Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s openly gay head of state, has told conservative Arab speaking nations that his country is an example of one that has become more tolerant.
Varadkar, who is Taoiseach (the term for Ireland’s prime minister and head of government) made the remarks at the first EU-Arab League of Nations summit in Egypt.
He told the delegates that the Republic of Ireland, which was a traditionally conservative catholic country, “has changed a lot in the past 10 years”, reported The Independent.
“We have become leaders in advancing equality for women and members of the LGBT community. We have legalised both same-sex marriage – the right to love – and abortion – the right to choose,” he said.
“I respect that every country has its own culture, traditions and religious beliefs. However we believe these rights are universal,” Varadkar argued.
The summit was attended by leaders and representatives of 28 EU member states and 21 members of the Arab League. The league includes countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq, that are among the most conservative in the world when it comes to homosexuality and other human rights.
President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, however, was in no mood for ‘lectures’ about human rights. He later told reporters at the end of the summit: “You are not going to teach us about humanity.” He argued that Europeans and Arabs have a different “sense of humanity, values and ethics.” El-Sisi added: “Respect our values and ethics, as we do yours.”
Ireland has indeed come a long way from its traditionalist past, in which same-sex sexual activity was only decriminalised in 1993 (as compared to 1967 in England and Wales).
In 2015, it became the first nation in the world to legalise same-sex marriage through a referendum, with more than 60% of the public voting in favour of marriage equality. Just two years later, in June 2017, Varadkar was appointed Ireland’s Taoiseach, becoming only the fourth openly gay head of state in the world.
In 2018, Varadkar issued a public apology to members of the LGBT community for the suffering and discrimination they faced from the Irish state prior to the legalisation of homosexuality.
Varadkar is the son of an Irish nurse and an Indian immigrant doctor. He came out to the public as the first openly gay Irish cabinet member in January 2015, in an interview with RTÉ Radio. He is in a relationship with his partner, Matthew Barrett, a doctor at Mater Misericordiae University Hospital.