So 2015 is going to be a historic year in Ireland. We’re going to have a referendum on legalising gay marriage and all signs suggest that it will pass. To most of us, this just seems like a no-brainer. We think that it’s long overdue and we can’t comprehend how there was so much hostility towards homosexuals in the past in our societies. Then, we look at those who still feel hostility towards them and we feel disgust, contempt, and we consider them backwards in their thinking. We’d like to believe that we think this way simply because its the right way to think and that we’d think this way no matter what. Personally, I don’t think that’s the case.
Now let me just get the disclaimer out of the way before I continue on. I myself am not opposed to gay rights. Far from it. My policy has always been one of live and let live. As long as a person’s way of life does not cause harm to or infringe on the rights of others, I see no problem with people living their life as they see fit. I see absolutely no way that homosexuality causes harm to others, so I will definitely be voting yes to gay marriage legislation and would encourage others to do the same.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I’ll continue. We look at countries like Russia and their anti-gay laws and we think “How could they do that?” The reality is, they can do that because they have widespread popular support to do so. In fact, according to this article, 88% of Russians polled support the law (and I wonder how many of the 12% who don’t are heterosexuals). People in the West demonise the Russian government for this law, but the reality is it’s Russian society as a whole that has a problem with homosexuality.
So what is it that makes them different from us? Why is it that we in the West are so supportive of the rights of homosexuals, but those in Russia (and many other countries where it’s actually completely illegal) aren’t? Is it just that we’re smarter and more enlightened? Is it because we’re naturally more compassionate people? My answer to that is no. We need only look at our own past to see this. Back when we were Catholic Church dominated Ireland, we were just as opposed to homosexuality as the Russians are. In fact, we only decriminalised homosexual acts in 1993, the same year funnily enough that Russia did. However, in the 2 decades since, Russia has remained as homophobic a society as ever, whereas as we not only tolerate it, but welcome it and treat it with the same level of respect as heterosexuality.
“What Jimmy didn’t know was that Ralph was sick. A sickness that was not visible like smallpox, but no less dangerous and contagious. A sickness of the mind. You see, Ralph was a homosexual, a person who demands an intimate relationship with members of their own sex.” I’m dying from laughter.
The reason why is obvious. Our media and our public representatives have been pushing very strongly for gay rights. Homophobic people and institutions are condemned as bigots. We have enacted legislation that forbids us from discriminating based on a person’s sexuality (and rightfully so), and we have seen more and more positive portrayals of gay characters in our entertainment in modern times.
I’m a young enough guy, but I’m old enough to remember the days when people would use the word “Gay” in place of the words “Stupid”, “Bad”, and other negative words and nobody would bat an eye. I can remember a time when gay teens felt unable to come out of the closet for fear of being bullied by their classmates. I can remember when people used to think of the famous gay bar, The George, as some kind of hangout for perverted degenerates, rather than what it actually is, a perfectly normal pub which just happens to be a comfortable place for gay people to meet each other. All of this was only about a decade ago. We’ve come a long way in our attitudes towards the gay community.
I just believe that it’s something that merits thinking about. If the media can change our attitudes to long held thoughts on a topic that quickly and easily, what other things can they (or indeed have they?) influence us on? As I’ve said, I do believe that beyond the obvious biased push in favour of gay rights, that even looking at it from an unbiased perspective, it is the right way to go. However, I can’t help but wonder. If our media was more like the media in Russia, would we still have the same attitudes? I’m sure most of us would like to say that yes we would, but honestly, I’m not so sure.