In 1980 I went down to the Four Courts in Dublin to watch Mary Robinson, then a young human rights lawyer, argue a case in the high court that the Victorian laws against homosexuality, which had remained on the statute books of the Republic of Ireland, were unconstitutional. She took the case on behalf of David Norris, a lecturer in English at Trinity College Dublin. I expected there to be crowds watching, but it was strange how few were in the court and how scant the reporting of the case was in the Irish media. There was a lonely atmosphere in the court as the arguments were made.
There was one moment I will never forget when a priest, bravely giving evidence in favour of Norris, used the word “we”, seeming to imply that he himself was homosexual. The counsel for the state, in a booming voice, asked him over and over: “Did you say ‘we’, father? Did you say ‘we’.” For priest or layman in 1979, Ireland was not an easy place to be gay.
No one could have expected that within a decade Robinson herself would become president of Ireland; and no one could have imagined in their wildest dreams that David Norris, in turn, would 30 years later become one of the main contenders for the position of president of Ireland. We have come a long way.