30 years since being gay in Northern Ireland was legalised. Our journey continues…
Jeff Dudgeon is a local hero. This is the man who stood up to defend his right to love in the same way as any other citizen of Northern Ireland in the seventies. As with so many issues here in NI it had to be a long, drawn out and expensive not to mention embarrassing for the country even then.
Jeff Dudgeon was a clerk in Belfast’s Shipyard and he was interrogated by the then RUC about his sexual activities and later in 1975 he raised a complaint with the European Commission of Human Rights. It then took until 1979 until the ECHR declared his complaint admissible . In April 1981 before a panel of 19 judges the court hearing took place with Lord Gifford and Terry Munyard representing Mr. Dudgeon.
On the 22nd October 1981 the court agreed that Northern Irelands criminalisation of homosexual acts between consenting adults was a violation of Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights “Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society …for the protection of health or morals….” Favour was shown to Mr. Dudgeon by 15 votes to 4.
Earlier this year, as part of the New Year Honours, Mr Dudgeon was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for “services to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community in Northern Ireland”. To commemorate the 30th anniversary Mr Dudgeon has been the guest of honour at a celebratory dinner in Belfast. And he will be the speaker at a cross-community 30th anniversary service, arranged by Changing Attitude Ireland, the country’s LGBT Christian group, at St George’s church, High Street, Belfast. Unfortunately there is a need for another brave man to take on the might of NI’s backward government in Europe for the basic equal right to marry whom they love.
The Dudgeon v the United Kingdom case was significant for 4 reasons:
1) as the first successful case before the ECHR on the criminalisation of male homosexuality;
2) as the case which, in 1982, made the law on male homosexuality in Northern Ireland the same as it was in England, Scotland and Wales
3) as a lead-in to Norris v. Ireland, a later case before the ECHR argued by Mary Robinson, which challenged the continued application of the same nineteenth century laws in the Republic of Ireland
4) for setting the legal precedent that ultimately resulted in the Council of Europe requiring that no member state could criminalise male or female homosexual behaviour.