In GoT's sixth episode, Ser Loras Tyrell of Highgarden was deemed fit to stand trial by the Faith Militant for being gay. After an inquest that produced incriminating evidence against the accused, King's Landing's rearmed faithful seized Loras and his sister, the recently crowned queen Margaery, and brought them to court. Meanwhile, in a real-life parallel to the fantasy series, Ireland gears up for a historic referendum this coming Friday that will determine the fate of same-sex marriage, a fundamental right for the gay community.
Such a referendum is similarly influenced by religious leaders. Ireland's Roman Catholic Church has been campaigning for a "no" vote with some members of clergy rallying their flock to follow suit. While the Faith Militant could be interpreted as a representation of any ultra-conservative religion in the real world, there is no doubt that in the case of Ireland, a country moving towards progressive ideas -- much like Westeros -- it is the RCC's conservative clergy, with its misguided views, that hinders its advancement.
The Republic of Ireland has long been associated with its majority religion. The Roman Catholic Church is a significant part of the island's identity, its people once having distinguished itself from its protestant British colonizers through their faith. The RCC, throughout the years, has had a say on matters of the state by way of its influence on the country's Catholic citizens. In contrast, the Faith Militant has been used by the state -- virtually embodied in Cersei Lannister -- as a tool for consolidating power.
As both explore the dynamics of Church-state relationship, the future of gay rights both in the real world and -- the arguably even more influential -- TV world hangs in the balance. This brings us to the root of the problem. The RCC, and the backward mentality the majority of its clergy espouses, continues to oppress gay people through ultra-conservative pressures on different governments worldwide -- the Irish government, in this case.
Yes, there have been several declarations, some coming from no less than Pope Francis himself, that affirm the humanity of gay people in the eyes of God. Such statements are significant contributions to the forwarding of gay rights. Many in the Vatican, however, have remained hesitant about such openness, restricting their stance to a shallow and questionable concept of anti-discrimination.
At the same time the RCC's firm stance against same-sex marriage undoes a lot of progress. At the core of it, the clergy is depriving gay people of a right granted , without question, to heterosexuals. It is still discrimination. If gay people meet the same criteria for marriage -- proper age, sound mental health, full consent -- which are applied to heterosexual bonds, then they should be accorded the same right. As Máire Geoghegan Quinn, Ireland's former Minister of Justice who proposed and oversaw the 1993 decriminalization of homosexuality, put it "equality means that if, as a society, we cherish the institution of marriage as essential, we cannot then exclude a substantial minority from that institution. Gay people are either equal or they're not."
The danger here comes from the RCC's incomplete advocacy. One that they package as a moral stance -- a moral stance they seek to be made into a legal dead-end. Something they have been successful in doing for the past few decades. Case in point, according to Fintan O'Toole, a columnist for the Irish Times, Ireland's political parties have long followed the RCC in terms of legislation. "Contraceptives were fully legalized only in 1985. Divorce was outlawed until a narrowly approved referendum in 1995. Ireland's abortion laws are still so restrictive that they allow almost no exceptions, even for rape, incest or fatal fetal abnormalities."
The same can be said about homosexual acts; they were only decriminalized in Ireland in 1993. Prior to that "gross indecency" laws akin to that of the UK's were implemented in the republic thanks to the influence of the Church.
Over in King's Landing, we are shown how harmful the religious' priggish beliefs can be once they are given power. The Queen herself and the heir to Highgarden were made to suffer the cunning use of such narrow-minded convictions. The point underscored by the series here says a lot. Despite the milestones gay rights have reached in television in shows like House of Cards, How to Get Away with Murder, and Modern Family that have done much to advance the cause of LGBTs with protagonists that are members of the community, GoT cautions us from celebrating too soon. By discriminating against and punishing royalty for their homosexuality, the show puts forth the question of the future for ordinary citizens. Those that don't have the means the protect themselves, and whose institutions aren't as progressive as the U.S., or even more enlightened countries, such as The Netherlands or Belgium who were the first two to legalize same-sex marriages. The show's message is clear: When it comes to gay rights, we have a long way to go.
Fortunately, the influence of the traditional-minded faction of the Church has greatly waned in countries like Ireland, once seen in Western Europe as a bastion of conservative thought. Child abuse cases the clergy had been linked to for decades have eroded its moral authority in the republic. Worth noting as well is the government's fight for civil rights, despite Church opposition, highlighted by Quinn's successful decriminalization campaign. A stark contrast to Cersei's crafty manipulation of religious fundamentalism, this illustrates the moral strength the state gains as it presses for independence from the Church.
This Friday's referendum will hopefully mark a momentous step forward in the fight for true equality and freedom. Freedom from decades of backward thinking, freedom from the shackles of ignorant conservatism, freedom from the Roman Catholic Church's meddling clergy. The only thing Ireland should be praying for is a victory.
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