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Tuesday 28 November 2023 Dublin: 4°C
Eamonn Farrell via Dublin Pride 2016
25th anniversary

Here's a short history of the battle for LGBT rights in Ireland

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland.

TODAY MARKS THE 25th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the Republic of Ireland.

Earlier this week, the government apologised to men who were convicted of engaging in consensual same-sex activity prior to the decriminalisation in 1993.

While the decriminalisation came 25 years ago, the battle to end the inequality of LGBT people in Ireland dates back long before that.

So, where did it all begin? Here are some of the main events throughout the years.

1861 – Offences Against the Persons Act

For most of Ireland’s history, its laws against homosexuality dated back to the Victorian era and were felt for more than 140 years.

The Offences Against the Persons Act, 1861 made “buggery” an offence punishable by penal servitude.

Under the section “Unnatural Offences”, the Act read: “Whosoever shall be convicted of the abominable crime of buggery, committed either with mankind or with any animal shall be liable … to be kept in penal servitude for life.”

1970s – The beginning of a social movement

One of the first notable actions against the crimality of homoesxuality was led by David Norris, who at the time was a lecturer in English at Trinity College Dublin.

The movement was known as the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform. It aimed to decriminalise homosexuality in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

90231303_90231303 David Norris

Norris began legal proceedings to decriminalise homosexuality in 1977 – stating that such laws contravened the Constitution’s stand on privacy. In 1980, Norris’ case was defeated in the High Court. It was subsequently appealed to the Supreme Court and defeated.

We’ll get back to Norris’ legal battles later.

1983 – Ireland’s first Pride parade

On 10 September 1982, gay man Declan Flynn was attacked in Dublin’s Fairview Park. He later died from his injuries.

The five men who attacked Flynn were brought before the court and Justice Sean Gannon gave them suspended sentences for manslaughter.

Following his death, Ireland’s first Pride parade took place in March 1983. The first event was a one-day affair and aimed a highlighting the levels of violence against LGBT men and women.

fdsfds Irish Queer Archive Irish Queer Archive

1988 – Norris vs Ireland

Back to David Norris.

In 1988, Norris (who was at this stage a Senator) went on to bring his case to the European Court of Human Rights.

His case against the Irish State over the constitutional status of the criminalisation of certain homosexual acts was subsequently won.

The ECHR case paved the way for future changes to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland.

1993 – Decriminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland

On 24 June 1993, Ireland officially passed legislation which finally decriminalised homosexuality.

The legislation, called the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) 1993 Bill, was proposed by then-Fianna Fáil TD and Minister for Justice Máire Geoghegan-Quinn.

The bill removed laws from the Irish Constitution which criminalised sexual acts between men.

original Kieran Rose, Chris Robson, Phil Moore and Suzy Byrne celebrating the change of legislation in 1993.

Speaking about the Bill at the time, the future Tánaiste, Eamon Gilmore, said:

The sexual activities of consenting adults in the privacy of their home are a matter for the people concerned and should not be the business of the Dáil, the Garda or anybody else, including the peeping Toms of the self-appointed moral police from whom we hear a great deal nowadays.

2010 – Civil Partnership Act

Moving on 17 years, the Civil Partnership Act passed through the Dáil in 2010 and gave LGBT couples more rights than they had previously.

While the Act provided broadly the same rights and obligations of married couples towards each other, it did not change the law on issues relating to children, for example, guardianship, adoption, custody, access or maintenance.

2011 – First openly LGBT TDs elected to the Dáil

Another milestone came at the end of the 2011 General Election, with three openly gay TDs being returned.

Jerry Buttimer, John Lyons and Dominic Hannigan took their seats in the Dáil representing Cork South-Central, Dublin North-West and Meath East respectively.

Hugh O'Connell / YouTube

May 2015 – Same-sex marriage referendum

The Irish nation took to the polls on 22 May 2015 to vote on the legalisation of same-sex marriage.

In total, 62% of voters backed the amendment, while 38% voted against it.

Ireland had voted in favour of same-sex marriage.

90381641_90381641 Sam Boal Thousands of people filled the grounds of Dublin Castle to celebrate the passing of the same-sex marriage referendum on 23 May 2015 Sam Boal

It made Ireland the first country in the world to make same-sex marriage legal by popular vote.

The Bill that enacted the marriage referendum was signed into law on 29 October 2015.

July 2015 – Gender Recognition Act

In May 2010, the government set up the Gender Recognition Advisory Group (GRAG) to advise on the legislation to recognise transgender people as their preferred gender.

In July 2011, the group published its recommendations and proposed gender recognition legislation.

90387066_90387066 Leah Farrell Members of TENI and Flac outside the Dáil after the Gender Recognition Bill passed through the Oireachtas Leah Farrell

The Gender Recognition Act was passed on 15 July 2015. It meant that a person can apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate to the Department of Social Protection in order to have their preferred gender recognised by the State.

January 2017 – Lifetime ban on men who have sex with men donating blood lifted

In 2015, Galway student Tomás Heneghan took a case against the Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) to get rid of the lifelong ban on men who had sex with men giving blood.

The lifetime ban on men who have sex with men donating blood to the IBTS was lifted on 16 January 2017.

However, the ban has not been completely lifted yet.

Under reformed law, only men who have not had sex with another man within the past 12 months is allowed to donate blood, if they meet the other blood donor selection criteria.

June 2017 – Ireland’s first openly gay Taoiseach

On 14 June 2017, Leo Varadkar became Ireland’s first openly gay Taoiseach.

Varadkar first spoke publicly about being gay during an interview with Miriam O’Callaghan on RTÉ Radio One, while he was still Minister for Health.

gay pride Sam Boal Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Dublin Pride 2017 Sam Boal

“It’s not something that defines me, I’m not a half-Indian politician or a doctor politician, I’m not a gay politician for that matter, it’s just part of who I am,” he told O”Callaghan.

June 2018 – 25th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland.

On Tuesday, the government issued an apology to men who were convicted of engaging in consensual same-sex activity prior to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1993.

Between 1940 and 1978 an average of 13 men a year were jailed for homosexual offences, while between 1962 and 1972, there were 455 convictions.

A Labour Party motion on the issue, tabled by Senator Ged Nash, received all-party support in the Dáil.

Addressing the Dáil, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar thanked the people who “helped change minds and change laws” and said these people “fought for me before I did so myself”.

And so, while there is an abundance of more events and battles that the LGBT people of Ireland have fought and faced through the years, this has been a short history of the major markings since the mid-1800s.

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