Same-Sex Marriage Referendum: 33 Days Out

Things starting to really kick on now, as the amount of material to cover this week attests.

The campaigns are go, or at least are officially, and it is heartening to see groups like YesEquality being as active as they are: nationwide meetings, advertisements, and efforts to engage people as personally as possibly, with the overall aim being to reinforce a positive aura around a “Yes” vote and to get away from the relentless negativity that a dogfight with the “No” crowd would entail. Some nice personal stories in the above link too, which remain vital in humanising the “Yes” side, away from the catcalls of “progressives”, “agenda” and “propaganda”. This is a vote about the lives of real people.

Sinn Fein are even finally getting involved, after a period when it seemed like they might just stay out of it altogether. It’s nice to see them call on voters to back down from any possible “Vote No to this government on everything” sentiment, which I have seen a disturbing amount of in the last week. There is, unfortunately, an element of that larger protest movement who are likely enough to cut off their nose to spite their face when it comes to this vote, and cast a “No” ballot in the belief that its defeat will damage the sitting government. If Sinn Fein could be in any way active in this campaign, they could help to deflect that sentiment. But part of me can’t help but think that they’ll talk the necessary talk, and shy away from walking the required walk. No one in that party will want to help the government too much.

Of course, there is still an element of “sleepwalking” in some respects, no plastering of posters everywhere just yet (that time will come though). RTE’s article there contains some decent back and forth between “Yes” and “No” voters, but I find it telling that a large amount of “No” voters declined to be filmed to justify their views. I’m sure the “No” side would call it fear of persecution: I call it fear of bigotry being laid bare for the world to see. If you can stomach it, that link also contains some words from Kate Bopp, another of the “No” side in the mould of David “Who’s the father?” Quinn and John “They’re only in it for the money” Waters. Aside from the typical harshness and disquieting attitude towards loving couples seeking the same rights as anyone else, I actually do believe that she is right when she talks about how there is a silent “No” vote that will become more and more apparent all the way up to polling day. It is an inevitability, and the “Yes” side must fight tooth and nail for the voters it already has, to keep that lead from slipping below the magic threshold of 50%.

That still doesn’t mean you don’t have to call it like you see it. When “No” campaigners complain about “groupthink” because they are in an apparent minority, or claim that the nation is being “told” how to vote by, well, perfectly normal campaigning practices that they are following as well, or when they get snide about about elements of the “Yes” movement, or when they continually attempt to change the topic by focusing on issues of parenthood and adoption – that are not being voted on come May 22nd and whose legal status will not change regardless of a “Yes” or “No” decision – I still think it’s OK to come out and say “Michael Kelly of the Irish Catholic, you’re a scaremonger and a misinformer“.

Leo Varadker hasn’t been front and centre enough of the campaign for my liking, but I can only assume that this will change in the next five weeks. Fine Gael simply have to use him more as the visual face of their “Yes” drive, and get him on camera saying more things like this. Like the teaching profession, there are too many people in our medical industry who are too afraid to reveal the kind of person that they really are, and a “Yes” vote in this referendum will be a potent signal that this no longer has to be so.

I’m torn on the increasing public profile of “Panti Bliss”, who has been the subject of a few reports in the last while. The figure is more than entitled to enunciate dearly held views of course: I’m more worried about the likelihood of undecided, conservatively minded voters looking at someone like Panti and letting this somewhat extreme side of the LGBT community sway them in the wrong direction. There is no denying the eloquence of Panti’s words, and a victory in this vote will do much to banish the national shame that was “Panti-gate”. But I feel that it is all so much preaching to the choir, which is the worst thing that the “Yes” side could be spending its time on.

The Referendum Commission, always guaranteed of providing one moment of controversy during a campaign, is sending out mock copies of the ballot paper to homes, to refute any possible charge that the ballot itself will be “confusing”. You’ll see this moronic excuse employed by idiots trying to justify their own stupidity in any referendum – the Seanad vote was a particularly bad example – but at least such excuses cannot possibly be employed this time. Ha, just kidding. Of course they will. Give it a few minutes after the polls open, and we’ll be retweeting “I was very confused, why wasn’t it clearer?” by the bucket load, and from both sides.

In terms of what the Referendum Commission is supposed to do, it’s good to see an unequivocal laying out of reality. Namely:

-The status of marriage in the Constitution would remain unaltered in the event of a “Yes” cote.

-Laws relating to family and children would remain unaltered in the event of a “Yes” vote.

That’s the truth. Those are the facts. Anyone saying otherwise is misinformed or lying to you. Simple as. Voting “No” to this amendment will no more stop LGBT adoption or surrogacy than shouting “No!” out in the street at the top of your voice.

Claire Byrne over at RTE has some interesting figures to throw around, though they lack enough info on the methodology and polling size to really make them as welcome as you would like (I’m not clear on whether she was just polling audience members or more). The results are encouraging for the “Yes” side, indicating a high turnout being likely with the “Yes” preferences being in the upper 70’s, but you can’t take something like this as gospel unfortunately. Certainly, I think a high turnout would be beneficial to the “Yes” camp more than the “No”.

Sort of big news this week was the weighing in of former President Mary McAleese, making a clear and emotional appeal for a “Yes” vote. Serving Presidents are limited in their public utterances – I mean, we all know President Higgins will be voting “Yes” but it would be inappropriate, and potentially illegal, for him to actually campaign – but former office holders have no such restrictions. McAleese was a respected and popular politician during her time in the highest office (I suppose it wasn’t hard to be, her 14 years lacking any kind of serious notoriety really) and anyone familiar with her utterance and positions in the past would hardly be surprised that she would hold such views now (her son happens to be gay, and has written briefly about his own thoughts on the referendum). She makes the case well, and maybe can change a few minds in the right direction. It’s gotten good responses anyway, more than one.  I think the voices of people like the former President can be very beneficial, more beneficial than the raft of celebrities who are bound to line up behind the vote too.

Naturally, the entering of the former President has to draw a response, and the “No” side sent out Breda O’Brien with this rambling and all over the place series of statements. Spot the stupidity as it comes: that the referendum is about the right of “a gay child” to a mother and father (it isn’t, and a “No” vote will not stop LGBT adoption or surrogacy), that she doesn’t want inequality for “gay people” (a “No” vote will leave LGBT people with less rights than straight people)), that she fears marriage will become a “genderless” institution (marriage is not being redefined in the constitution), the desperate attempted change of topic by asking what Mary McAleese’s thoughts on surrogacy are (the vote is not about that), the defence of civil partnership (she previously objected to it) and a final pathetic attempt to indirectly smear McAleese, by asking her to “clarify” she wasn’t calling the “No” side “homophobic” (she wasn’t, but O’Brien has precious else to throw back). It’s a typical “No” retort though, hard on the innuendo and faulty logic, less gung-ho about reasoned reply and respect. The truly desperate attempt to shoe-horn in surrogacy and homophobic insult accusations as a screen against the former President’s comments would be sad if it wasn’t so likely to land with some people.

And man, that defence of civil partnership as “enough”. Ronan Mullen’s been beating that drum too this week. The spinelessness of these people, who objected so loudly to civil partnership becoming law a few years ago, but now deem it an acceptable institution, is plain and clear for anyone who wants to see it. You can’t defend the thing you previously abhorred in this manner when something you perceive as worse comes along. At least have the courage to admit you think it’s the better of two bad options. This is what the “No” side has. These are its spokespeople. This is what “No” voters are aligning themselves with.

Ah, but the Church. I’ve mentioned before a feeling that it would take a back seat to proceedings here, out of recognition that a leading of the charge would do more harm than good, the reputation of the institution still in tatters, still firmly on the wane. But never underestimate the ability of an organisation like this to continually score own goals, as it did this week with the truly stupid threat that it would pull out of its role as solemnisers of marriages in the event of a “Yes” vote. It’s important to note that this is just the word of some “spokesman” and that it isn’t official Church policy yet. But it reads as nothing other than a very small, low, petty action. This is a playground bully suddenly in the yard with much bigger kids and threatening to go home if no one will take him seriously anymore.

The action would cause nothing more than mild inconvenience for those seeking marriage in Ireland, but paints the Church in nothing but a negative light, a spiteful institution run by old men so out of touch with reality that they feel this hard-line stance is the way to go; that it won’t simply deepen the continually widening divide between society and the Church. Here is an institution that will actually make life mildly harder for heterosexual couples in an attempt to get back at homosexual ones and the government that helped their marriages become legal. Wow. The correct response was given by the government anyway: the Taoiseach issuing a curt reply along the lines of “You gotta do what you gotta do I guess”.

But at least the Catholic Church is not alone. Elements of the Muslim and Quaker community in Ireland, perhaps a little ahead of themselves in claiming to speak for all Muslims and Quakers, have also announced an objection to the referendum, which doesn’t really come as too much of a surprise. They also have a petition! One that, predictably, has managed to come up with a paltry 261 signatures at time of writing. Better luck next time guys. To compare, a petition asking that the Iona Institute’s tax exempt status be revoked has currently gained over 10’000 signatures with far less media notice, which I think rather scuppers the idea that the fourth estate is leaning “Yes”.

More “conscience clause” stuff there too. That ship has sailed, and was never to be contemplated anyway. Martina Devlin, writing in the Independent, has a great response, skewering the idea of conscience clauses generally along with the veiled attempt to undermine the democratic will of the people being exhibited by an element of the “No” side.

The author of that petition is also the same guy that Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan had to reply to this week, refuting another groundless and fear mongering soundbyte, this time that funding for schools who continue to teach that marriage is just between a man and a woman will be cut in the event of a “Yes” vote. It won’t, naturally, but fear and panic have never been weapons the “No” side are hesitant on using. I’m not a huge fan of O’Sullivan, who I think is probably doomed next year, and not unjustly. But, at a time when only a handful of government TD’s seem ready to enter the fray properly, at least she’s trying. Simon Coveney, a particular target of the “No” side because he has changed his position on the issue, is another. I’m not so optimistic that I won’t preclude the possibility that Coveney has just figured which way the wind is blowing. But I don’t really care all that much in this regard. James O’Reilly, not the figure that I would be putting much of the spotlight on to be honest, has also made some welcome statement, attacking the likes of Iona. Strangely, it seems as if Fine Gael politicians have been getting in the news for statements such as these far more than Labour.

And so, to everyone’s favourite hack, Bruce Arnold. I was hesitant to even link this piece, because it was so garbled, so patronising, so insulting, and so hard to comprehend at moments, starting with overly-demanding questions about how Lucinda Creighton comes to her opinions and ending with a denunciation of “political belief”. But here it is, the mind of one of the figures who have managed to make themselves one of the most public “No” voices, full of condemnation for people who express “Yes” sentiments even if they have conservative political beliefs, and full of jaw-dropping self-praise. There is such a mighty tone of condescension there, of “I know best”, that it is hard to avoid laughing out loud. Arnold’s been getting more and more like this as time goes on, and I half dread/half anticipate with glee his op-ed on the eve of the vote. If the “Yes” side has been guilty of too much preaching to the choir, I feel like Arnold is so out there with his own writing that he’s doing that for the “No” side. This kind of thing, needlessly derogatory, all over the place in structure and, dare I say, just a little bit sexist (Creighton needs things explained to her apparently, Coveney just needs to stop using his car) might just turn people from “No”. A few anyway.

Quick bits: the giant mural that has gone up on the junction of Dame and George’s Street has been linked around the world, the Irish Times offers a reasoned look at the problems behind Ireland’s political broadcast restrictions and one of Ireland’s Twitter head honchos talks about what a “Yes” vote could mean for business at home and abroad (I find talk of international reputation overblown for the most part, but it’s an interesting perspective).

Lastly, I’d like to link to this Irish Times piece, a simple Q&A, that outlines, in clear terms, the truthful answers to any of the questions you might have about the SSM vote. I’ll take a few excerpts:

If we vote Yes, will there be legal consequences for religious marriage ceremonies? 
No. The proposal is to extend civil marriage rights. Any church retains its right to marry whoever it wishes. 

Are we voting to change the definition of marriage? 
The Constitution does not define marriage. Nor does it specify who is entitled to marry and who is not. So a Yes vote would not change the Constitutional status of marriage.

If I vote Yes, am I voting to allow same-sex couples adopt children? 
Up until recently, only a married couple or a single person (regardless of sexuality) could adopt a child. Some children in Ireland have been and are being raised by same-sex couples, though in such cases only one of the two individuals, in the eyes of the law, was the child’s parent. In recent weeks, however, the Oireachtas passed the Children and Family Relationships Bill. This major reform of family law allows civil partners and cohabiting couples who have lived together for three years to adopt. That will remain the case irrespective of the outcome of the referendum
 (emphasis mine).

Starting next week, I’m going to start talking about my specific reasons for supporting SSM (which will be brief) and taking the traditional “No” points on one at a time.

There remains still a few weeks for people to get themselves registered to vote or to change their constituency. Please get involved.

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