More from a growing pile of already abundant evidence that Betsy DeVos should not be in charge of education in America. Actually, I wouldn’t trust her to run a pre-school or kindergarten. In this piece from The Young Turks, Jeff Waldorf reports and comments on the move by DeVos to rescind the 72 official documents, which explain to students and their parents, what the rights of disabled people are when they go to Uni. American universities are granted money by the federal government to support the needs of disabled students. DeVos hasn’t revoked these. She’s just making sure that disabled students, their carers and relatives, don’t know what they are.
One of these documents translates the official jargon of the legislation into ordinary plain English, so that regular peeps don’t need a lawyer to interpret it for them. Now it’s gone, things are going to be made difficult so that…
Ireland did it! In a landslide victory the Republic of Ireland has become the first country in the world to legalize marriage equality by a public vote. Here’s what you need to know and why this may even be important for the marriage equality fight in other countries.
The vote, which occurred on Friday, May 22, saw a large voter turn-out and, most notably, many Irish people returning home from England and other areas to ensure they could have a say in the vote as Ireland has no postal or absentee voting system.
The result, which was announced by late Saturday, saw more than 62 percent of the voting public say “yes” to same-sex marriage, with just under 38 percent against it. While that was largely in step with the polls, the fact that the Yes campaign managed to retain the strength of its support surprised many as the margin was expected to narrow considerably once people actually got to the ballot.
Indeed, many commentators were worried that the vote could be much closer due to rural communities failing to really take in the Yes campaign messages, however in the end voting data suggests that support was strong even among rural communities, and certainly much stronger than had been expected.
Senior Religious Figures Say the Vote Was a Wake-Up Call
In the final few days before the vote, several conservative Catholic bishops took to their pulpits to urge a “no” vote on the marriage equality question, relying on tactics such as suggesting that children would be harmed and that mothers in particular be devalued as a result of same-sex couples being able to wed.
In the wake of such a massive defeat for the No campaign, religious progressives and secularists alike have warned that gone are the days when the Irish people would take morality lessons solely from the Church, and especially not when those same religious figures used scaremongering tactics about harming children and damaging society as a whole rather than simply relying on their religious teachings.
Fr Brendan Hoban, co-founder of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP), is quoted as saying: “It was clear from the beginning that the bishops’ decision in policy terms to campaign for a blunt No vote was alienating even the most conservative of Irish Catholics.”
In particular, reflections on the No campaign have said its chief mistake was to try to use the age of the Yes movement against them: after campaigning began in earnest at the start of the year it quickly became apparent that the younger generations were overwhelmingly in favor of marriage equality. The Church therefore set itself against that movement, but in so doing it may have made a blunder that will have long-lasting consequences. As we know, religious influence is in decline in many places, and particularly in Ireland where prosperity has led to a rise in secularism. The Church needs young people on its side if it is to survive as even a shadow of the former power it once was, but by being so uncompromising during its backing of the No campaign–which also received heavy support from American religious groups–there is the fear that it has alienated Ireland’s younger generations, something that can not be easily undone.
A Call for Action in Northern Ireland
Critically, the vote in the Republic has been seen as a chance to push the Northern Ireland government to act on this issue. Northern Ireland is now the only place in mainland UK that does not recognize same-sex marriage despite the fact that public polls show that there is significant support for marriage equality.
Unfortunately, Northern Ireland lawmakers appear to be unmoved by the strength of support that was seen across the border. DUP MLA Peter Weir is quoted by the BBC as saying that, essentially, it doesn’t matter what public appetite wants, it’s lawmakers that have the final say:
“We are defending the role of traditional marriage,” he said.
“This is an issue that has been debated on four occasions in the assembly and, on each occasion, it has been rejected by the majority of assembly members.
“We believe that the traditional marriage definition is correct one. We would be concerned about the impact on Churches.
“We don’t really run social policy in this country by way of referendum.”
What’s interesting is the disconnect there between the public and Northern Ireland’s lawmakers, and that never makes for a good time for presiding governments. What seems certain now, more than ever, is that Northern Ireland’s ban on marriage equality cannot last for much longer and now it’s a question of whether Northern Ireland’s lawmakers will finally act, or whether the courts will need to be involved.
What is very encouraging though is that this vote has also emboldened same-sex marriage advocates in Australia, Germany (which has equivalent partnership rights but technically not marriage) and in Italy, where activists have vowed to demonstrate that the religious hold on this issue has slipped and that the public is ready for marriage equality.
So congratulations to the Republic of Ireland whose vote in favor of marriage equality was incredibly meaningful not just within its borders, but for same-sex marriage battles across Europe, too!
Finland and Russia are next door neighbours and have a long shared history. But when it comes to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, the two countries are worlds apart.
Finland has often sought to placate Russia over the years by allowing it to influence internal politics, but it is now taking a bold step. Following a parliamentary vote in November 2014, it looks like same-sex marriage will soon be legal in Finland – whether its neighbour likes it or not.
The November vote overruled a decision made by the parliament’s legal affairs committee, which had rejected a citizen-backed drive to amend marriage legislation and make it more inclusive. An amended marriage act is now predicted to come into force in 2016. This would bring Finland up to date with its Nordic peers to the west.
Further east, Russia continues to take the opposite path. In June 2013, the Russian parliament voted unanimously (with one abstention) to approve a law that effectively criminalises any public presentation of homosexuality as normal or equal to heterosexuality that could conceivably be seen by minors.
The decision sparked international condemnation in the lead up to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Paavo Arhinmäki, Finland’s minister for sport at the time, refused to attend the opening ceremony, citing concern over Russia’s human rights record. A few months earlier, he had made his feelings about Russia’s stance clear by waving a rainbow flag at the World Athletic Championships in Moscow.
The gap between these two countries on LGBT rights has implications not only for how Finland sees Russia, but also how it views itself. A veiled wariness of Russia persists in Finnish politics and society, and this now extends into concerns for Finland’s LGBT community.
Testing the boundaries
Lappeenranta, in south-eastern Finland, is one of Finland’s primary border towns with Russia. A significant part of the local economy is geared towards visitors from Russia, who cross the border looking for good deals on luxury items.
In September 2014, a local newspaper, Lappeenrannan Uutiset, interviewed a handful of Russian visitors on what they thought of a new series of Finnish postal stamps honouring the iconic gay artist Touko Laaksonen, better known as Tom of Finland. The stamps featured his famous drawings of muscular men in various states of undress. The reaction, it appeared, was uniformly negative.
Lappeenrannan Uutiset followed their report up with an experiment. Two male journalists were sent walking around the streets of Lappeenranta hand-in-hand, in full view of Russian tourists. They reported some rubbernecking, stares and snickers, but no outright intimidation or hostility. The local police assured gay couples they should have nothing to fear.
Yet, the Lappeenranta articles showed how divided Finns and Russians are on this issue – many Russians see LGBT rights as a symbol of western moral decay, while Finns see the changes taking place as a symbol of modern Nordic social progress.
The trouble is, Finland has a history of pragmatism in its relations with Russia. It is a small country with a much larger, powerful neighbour which has an extensive history of expanding its “sphere of influence”. Finland was a part of the Russian Empirefor more than a century, from 1809 to 1917, and fought two wars with the Soviet Union between 1939 and 1944 to narrowly maintain its young independence.
During the Cold War, Finland’s long-serving president, Urho Kekkonen, decided that for his country to maintain a degree of freedom from Russia, it would have to make some voluntary concessions.
So Finland has not joined NATO, and resisted efforts to forge closer defence ties with other Nordic states – which would have been unpalatable for the Soviet Union. Western observers described this phenomenon as “Finlandisation”. In order to maintain its titular independence, Finland willingly allowed its larger neighbour to meddle in its internal affairs.
Parts of the Finnish media have also preferred to tread carefully when it comes to discussing Russia and LGBT rights. In a recent article about Finnish couples planning to adopt children from Russia, the Finnish national broadcaster YLE (which has historically been accused of promoting the government line on Finlandisation) notes that Russian law forbids adoptions to countries that permit same-sex marriage. It suggests that changing Finland’s marriage laws could prevent Finnish heterosexual couples from adopting Russian children. No judgement is passed on Russia’s anti-LGBT policies, but the implication is that Finland should still consider how Moscow might react to changes in its internal laws.
The need to avoid Russian expansionism is ever more pressing, given recent events in Ukraine. The predicament for modern Ukraine has been compared to Finland during the Cold War. Andrej Illarionov, Putin’s chief economic adviser from 2000 to 2005, caused some alarm in March 2014 when he told a Swedish newspaper that Putin hoped to “reclaim” Finland and restore the former borders of the Russian Empire.
Drawing a line in the sand
And yet, it would be unfair to characterise the tone in Finland as returning to Finlandisation. There are no real indicators that the country will walk back its intended gay-marriage legislation for the sake of Russian sensibilities. Nor is it likely to allow Russian authorities to use adoption regulations to shape or influence Finnish policy on LGBT rights.
In the Cold War, under Finlandisation, the Soviet Union was able to prevent the deepening of Finnish cooperation with the other Nordic states. Now, however, Finland’s gay-marriage law will bring it into line with Nordic norms, and affirm a degree of commitment to the social values that have come to characterise the Nordic region.
LGBT-rights may serve as a decisive issue for Finland in presenting itself as a modern Nordic state, leaving its historical reputation as almost a Russian vassal-state in the past. ……’