Ireland has stripped away laws which protected the rights of people to freedom of religion when in conflict with gay rights. The move comes just weeks after the first Irish gay weddings went ahead, following a referendum to allow gay marriage earlier this year.
Following the landslide defeat for opponents of same sex marriage – the referendum was lost by 62 per cent in favour of gay marriage to 38 per cent against – Ireland’s Parliament has been busy with a slate of reforms designed to cement the rights of gay people within Irish law, Pink News has reported.
On Tuesday night the latest bastion against religious intolerance was swept away, as the Dáil voted unanimously to repeal Section 37 of the state’s Employment Equality Act. Section 37 granted specific exemptions for “religious, educational or medical institutions” when it came to gay rights, allowing them “to maintain the religious ethos of the institution”.
Removing the section will mean that LGBT teachers will be free to talk to school pupils about their personal relationships, even in faith schools.
Writing in favour of the repeal, Barry O’Rourke, a former junior school teacher commented “Asking people to completely shut off a part of their life is not a feasible solution. Changing legislation is. There are schools that have embraced diversity already but there are plenty who don’t, or at least felt they could not.”
Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, the Minister of State for Equality, spoke of his pride in finally bringing to Parliament the Bill which toppled the exemptions, telling the Irish Times: “I am proud of this Bill, having spent four years of my career bringing it to the eventuality it will become tonight.”
Sandra Irwin-Gowran, Director of Education Policy with the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, said: “We are delighted that this Bill has passed all stages in the Dáil tonight.
“This Bill is the key piece of the legislative map that will allow LGBT people to be themselves, get married and have a family without a threat to their job if they work in a religious run institution.
“To date Section 37.1 has served to create a chilling effect for many LGBT employees. The existing provisions posed a threat of discrimination which has served to silence thousands of teachers in our school.
“We also note where further progress remains to be made for privately funded religious-run institutions, for trans people and for those of no religion.”
The repeal follows the introduction of the Gender Recognition Act in September, which allows people the right to legally change their gender just by altering their passport, without the need to see a doctor; and the gay adoption bill, passed in April, which allows gay couples to adopt children. The latter received a standing ovation when passed.
Nonetheless Ó Ríordáin has signalled that the repeal won’t be the last of Ireland’s reforms to accommodate the LGBT lifestyle.