Same-Sex Marriage Referendum: 46 Days Out

Maureen Gaffney opens us up with this excellent op-ed in the Irish Times, which very quickly illustrates and torpedo’s some of the inherent hypocrisy of the “No” argument, or at least the common ones. You’ll after see the “No” opinion pieces blather on about the requirement of “natural” procreation as one of the keystones of an actual marriage. That this throws heterosexual unions that have either consciously decided not to have children, or are unable to for whatever reason, under the bus, largely goes unacknowledged maybe because it’s a little awkward to explain that something like marriage cannot exist in a black and white vacuum. But there’s also the more insidious thing, which is the usually quite short acknowledgement, and then just as fast dismissal, of single parent families, who don’t conform to the apparent necessity of both a paternal and maternal influence on a child’s upbringing. It’s just too hard to tackle that uncomfortable truth I suppose.

And when it comes to the oft-heard cries of “Why can’t they just be happy with civil partnership?”, well Gaffney’s piece also illustrates both the practical difference between CP and marriage – financially and legally, there are a multitude of differences, as this great concise piece demonstrates – but the simple quest for open social acceptance of homosexual unions, that simply won’t happen while we are content to plaster a different label on them. This is not “separate, but equal”, even if that was something to strive for.

And this is important because of how many homosexual people are Irish. Don’t trust the exact figures presented here, which are bound to be skewed by an older generation that does not want to acknowledge their true sexual orientation. But even taking those numbers as fact, we can see that there are a lot of LGBT people in our society, and they suffer from plenty of problems as it is: check out this report/op-ed on some of those problems, including an alarmingly high rate of attempted suicide. More people on this Ireland are gay than speak the Irish language on a daily basis, but only one of those groups has constitutional protection of any kind. SSM won’t solve those problems, but it’s democratically mandated implementation will be a very important step.

Over on the Indo, a report on how Taoiseach Kenny has been, ahem “challenged” about some comments he made regards school teaching and same-sex marriage. Seems some are bothered by the idea of schools teaching kids that SSM is, well, a thing in the event that the vote passes. More conscience clause nonsense dressed up “Won’t somebody think of the children?” I suppose it’s only natural: that next generation could be the most tolerant of the LGBT community ever, and that must be a terrifying prospect to the kind of people “challenging” the Taoiseach on a blatant statement of fact.

You might remember last week, when I noted how Fianna Fail is probably suffering a bit of a problem in how it wants to approach this referendum, with one of its parliamentary party already jumping ship. It never takes these people too long to show their true colours, and it was only a few days before Senator Jim White was making the insulting suggestion that, instead of prosecuting the case for SSM, we should use the referendum money on HIV tests for the LGBT community. Never forgot what these people are really like: scared, fear-mongering bigots, with views from another decade, with no qualms about drawing a line between a civil rights issue and a disease.

He’s not the only one in Fianna Fail, with a local councillor getting in on the act (a few more are going to end up joining them I would guess). Strong reek of electioneering in this decision, but I couldn’t help but smile at part of his statement, past all of the nonsense about tradition:

“…let us hope that we will not have done irreparable damage to our nation, which in the past inspired other nations on the road to greatness.”

Inspiring others nations on the road to greatness is certainly a sentiment I can get behind for this vote.

What about those parts of the world where SSM is a reality already, like, say, parts of the UK? Well, surprise, surprise, the sky has not fallen down, and “traditional marriage” trundles along as it always has. Lots of people are taking up the SSM option, for social, legal and financial reasons, and that’s great. But it’s good to see the problems illustrated too: of LGBT couples having to be more public, accepting the dissenting views of families and businesses. I say it’s good because the legalisation of SSM means that a very harsh light is being thrown on this discrimination, which is one part of the process of making it a thing of the past. Even in places where SSM is not legal, the debate is ramping up on how willing a modern democratic society is with those who want to follow their “conscience” and thus treat an entire segment of society as some kind of lower being.  There’s pain for many to come with the legalisation of SSM, but there is a happier place coming just after.

Speaking of pain to come, here’s the interminable John Waters, providing a truly epic summary of his argument against SSM and the associated acts passing the legislature currently on the issue of families, children and adoption. I’ll agree with Waters on one thing: the “Yes” side should stop pretending that this legislation and the SSM vote are separate things. They aren’t. They’re dual rungs on a ladder that tops out at greater equality in our society, it’s just that one can be passed into law without any need to reference it to the people, thankfully.

Walters is doing something in that piece that he’s done before, for the Children’s Rights Referendum (remember, where he suggested foster families were only in it for the money). And that is to make mountains out of molehills. In a staggering 2’200 words, Waters makes a number of elongated suggestions wrapped in incomprehensible jargon and deliberately confusing wording, which essentially boils down to a scary portrait of LGBT couples gaining custody of children, wrapped up in the usual long-winded diatribes about “men’s rights”. Altering the lack of rights fathers have in a court room is one thing, but it’s something else to suggest it should happen at the expense of LGBT people. When Waters can’t make a clear, cogent argument about voting “No”, he resorts to something gigantic and confusing, trying to tap in to the “Don’t Know, Vote No” market.

In the end, as with nine out of ten “No” op-ed’s I have had the misfortune to suffer through during this campaign, Waters would be a great deal more honest, and much easier to digest, if he just presented his argument as easily as he can. Only six words required:

“I don’t trust homosexuals with children.”

Remember that. The most common “No” arguments, stripped down to their barest form, are just those six words. And it doesn’t even make sense as an argument against the amendment, as I’ll cover in the next point.

The most recent poll shows that support for gay marriage remains strong, with another slight contraction once you throw in the undecideds. Nothing to panic over majorly just yet. Just. In regards the gay adoption issue also included in the questioning, I find it interesting that people seem generally happier with lesbian couples adopting instead of two men. But the larger trend is clear: people in Ireland are more conservative on that issue than they are with gay marriage.

But here’s the kicker for that, and something that should be shouted from the rooftops in the face of any “No” commentator screeching about children: if this amendment is voted down, LGBT people will still be adopting more kids. The legislation that is passing the Oireachtas is connected to SSM, but will be made law with or without it. If LGBT people are denied the right to be married, they will still have increased rights to adopt children. They won’t have the same constitutional protection they would have otherwise, but the adoption ship has sailed, passed over the horizon, and is about to dock halfway across the world. In that sense, yeah, the legislation has little to do with the referendum.

To be clear then, no matter what Waters, or Mullen or whoever say about children or try to make them the major issue: they have already lost that battle. And voting “No” will not change that. And if the issue is that children with adoptive LGBT parents will find it difficult in a society which contains such a large element that will view them as abnormal – I’m sure the above mentioned would never dare voice that opinion publically of course – then saying “Yes” to SSM, and giving them a constitutionally protected family will be a very positive step in tackling that discrimination.

I’ll close out this week with a very potent warning, from Eoghan McDermott. There’s a lot worth reading in there: the danger of trusting early polls; the reality that too much of the “Yes” argument is preaching to the choir, and not undecided voters; the likelihood of a fear-based narrative from the “No” side, and how that will win hearts to their cause easier than a “Yes” appeal to logic (endangered children win over “equal rights”);  and, most importantly, how too much of the “Yes” movement is ignorant of how statements made by both sides will end up influencing the electorate. Bishops and the likes of Ronan Mullen saying something bigoted is more likely, in my view, to get them votes rather than lose them as things stand. Make no mistake about it: the “Yes” side’s battle is to keep that 70+% of the electorate on their side, enough to pass the vote anyway, rather than win a swath of undecided voters.

It can be difficult to see the woods for the trees. It can be very hard to treat opponents – the ones drawling a line between the vote and HIV, the ones claiming incestuous marriages are about to become legal, and the ones who don’t trust homosexuals with children – with anything approaching respect. But McDermott might have a point when he says that the “Yes” panellists, debaters and anyone else, need to walk softer with their public utterances. Bigotry is bigotry, and it should be called out. But that needs to be matched with the right argument, and the right appeals to emotion. Letters and appeals like this one could hold the key, to consistently remind voters that this is no hypothetical issue, but one that affects a large amount of real people.

Still time to register to vote, to change your constituency or to sign up for postal voting.

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