However, what does differentiate a teacher and is also an important point to bear in mind are the students in this context. Young people often vaguely know or suspect that they may not be straight from a relatively early stage and are often almost entirely isolated in that identity. There are claims that younger people more readily accept expressions of ‘diverse’ sexual orientation now than was previously the case, but we should not forget that homophobic bullying remains a very widely experienced phenomenon by younger people who either identify or are perceived as identifying as other than straight.
Students do a huge amount of living in the school. It is a place where a large part of their identity—intellectual and otherwise is developed. Students who straight see role models either positive or negative all around them. Most commonly either people they assume are straight or people who they suspect are closet cases. Certainly, they may know LGBT people outside of school, they may have role models in the broader community, and there is a much greater degree of visibility on television and in popular culture now than was previously the case.
The ability for educators who identify as LGBT to be out if they wish, and to whatever degree they wish, exemplifies a matter of rights: the rights of the educator, the rights of one’s partner where relevant, and the rights of one’s students. An anonymous editorial in The Irish Times summarizes the issue with teachers as the Irish churches sought and were granted an EU-opt out so they could legally discriminate against gay teachers whose lifestyle they deem to be at variance with their ethos.
By objective standards, moral or otherwise, this is an infringement on the rights of teachers who happen to be gay, more so in a state where homosexuality was decriminalized in 1993. The question now centers on if the Irish legislation will take the issues at hand into account with the proper severity.
The current affair that homosexual teachers are grappling with exemplifies two key points. The first is that it was a major step forward in an area of socio-sexual legislation that homosexuality was decriminalized, the second is that it is abundantly clear that the 1993 Criminal Law Sexual Offences Act is and was so far behind the western world and even organizations in Ireland itself. It is true that in most western societies homosexuality does challenge what is thought of as the traditional family lifestyle and that can make certain groups of people morally uncomfortable, but what has become to be understood is that as the world becomes more liberalized and pluralistic lifestyles become less shocking and ever more so a norm, there has to be recognition that these minorities are citizens of the nation-state and as citizens, they are entitled to the same rights as the majority. The 1983 Norris v. The Attorney General proved to be paramount in debunking the Catholic claims against homosexuality.
The ruling in favor of Norris which was impossible to deny the right to private homosexuality based on the Catholic argument was based on the precedent set in a 1973 case allowing a married couple to use contraception even though it was still morally wrong in the Catholic Church. Six years later in 1989, there was another landmark victory in the fight for gay rights when the Irish parliament voted in favor of homosexuals for the first time with the passing of The Prohibition of Incitement of Hatred Act of 1989, which now includes homosexuals and travelers. This amendment was introduced by Senator David Norris, from the court case, Ireland’s first openly gay politician. Surprisingly though, before this first piece of legislation was passed, two years before in 1987, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions published “Lesbian and Gay Rights in the Workplace: Guidelines for Negotiators”; this new policy was designed to counter segregation against homosexual workers. It is both important and interesting to note that teachers are part of this union. This timeline then suggests that for at least ten years before homosexuality was decriminalized the political attitude, the attitude of the populous, and judiciary interpretations were already rapidly increasing at a much faster rate. Until the legislation can catch up with the populous and the courts then it is not enough. To decriminalize homosexuality but then not protect those individuals in other aspects of the law seems to be half-hearted and poorly planned at best.
Part of my question in this essay is whether or not it is the ideologies of secularism that are to account for the ever-evolving Irish law in this liberal era. For me to answer this question I want to explore what it exactly means to be secular working from Talal Assad’s Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity. Modern anthropology has become distinctive in that it is primarily concerned with comparisons of concepts ensconced societies and how they are located differently in time and/or space. The concept of secularism is like that of religion in that the thing that is paramount to their study is not their origin but the cultures that embody them, creating them into a cultural construct.
In the same way that Irish citizens have become modern citizens, Ireland as a country, in its’ laws will also have to become entrenched in the modern era, should Ireland wish to continue as a western’ country. Assumptions about the integrated character of ‘modernity’ are themselves part of practical and political reality. Secularism is often thought of as a way to define political ethics independent of religious convictions, and that is not what Ireland is attempting to do.
Ireland is steadfastly clinging to the Catholic ideologies while seeming to realize that the needs and wants of its citizens are evolving within this revolutionary era.