Following a Win for Human Rights
My husband and I have just recently returned from our annual summer travels, this time to Ireland – both the Irish Republic and North Ireland. It is just as lovely and green as we had read about in guide books. It is also an interesting study in human rights contrasts: specifically the disconnect between having just passed a referendum in May legalizing same sex marriage – the first ever in the world – while at the same time Ireland still has one of the most restrictive abortion policies, limiting legal access only to when the life of the woman is in danger.
Eight other nations had sanctioned legal same sex marriage prior to the Irish vote, but no other country had (or has) allowed and then won this change by popular vote. The vote was 62% favorable and, while definitely spurred on by shifting generational attitudes with places like Dublin attracting an especially youthful and diverse population, ultimately support for marriage equality was much more universal.
The pro-referendum murals and posters that are still up months after the vote reflect the passionate and accepting sensibility of a college-age citizenry. But the actual vote quite surprisingly cut across age and gender, geography and income, as a Reuters news story reported. Also surprising had been the strength of support for secular public policy, even despite opposition from the still powerful Roman Catholic Church.
This win for sexual human rights for gay and lesbian people – and its rebuke of theocracy – has not yet translated into an equally-energized effort to secure sexual human rights for women who would choose to end a pregnancy. This sobering incongruity has been noted by Colm O’Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International in Ireland, in an interview with Huffington Post’s Josh Zepps about a campaign to overturn Ireland’s 8th amendment, the one that so severely limits access to abortion.
He pointed out that this means there is no abortion in case of risk of health, or pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, or severe or fatal fetal anomalies. Which means, O’Gorman observed, that this country that has so boldly and proudly stood for marriage equality is in the meantime egregiously violating the rights of another group to determine their own futures as well.
He said that polls indicate that at least 81% of Irish residents want what he calls “a more expansive, human rights complaint abortion framework.” It is past time, he declared, to let the Irish people finally have their say on this issue.
What does this have to do with the human rights imperative for Unitarian Universalists?
We have witnessed – and joyfully celebrated – several years during which there appears to have been a welcome turning point in societal attitudes towards gays and lesbians, which does not mean that there is not still a great deal of work to do to secure equity and justice for GLBTQ people in arenas outside marriage. Still there is such a stunning gap in the arena of women’s rights, particularly around sexuality.
Can we move, as Amnesty International is moving, towards shining a blazing light on the human rights disparities that can exist, even as we laud progress in some corners of our culture and despair how stuck we seem to be in others? I believe there is room for – and the absolute need for – shared witness.