EXACTLY TWENTY YEARS ago today, Ireland officially passed legislation which finally decriminalised homosexuality.
The legislation, calls the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) 1993 Bill, was proposed by then-FF TD and Minister for Justice Máire Geoghegan-Quinn. The bill removed Victorian laws from Ireland’s statutebook which criminalised sexual acts between men.
“The passage of the Bill in June 1993 was a watershed in the lives of gay and lesbian people in Ireland,” said Kieran Rose, the head of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network. “No longer were Irish people to be treated as criminals, just because of who they were.”
The move to make homosexual acts no longer illegal followed a 16-year-old legal battle which began in 1977, when Senator David Norris began a case against Ireland’s draconian laws. Norris’s case came before the High Court in 1980, where it was rejected, and before the Supreme Court in 1983, where it was also rejected by five judges who found that the laws which made homosexual acts a crime did not contravene the Constitution.
Norris then took the case to the European Court of Human Rights, with the help of Mary Robinson, where judges finally ruled that Irish laws contravened the Convention on Human Rights. Five years later, the laws were changed.
“The passage of the Bill was one of the most important steps in the liberation of gay people in Ireland,” said Rose. “It led to new generations of lesbian and gay people able to live their lives more openly.”
Following the decriminalisation laws, a series of other reforms were brought in, including domestic violence protections, funding for health and social services for gay and lesbian people, and civil partnership legislation.
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said last week that he believes a referendum on same-sex marriage may be held in 2014.
“We have come a very long way since the State regarded gay people as criminals,” said Rose. “Ireland has changed.”