The majority of the sane among us rightfully rejoiced when Ireland overwhelmingly endorsed the right to same-sex marriage in a popular vote on Saturday.
That country passed the same-sex marriage referendum by 1,201,607 votes to 734,300 – a total of 62,1 percent yes to 37,9 percent no.
Having lived in Ireland for a year a decade ago, I too felt a sense of pride that the Emerald Isle had continued to shake off its historically conservative and deeply religious image.
With this weekend’s referendum result, it’s difficult to imagine that Irish police used to raid bars and nightclubs in the early nineties. Not to confiscate drugs or arrest the drunk and disorderly – but to rip condom vending machines off restroom walls.
Ireland has proved that within a generation things can change. Tolerance can beat dogmatism. And equality can triumph over injustice. Especially with a formerly taboo subject like homosexuality.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for our country or for the African continent for that matter. The mere fact that 34 countries will still arrest and prosecute those it suspects of homosexual activity speaks for itself.
From Namibia to Egypt or Zimbabwe to Tunisia, homosexuality is treated with disdain.
In Somalia or Mauritania you might not be sent to jail for being gay – but put to death instead.
And these aren’t even long all long standing laws that have somehow managed to remain on the statutes in spite of progress.
Uganda enacted the Anti-Homosexuality Act just last year, something for which their ageing dictator Yoweri Museveni was applauded. Some hailed it as a highlight of his 29-year-rule over the pearl of Africa.
It’s naïve to think it would be any different in South Africa if a referendum was ever offered on the matter.
This country was the first in the world to safeguard sexual orientation as a human right in its constitution.
In 2006, Parliament gave the green light for same sex marriage through legislation in the Civil Union Bill, after the Constitutional Court ruled it discriminatory to not allow it – not because the majority of MPs necessarily supported the idea.
The governing ANC – then led by Thabo Mbeki – ordered a three-line whip and demanded that all their members in the National Assembly toe the party line by voting for the legislation.
DA MPs – then under the stewardship of Tony Leon – were offered a vote of conscience.
Parties openly opposed to the law included the African Christian Democratic Party and the Freedom Front Plus.
Can you imagine the same sound and just judgment happening today? I can’t.
Lynne Brown may have been the first openly gay cabinet appointment when she was elected public enterprises minister in 2014, but how many other openly gay members of Parliament do we have?
And how many politicians do we have openly championing gay rights?
It would be fair guess that we have more acting CEOs at our parastatals than openly, pro-gay politicians.
President Jacob Zuma hasn’t voiced his personal thoughts on homosexuality in almost a decade. But the last time he did, they were cringe-worthy.
“When I was growing up an ungqingili (a gay man) would not have stood in front of me. I would knock him out,” he told a Heritage Day gathering at KwaDukuza back in 2006.
And if you think DA leader Mmusi Maimane is any better, think again.
He recently came under fire for comments he made during a sermon last year in which he referred to gay people and Muslims as sinners.
Surely our politicians can see the political mileage up for grabs by condemning acts of violence against the LBGT community?
If so, where was the resounding condemnation of the brutal murder of David Olyn – a 21-year-old gay man beaten with bricks and burned to death in Ceres last year?
And why didn’t Millicent Gaika’s brutal corrective rape see our leaders stand up high and denounce it?
Or can’t they see gay people as… well… people?
This transcends political life and is exhibited in everyday life.
Too many South Africans paint homosexuality as a negative trait.
Why else would you hear phrases like: “Boet, that’s so gay!” Or, “toughen up – you’re not istabane!”
Such madness: being persecuted for something that is in as much a person’s control as their choice of parents or skin colour.
It’s a sad indictment on our society that I’ll probably have my own sexual orientation called into question for merely writing this opinion piece.
Perhaps one day it won’t matter in Africa.
Maybe one day on this continent nobody will care.
Hopefully, columns like this won’t even be needed in the future.
Unfortunately, with the way things are going, that won’t happen anytime soon.