Same-Sex Marriage Referendum: 40 Days Out

“Spare a thought for the beleaguered bakers and the offended florists” Jennifer O’Connell begins in her Irish Times piece, on how the debate on SSM has rapidly been hijacked by a grander question on the extent of people’s right to be intolerant. It’s been an incredibly irritating sideshow to have to wade through really, as elements of the service industry become front and centre of the campaign, as opposed to the actual people seeking to get married legally. I have a very dim view of this “I have the right to my opinion” excuse making when it comes to denying service to people on the basis of their sexual orientation. I firmly believe that people have the right to be intolerant, but I do not believe that you have the right to deny services to others because you are intolerant of them. Are we so far gone from the days of “NINA” that we forget?

When your intolerance crosses that line to a tangible attempt to treat other human beings as less than you are, that is when I can no longer support such a “freedom”, anymore than, as I previously discussed, I would be willing to support the right of a Muslim petrol station to refuse to service female customers.

The easy comeback is “Well then why should a LGBT bakery get to refuse a customer who wants a cake opposing same-sex marriage?” Well, I guess they shouldn’t…provided you aren’t talking about something that strays into the realm of provocative hate speech, or incitement to hatred. But I’m sure that’s not the case, right?

But as I said, this is all just sideshow. The real purpose of this vote is not to bully Christian bakeries or place LGBT people on a pedestal above others. It’s to give them the same right to get married as everyone else in this country. Conscience clauses can take a hike.

You don’t have to look very far to find examples of the kind of attitude that this amendment is trying to fight back against, or even just redeem. Take Labour TD Anne Ferris, who talks about a traumatic experience from her younger life in the Irish Examiner. She grew up in a country where to be a single unwed mother was one of the worst social niches to be standing in, something to be avoided at all costs, to the extent that Ferris herself was kept out of sight during her pregnancy and then denied even the chance to speak about what had happened to her afterwards. Aside from the fact that, as mentioned last week, “No” campaigners are content to similarly ignore such single-parent families today as an inconvenient reality, this current campaign is also about challenging entrenched societal opinions on family, marriage, parenthood and the right to be open about the kind of person you are, across the board. No more hiding people from the neighbours, and no more settling for just that either.

The personal factor in the campaign is as obvious as it was before. Let’s take the specific example of teachers who are part of the LGBT community, whose employment rights and protections are still not on an even keel to others. Employers have lost the right to demand an applicant’s sexual orientation in interviews, but are still free to refuse to hire someone because of that very reason, usually by using the word “ethos” in an obnoxious manner. I’ve said it before about schools and “religious ethos” as an excuse for appalling treatment of people: it’s about as unchristian as you can get. SSM won’t change this particular issue, but it is part of that bigger struggle.

A big long article from Spiked caught my attention this week, the author enunciating a viewpoint that has become more and more common over the last few weeks, as the “No” side attempt to frame a narrative of aggressive and belligerent behaviour from the “Yes” side. The piece is a typical example: describing the drive for SSM as “groupthink”, as a movement dedicated to shutting down debate and disrespecting religious beliefs and yaddayaddayadda. I don’t think I can remember a referendum campaign where one side or the other didn’t eventually resort to complaints about “conduct” from their opponents. It would be tiresome if it wasn’t so irritating.

The author criticises the “Yes” side for acting like a minority when they are, seemingly, a very large majority (geez, I wonder why LGBT might be used to acting like an oppressed minority?). And that I think exposes his, and the “No” sides, own inferiority complex, that shines through when bleating about “conduct”: they are no longer the majority, now sitting in the unfamiliar surrounds of not having their open intolerance to equality, well, tolerated, or even supported by everyone around them. I suppose it can be a hard thing to accept, and the “attacks” – for which I read “reasoned debate” and “pleas for the bigotry to stop” – are a new, unwelcome thing, that people don’t know how to deal with. The icing on the cake is when the author himself compares the treatment of the “No” side with the treatment of homosexuals in the past. Aside from the ridiculous and offensive (intentional I’m sure) comparison, the actual fear is evident: Society is no longer permitting us to be openly intolerant. I’m terribly sorry you were “driven off Twitter” by requests for you to logically justify your bigotry.

In a larger sense, the author has no argument to actually make against SSM, just an “attack the attacker” mindset that is common enough when the cause being fought for has little to stand on. Don’t vote “Yes” because the “Yes” side is being mean to me (in my opinion). Not because there is anything wrong with SSM.

The Irish equivalent is Bruce Arnold, a man once bugged by Charles Haughey’s government, and now claiming that the current coalition is worse, because of things like SSM. “Don’t vote for SSM because you feel sorry for gays”. OK Bruce. I won’t. I’ll reserve my sorrow, my pity, and ultimately my forgiveness, for you. History might not be so nice of course. And that’s enough of that.

Mandy Johnston’s piece in the Indo this week was interesting, once you got past the slightly pretentious language in the opening half. Amid the now familiar warnings that passing the vote will be harder than it first appeared, Johnston has good points to make: that SSM has, justly or unjustly, been swept up into a larger discussion on family situations, even though the kind of families that are being objected to already exist. And, regardless of whether this vote passes or not, they will continue to exist and grow in number, thanks to the legislation that will soon be signed into law. This vote, aside from SSM, is about granting same sex families the same constitutional protection that other families have. “No” campaigners like to talk, at length, about the rights of children. How’s that for a right to fight for?

Time is slipping away. For every largely linked around story of hate leaflets being turned into confetti, there is some kind of “No” op-ed or soundbyte that will be siphoning votes away from the “Yes” side. As I’ve said before, that’s the real fight: not to get some grand block of “Don’t Know’s” or current “No” voters to go our way, but to mobilise the already existing “Yes” base to actually go out and vote on May 22nd. Moves from “Yes Equality” to kickstart their campaign by engaging people across the country with the very reasons for voting “Yes” – reasons that come from personal places aside from cold hard logic – are vital in getting the electorate to understand that this vote is about far more than just words on a constitutional page. It’s about the rights, and the equality, of people in this country, people whom our laws are treating as inferior, right now, as you read this. You know them. Don’t they deserve the same rights and freedoms as everyone else? Don’t “they” deserve to be just “us”?

You still have around three weeks (by my rough calculations, the 5th of May will be the last day such forms are processed) with which to get yourself registered to vote, sign up for postal voting or to change your constituency. If you do nothing else, if you don’t want to debate, or try and convince others, or do anything at all to get this amendment passed, you can still just vote.

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