As if there hasn’t been enough written about this already… but here goes. The campaign for the Marriage Referendum should now be over as the broadcast moratorium kicked in at 14:00 today (the 21st of May, 2015). Not too early to comment on how the debate played out in the media, then! For those who don’t know, the referendum is ostensibly on whether to allow same-sex marriage. It’s something that should be a straightforward question that most people should be able to decide on with a minimum expenditure of brain power. It turned out to be much more complicated, however…
Before the campaign began in earnest, the referendum came up in conversation with a friend. He seemed nervous about discussing it and already didn’t like the tone of the debate. I shared his feelings on this matter as I’d already seen wild accusations of homophobia levelled at those who didn’t agree with gay marriage. This was something that concerned me as I took exception to the prejudice that all people who didn’t agree with gay marriage (often the older generation) were hateful bigots (my parents are the most helpful, kind, loving and fair people I’ve ever met, for example). After sharing my misgivings about the tone of the Yes campaign, I did state that I was probably going to vote yes, although I hadn’t looked at the wording yet. Since my friend was a borderline no, I later contacted him to try and assuage his fears. It was during this exchange and reading the material I dug up, primarily the constitution and proposed change, that I became torn on the issue.
One of the disappointing things about coverage of the referendum is that for all that I read in the papers, it was almost never suggested that people actually read the constitution themselves. There were plenty of writers quoting the proposed additional line, but it was rarely accompanied with the rest of the article to be amended (Article 41). In my mind the simplest way to decide on any referendum would be:
1. Read the entire article yourself.
2. Read the proposed amendment.
3. Think about what the consequences of the change might be.
4. Make your mind up.
The only piece I came across that suggested people do read the constitution was by the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin (http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/archbishop-diarmuid-martin-i-encourage-everyone-to-vote-and-to-reflect-carefully-1.2217278). Why was this? The way I see it, in all manner of debates people can suffer from two afflictions that limit their credibility:
1. They are reluctant to admit they are unsure about something.
2. Their goal is simply to convince others of their views and are themselves intransigent.
Surely in a democracy the best result is for people to make their own minds up and vote? Once they take the time to fully inform themselves, voting in the way that suits them is the best result. Those who try to unduly influence that process with threats or bullying clearly demonstrate their insincerity. So there were plenty of people using semantic gymnastics to try and ram their views home, but few who stated their feelings either or both ways, including their uncertainties, and leaving the decision to the voter.
So what had me torn? Well, before proceeding I suggest reading Article 41 (The Family) of the constitution in its entirety. The constitution can be found here:
It’s a bit confusing to read it at first since every other page is in Irish (or English if you’re reading the Irish text). It’s probably a good idea to verify my source for this document or find your own copy. I trust myself but to anyone who doesn’t know me I’m just another internet denizen generating text. The Marriage Referendum text can be found here:
Read it all? As you can see, there are parts of the article that are quite antiquated. The bit about a woman’s place in the home was discussed in the recent constitutional convention (http://www.irishtimes.com/news/convention-favours-gender-equality-and-change-to-women-in-home-clause-1.1252785), but since the government ultimately decided on what was to be put to the people, it was not included. It seems they considered reducing the age for presidential candidates from 35 to 21 more important. I’m not quite 35 yet but I’m inclined to disagree. Sure, this time next year I may well consider these writings to be those of a silly young man (if I’m not taken out and shot first)!
My feeling is that I must come to a decision based on how I think the constitution is itself interpreted… so my own views on family, marriage and reproduction are not particularly relevant here. To me it is quite clear: according to the constitution, the family, reproduction and marriage are inextricably linked. The definition of a family is, in fact, a married couple, regardless of whether or not they have children (Murray v Ireland , see link at end of paragraph). An unmarried couple with children is not considered a family. Two constitutional reviews have considered extending the definition of the family to include unmarried couples with children but in both cases it was decided that a referendum would be too divisive and legislation would suffice to strengthen rights (http://www.irishtimes.com/news/constitution-review-urges-rights-for-unwed-couples-1.514746). Why not change this as well if it’s important that all kinds of family be protected by the constitution? I can see there being an argument that a contract should not be applied to people who have not explicitly entered into it but it’s surprising that this has not come up in the debate, especially since the Children and Family Relationships Bill does this anyway. I suppose the powers that be consider legislation suffices in this case and no constitutional protection is needed for such families. Getting back to Article 41: I believe reproduction comes into it because the family is recognised as “the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society”. It’s a bit of a mess, really, and I’d prefer to see the constitution torn up and a new one written… except that the current one is the only reason we’ve gotten to vote on a range of important issues. Politicians here would not let the people decide if they could avoid it. With a new constitution they’d be rubbing their hands with glee and would do everything they could to get the result they want. Just as they did when deciding which of the several issues discussed in the constitutional convention would be put to the people. There have been arguments from the Yes side that concerns around children and the family are unfounded because legislation the government recently brought in (Children and Family Relationships Bill again) and plans to bring in (surrogacy legislation) addresses/will address this. In my mind this is incorrect as the constitution defines our rights and any law can be challenged based on these rights. As an example of this, here’s a page about constitutional law and various challenges that have been made:
The end result of my deliberations is that there are two things to think about when voting on this referendum:
1. Same-sex marriage
2. Changing the definition of the family to make it gender-neutral, with a possible side-effect on reproductive rights.
I’m sure there are plenty of people who disagree with me on the second point as the No campaign has been vilified for this view. I did come to this conclusion myself before they put up their infamous posters (stating that a child has a right to a father and a mother). Again, it is the constitution’s view on the family-children-marriage that matters here. Your view on the constitution’s view might well differ from mine, of course! I do think that the article is about the family, and therefore the referendum will redefine it. This can be confirmed by referencing the list of statutory differences between (currently-available) same-sex civil partnership and marriage on the Marriage Equality website (http://www.marriagequality.ie/marriageaudit/full-list). Many of these focus on the word “family” (e.g. “shared home” versus “family home”). Commentators on the Yes side have strongly insisted that this is no redefinition. Perhaps this could also be true, but more due to semantics than reality. If the family will not be changed then why the change to the article on the family at all?
When it comes to same-sex marriage, I’m not going to claim to be a shining knight of advocacy, but I don’t see any reason why not, especially if it makes people happy. I don’t necessarily see a need for every kind of marriage to be equal, especially as I don’t think they are. None is “better”, they’re just not necessarily the same. If I marry it’ll be for love, companionship and children; same-sex marriage can only be for the first two of these. People have different opinions, of course, and it’s important that you vote on not just what’s good for you, but all of society. In a democracy, your vote still comes down to your view. I would vote yes to this.
Article 41, does not define marriage, however. It defines the family as a marriage. It recognises and protects this unit as the ideal situation in which children are to be brought into the world. Of the three things I would consider part of marriage it only refers to children. What does this even mean when it comes to same-sex unions, which cannot produce children? This is unclear and if passed final judgement on this will be left to either legislation or the courts. The Yes side of the campaign has labelled concerns here as “red herrings” and outright lies and has insisted that equating marriage with children is plain old-fashioned. Just like the constitution. Does it make sense that on these terms both types of marriage be seen as exactly the same? In my experience, it is often the case that when there’s a referendum in Ireland it is in some way mis-sold to the electorate. I see this referendum as selling a number of changes in the attractive packaging of simply allowing people to marry their loved one. The Yes side has absolutely refused to engage on the subject of children but the entire weight of the media (as well as a substantial body of the public) attacking this as a lie does not address the argument.
Still on family and children: when rights come into conflict, whose are held above the rest? Important to me here is that children do not get to choose the manner of their conception and family situation. All kinds of families exist already and many of those do not feature one or both of the biological parents. This is usually as a consequence of unforeseen circumstances such as death, a relationship breakdown or an unplanned pregnancy. I do think that ideally, the child’s biological parents should be the ones to raise them, whether they be together or separated. As a single man who would love to have kids of his own one day it’s very important to me that both biological parents receive roughly equal access to their children in the event things go wrong (provided they’re not a danger to them). I am not very enamoured with any arrangement where the plan from the get-go is to found a family that will not involve the biological parents living together and raising their own children. This will always happen anyway but I do not advocate it and my vote is my own. Unfortunately for same-sex couples there is simply no way they can both have their own children. The issue of surrogacy is one that will be dealt with at a later stage here in Ireland, just like the right of same-sex marriages to have children with a yes result. I am uncomfortable with surrogacy full stop. Even for prospective biological parents seeking surrogacy, they need to find somebody to have the child for them. It has been mooted that commercial surrogacy will be illegal here but it will never be possible to completely stop this. It is currently illegal in the UK but still, this has happened:
My feelings on surrogacy are ones that I would hold myself to and I may be coming to the end of the line when it comes to having children, especially if my past record of falling for women a few years older hasn’t been mere chance. If it never happens for me then that’s life. It’s tough, but I’m uncomfortable with changing the rules just because of my needs and desires. I am not a ruthless person and while honesty and sincerity can put you at a disadvantage, I value them. I’m unsure on how to proceed in order to avoid a designer babies or rent-a-womb situation (where the issue of children’s rights and wilful slavery of the disadvantaged come into play). If it is to be legalised at all, then a lot more thought is required. I am completely against any couple engineering a baby that is not biologically theirs from the beginning. For those who cannot have children, sorting out adoption laws would be a better option, although I still believe that all things being equal a child should have a mother and a father where possible. The laws on surrogacy in Ireland are forthcoming but I see no reason to make gay marriage absolutely equal to traditional marriage in the constitution seeing as it would then be very difficult to legislate that surrogacy be only available to biological parents. I could see it argued successfully in court that there is man-made discrimination where it’s merely the biological kind.
Again, others will have different views but I will use my vote to best serve society as I see it. Here’s how I came to my decision:
1. If I disagree with gay marriage on principle then vote no, otherwise continue.
2. If I disagree that children and family are relevant to the debate then vote yes, otherwise continue.
3. If I disagree that a child should have an absolute right to a father and a mother where possible then vote yes, otherwise vote no.
4. If still still unsure then vote no to keep things as they are (the proponents of the change must win the argument).
When I walk into the polling booth tomorrow morning I think I will vote no, the decision being made in steps three or four. My mind is still open but it seems unlikely that some new revelation I haven’t considered will sway me back to voting yes. I do not vote no without feeling some regret for the wording and position of the proposed amendment as I’m quite proud of my record of standing up for gay friends when it wasn’t exactly cool, whether in school, in work or elsewhere. I was also subjected to homophobic bullying growing up as I was very shy, especially when it came to girls. Whether or not I like or can understand the plight of gay people is not being asked, however. Whether others will be looking to marry in all sorts of permutations and combinations after this also isn’t what is being asked. I suppose that line of argument suggests that many don’t really agree with “equality” as some absolute truth. Otherwise the referendum on presidential age would receive similar support. Anyway, why not let people marry someone they love and want to spend the rest of their lives with? Live and let live. I’m fairly certain I’ll draw the line after this so it’d be tough luck for whoever tries to come to the marriage party next. I’ve no problem with this as I don’t believe in the mantra of “equality”. It has for me been one of the more annoying and mindless refrains during the campaign: “Yes to love, yes to equality!”. If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s mindlessness and those encouraging it. Slogans and mantras are pretty much all mindless where they stand alone without encouraging, or where they actively discourage critical thought. That includes “Children deserve a mother and a father”.
What do I feel is the strongest reason for a yes vote? To live and let live. If you feel it doesn’t impinge on your own rights and won’t affect society negatively then why not? If you have no reservations then what’s the big deal? I recently travelled to the other side of the world to attend the same-sex wedding of a friend. It was one of the nicer weddings I’ve been to, especially since it was outside in the sunshine… and I do like the outdoors. To me it would be nice for their marriage to be recognised if they ever came over here. I’ll be happy if there’s a yes vote and my concerns about designer babies prove unfounded.
I will be very unhappy if, whatever happens, the witch hunt continues and those holding a differing view are silenced by bullying and abuse. It is not necessarily bigoted or prejudiced to not support gay marriage. If somebody believes that marriage is only something between a man and a woman because that’s the way it always has been, there may be no hate or pre judging of others there at all. On the other hand, those who state that all those who disagree with them are prejudiced bigots have themselves have just demonstrated prejudice… and if they have attacked all people of a given religion then they are also bigots. I’ve been one to stand up to bullies my whole life and if what’s happening in modern, “tolerant” Ireland is that we’re changing the stripes of who’s being tolerated (and who isn’t), then perhaps I’ll soon be standing up to the bully-who-was-bullied. Whatever happens, I do believe in equality for all bullies, whoever they may be.
Some things about me:
I am an agnostic. I don’t think I’ll ever come to a conclusion as to whether there’s a god or not. It’s not something that can be proven either way and I don’t see the point in trying. It doesn’t bother me what people think so long as they don’t attack others for merely holding an opposing view.
I very rarely agree completely with anyone else so I don’t consider disagreement a big deal. I am very concerned about the suppression of free speech and anti-democratic carry-on. Don’t like fascists.
I am not a member of a political party or any other movement. My views are handed down by me and I don’t want to explicitly or implicitly subscribe to the views of others. When it comes to parliamentary elections I vote against the government by default unless I think they’ve done a really good job. This hasn’t happened yet.
I consider myself a moderate generally, but there’s probably no category I could be lobbed into that would help predict my views on any subject. Perhaps “outsider” would work if it didn’t sound at all cool. I’m not a big fan of extremism, whatever side of the perceived political spectrum it comes from.
From being such a fence-sitter I’m quite used to being on the receiving end of all sorts of abuse. I do like to listen to what people genuinely think and am open to changing my views but I don’t like personal attacks and straw man arguments. All comments require moderation on this site so only what I’ve read can stand a chance of appearing. Keep to arguing the points – personal attacks and insincerity do not amuse me.
I really dislike politicians. Not the obvious ones, but those small people who’ll speak out of any side of their mouths in the jostle for position. There are plenty of politicians in the workplace and elsewhere in life. I don’t send Christmas cards but they’re off the list anyway.
I believe it is a bad thing for anyone to have undue power over another. A lot of people seem inclined to do whatever they bloody well like to get what they want given the chance… so they shouldn’t be in a position where they could bully someone without fear of being taken to task for it. When it comes to “equality”, I believe in fairness. Making those who have suffered discrimination protected classes means they are more equal than others and that can’t end well. Sometimes the bullied becomes the bully. I don’t think gender quotas or any other kind of quota are good ideas: hire the best person for the job, take action against discrimination and then let time do the rest. Trying to redress any imbalances by actively discriminating against another innocent party may just spread the disease of hatred and resentment… and it certainly isn’t fair, either!
I don’t like groupthink. When I grew up in Ireland in the 80s, almost everyone would show up to the churches on Sunday because it was the done thing. Many people now unfairly bash the Catholic church when it’s down in the gutter, including some who made sure to be seen there years ago. Of course the church is responsible for anything it is responsible for… but no more than that! Since then the country has moved on to property and banking mania; membership of the Green Party ballooned when they were in power but now the hangers-on have gone. I’m not a fan of hangers-on. They know where to be seen and manufacture their opinions to appear hip and cool but they’ll desert you as soon as it’s fashionable.
I really dislike when someone abuses the law to force their views on others. An example of this is the verdict in the Ashers bakery case in Northern Ireland, where disagreement with a political message (“support gay marriage”) was represented as direct discrimination (i.e. the shop would not serve any gay customer). I really don’t know how the judge kept a straight face when she read the verdict in which she stated that she believed it was about the man and not the message on the cake.
I really like the outdoors but don’t hold an idealised view of the natural world. My views on what constitutes an ideal family come from the genetic imperative that has us here today. I love my parents and was lucky to be raised by both of them. If I wasn’t I’d go to great lengths to contact them. I would not be amused if the plan was to remove me from them from the very beginning. Granted, there’s a possibility that otherwise I may not even exist at all, but then I’d have nothing whatsoever to worry about!
The Forever War is worth a read. It’s “only” science fiction but it presents an interesting situation where through faster-than-light travel, people return to earth at times when everyone they know is dead and everything they were raised to believe is considered wrong-thinking. There’s one visit where homosexuality is the norm and heterosexuality is taboo due to overpopulation. That values change over time is evident looking at history, too. Certainly a good reason to reflect and possibly re-evaluate your own views… but not put those who disagree up against the wall to be shot (figuratively and hopefully never literally speaking)! I can see that many of the older generation have been left behind and even ridiculed in this debate. Perhaps it’s part of the natural cycle to feel left behind as we grow old, particularly if we no longer care to keep up? The hounding of those who bear no ill will to others because they disagree with the new order smacks of Pol Pot’s Year Zero. Just a far less pernicious strain of it (hopefully).