Ireland's Pink Panther: Money, Sex, and Civil Partnership
A new—and very significant—Civil Partnership Bill is set to go before Irish politicians in October. The bill, which could potentially come into effect by the end of this year, would legally enshrine many rights for same-sex couples with regard to finances, taxation, inheritance, immigration and other important facets of life. The bill would also confer rights onto non-married couples.
Ireland has certainly come a long way in the past two decades—less than that, even. Homosexuality, for example, was only decriminalized in 1993, but today there is a great deal of anti-discrimination legislation.
A huge factor—perhaps the factor—which brought about this change was money: the Celtic Tiger, Ireland's great economic boom. People have different opinions about when the good times began and when they ended, but prosperity lasted roughly from 1997 until 2007.
During this time, it seemed as though the country was simply awash with money (this was not the case for everyone, of course, but that's a different article). For the first time in the country's history, there were more than enough jobs to go around and, coupled with the fact that the banks were more than happy to hand out credit, it seemed like everyone could have anything they wanted—houses, cars, clothes, etc.
Money played a huge role in helping to free many people from the traditional Irish Catholic hang-ups about sex. They are still there, of course, in the backs of the minds of many people, but they certainly do not have the pulling power, so to speak, that they once did.Of course, this being Ireland, everyone also spent a lot of their new spare cash in the pub. And what do most of us like to do when we drink? Have sex. And that's what just about everyone did.
Thus, money played a huge role in helping to free many people from the traditional Irish Catholic hang-ups about sex. They are still there, of course, in the backs of the minds of many people, but they certainly do not have the pulling power, so to speak, that they once did.
However, with the upcoming vote on the Civil Partnership Bill 2009 (a few weeks ago, we ran an article on the clever ad that is promoting the bill), I wanted to find out about some of the specific effects the Celtic Tiger had on the gay community in Ireland, and what changes have come about since 1993.
Eoin Collins, Director of Policy Change at the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN), says that, since homosexuality was decriminalized, "we moved into a period where the gay and lesbian identity was about more than just sex." Since then, he says, progress, in terms of attitudes, identity and social and political change, has been rapid.
The fact that there were plenty of jobs available during the boom years, coupled with the fact that many American and other international companies were coming into Ireland (because of favorable tax deals) also helped people within the gay and lesbian community, says Eoin. For a start, someone who was experiencing discrimination at work could simply leave their job, without the fear that they would not be able to find another one.
There was also the fact that many of the international companies had very good equality and anti-discrimination policies, and so this gave local companies the motivation to get their policies in line, so that they too would be attractive to potential employees.
Brian Finnegan, editor of Gay Community News (the premier publication of the LGBT community in Ireland), says the Celtic Tiger wasn't the only cat in town—there was also the Pink Panther.
He's referring to the fact that, during these years of prosperity, businesses and advertisers began to recognize the power of the "pink euro," that is, gay and lesbian consumers and their money. This time also saw the rise of the "super-pub" in Ireland: massive bars in which customers drank copious quantities of expensive beverages. These two forces combined meant that some pub owners began to market their businesses as "gay bars," hoping to cash in on the pink euro. Thus, the gay scene "not only grew in terms of spaces but in terms of confidence," says Brian.
But being gay in Ireland is not just about money, obviously. Both Brian and Eoin point to the fact that the debate about the Civil Partnership Bill has helped to politicize, or re-politicize, many people within the gay community. In fact, last month, 5,000 people marched through the streets of Dublin in support of same-sex marriage—the biggest gay pride event the country has ever witnessed.
The protesters were arguing that civil partnership is not good enough, that it does not give equal rights to all people. Others argue that, while it is not marriage, it is a step in the right direction. After all, much of family law in Ireland is outdated and desperately needs to be reformed.
Whatever is true, the debate would probably have never happened had not Ireland been through the Celtic Tiger. Now, of course, everything has gone pear-shaped, everyone's poor or being taxed to death by the government and everybody's up to their eyeballs in debt. But fortunately, at least when it comes to gay and lesbian rights, as well as sexual and political attitudes, things will never be the same again.