness? Is love a part of happiness? Contrary to some misguided thought, falling in love is not denied to any orientation. The bond of love is not reserved for any gender combination. Dorothy Parker captured the point succinctly, saying, "Heterosexuality is not normal, it's just common." This common gender combination of man and woman has always been traditionally and popularly portrayed to the exclusion of any other combination. Consider the movies, the love songs, the fairy tales, the prince and the princess, Romeo and Juliet. It has been customary to see just one variety. And it is exactly that: part of variety.

In such exclusive portrayal, an element of authenticity is missing. This purported "norm," this common gender combination, has established an artificial limit. It represents and exposes only a part of reality. It is an unbalanced portrayal, something that falls short of representing reality in full, portraying the lived experience of some, the relationships of some. This exclusive portrayal does not reflect reality.

The existence and operation of love outside the commonly portrayed variety is not a new phenomenon. Love is not, and has not been, confined to what has been traditionally and openly portrayed. This false thought line operates to give weight to this perception of difference, a difference that does not exist. The novelty element of these relationships is only in their openness, in their portrayal in our world today. In times past, feelings existed but were resisted -- repressed, suppressed or ignored, Fear and prejudice operate as overwhelmingly powerful motivators. Actions, lives and relationships are at the mercy of, at the expense of and governed by fear. That is not a real world. That is not an authentic world. It is something that is no longer a matter fit for silence or concealment. Love has not changed. Times have changed.

If one understands heterosexuality, then one understands homosexuality. What role does gender play in a loving relationship? Where gender does matter, it matters personally. Where gender plays a role and is determinative to whether romantic love operates from a personal perspective, it is determinative to those concerned equally. To heterosexual people, a particular gender combination is vital for love. To homosexual people, a particular gender combination is vital for love. This natural predisposition, this natural inclination, is equal in its operation, where it does operate decisively. Whether one is attracted to people of the same gender or to people of a gender that is different from one's own does not change what love is. Nothing is different: not the capacity, the willingness, the desire or the ability to fall in love. It's not love that sees gender. It's people who see gender. And that's a personal thing, and love is a personal thing.

Herein lies the one difference where loving relationships are concerned. This difference is not in love. This difference is in treatment. Those involved in "common," traditionally portrayed relationships of the heterosexual variety are free from judgement, fear, prejudice and question, whereas those in any relationship outside the common gender combination have been considered less valid, subjected to scrutiny, misunderstood, disapproved of, frowned upon, ridiculed, disregarded, deterred and even outlawed. Yet all loving relationships are founded on and driven by the very same force, the very same thing, and that is love.

The exclusive portrayal of heterosexual couples is waning. This growing visibility of relationships and increased mainstream media portrayal changes hearts and minds. It offers to educate people on the existence of all types of couples, which may comprise a woman and a woman, a man and a man or, at the core, a human and a human. Visibility further illustrates the validity and normality and indeed the similarities of these couples and these relationships, which ultimately results in complete acceptance and a reality of equality by way of equal treatment and equal opportunity for all couples.

For sure, equality is on the horizon.

Over Pride weekend in Dublin in June, Eamon Gilmore publicly announced that he felt that the state should no longer dictate whom people fall in love with or whom they decide to spend their lives with. He called achieving equality in marriage laws "the civil rights issue of this generation." The Tanaiste is not alone. His views are part of an abundance of support, including statements from many politicians and celebrities: Mary McAleese, Barack Obama, David Cameron, city and county council members all across Ireland, and many, many others. The wind of change is blowing.

In May President Higgins put a call out to the youth of Ireland. He invited young people to outline their vision of Ireland for the future. According to the president:

We must seek to build together an active, inclusive citizenship: based on participation, equality, respect for all and the flowering of creativity in all its forms. A confident people is our hope, a people at ease with itself, a people that grasps the deep meaning of the proverb "ní neart go cur le chéile" -- our strength lies in our common weal -- our social solidarity.

The youth of Ireland responded to the president's call. The future of our country, as the young people see it, consists of equality and a Constitution that represents all members of our society, regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. They called upon the legislators to make marriage equality and adoption rights a reality. The youth want a secular, inclusive, confident state. They want a place where human rights are valued, where there is an acceptance and celebration of all citizens, and where all people have equality of access and opportunity in society and in the state. They want unity.

Cesar Chavez said, "Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. We have seen the future, and the future is ours."

The younger generation has spoken, and the future is in their hands.

I believe it was Kurt Cobain who said that the duty of youth is to challenge corruption. To that I'll also add that it's our duty to challenge conformity, which needlessly hinders the expression of individuality. And the way I see it, the duty of society is to encourage and facilitate our younger generation in paving the way toward that better Ireland, that unified Ireland.

It is coming to light. The light of truth is exposing the futility of any opposition by detractors who opt to afford more weight and value to tradition than to truth and harmony, and those who not only stand in the way of union but obstruct unity. The confines of the past and the restraints of yesterday are giving way to the possibilities of tomorrow, to a future of prosperity, to a reality of Irish society grounded in the principle of equality, equality being the very principle on which our fundamental law of the land, Bunreacht na hÉireann, the Constitution of Ireland, enacted by the people, for the people, is founded.

As our leader, President Michael D. Higgins, advised us, "ní neart go cur le chéile": there is no strength without unity. A united Ireland respects her citizens, each and every one of them, as human beings. A strong Ireland embraces the individuality of her citizens and facilitates equally, every human, irrespective of the gender of the person whom they may come to love, whom they may want to marry, whom they may decide to spend their lives with. In the name of love, in the love of justice, in these things we all claim to hold dear, the choice is ours to shake off the confines of a tradition of the past and to choose to live in harmony, in unity, not in uniformity, not in conformity. It is our beloved Ireland, it is our diverse Ireland, and we all call it home.