Thursday 18 December 2014

Can we have a respectful debate on same-sex marriage? I don't think so

Published 31/01/2014 | 11:00

Is it possible to have a calm and respectful debate about same-sex marriage? It would appear not. On Monday, The Iona Institute (which I head) received an email which advised: "If you're reading this, kill yourself. End your shitty existence on this planet and let humankind move on from your bigoted, homophobic and sexist bullshit."

A foam-flecked paragraph later he continued: "Please don't take what I said lightly. End your life... I will put it to you this way, if I had met anyone from your 'institute' I would not think twice about kicking their f***ing face in... I hope you die a horrible death."

I mentioned this email in a tweet and the general reaction on Twitter was that we deserved it.

Another email read: "I want to go (to your offices) drop my pants and shit in your office."

A third stated: "You use religion as a smokescreen to inspire hatred across our land. It is repulsive."

A fourth announced: "I believe you are sickening, disgusting and absolutely horrible as an organisation."

You get the picture by now. The volume of abusive and threatening emails has increased since RTE apologised to John Waters, Breda O'Brien and The Iona Institute for what was said about us on 'The Saturday Night Show' three weeks ago tomorrow.

This is not surprising; we receive similar emails whenever anyone from Iona is on a major show to discuss same-sex marriage.

The internet is also full of this sort of stuff on a regular basis. Twitter has been particular venomous lately. The abuse is off the Richter scale.

In my own case it makes no difference to the critics that I supported decriminalisation of homosexual acts when that happened and have supported partnership rights for gay and other non-married couples for years.

The enormous irony, of course, is that the internet trolls who accuse us of spreading 'hate' are themselves full of hate. When challenged, they can never point to a single quote from anyone involved with The Iona Institute that is genuinely 'homophobic'.

I have heard weasel words this week from supporters of same-sex marriage saying that of course we must have a calm and respectful debate on the matter but a 'calm and respectful' debate in their view includes the right to accuse opponents of having the worst possible motives for holding their beliefs.

They remained respectfully silent when a columnist in 'The Irish Times' a couple of weeks back literally called for the setting up of an official watchdog to essentially crush all opposition to same-sex marriage once and for all.

The columnist wrote: "In the lead-up to the referendum on marriage equality next year, there is a need for an independent homophobia watchdog to monitor the inevitable destructive rhetoric that will colour one side of the debate, without fear of legal repercussions."

She added: "Anti-equality rhetoric both in the media and enshrined in legislation is, in my opinion, directly responsible for physical and verbal attacks on gay people."

This would be like me saying that no one should criticise Christianity because if you do you are somehow on a par with those who shoot and bomb Christians in places like Pakistan.

In all past abortion debates, pro-choice supporters have rightly called for a 'calm and respectful' debate. They have bitter memories of the 1983 abortion referendum in particular.

In that referendum opponents of the pro-life amendment were regularly called 'baby-killers' and the like, they received hate letters, and had their good faith thoroughly impugned, although very rarely if ever by prominent pro-life spokespeople, a key distinction compared with this debate.

The media constantly draw attention to and condemn the militants on the pro-life side. They were doing just that in the most recent abortion debate. When Enda Kenny announced he had received a letter from some anonymous person comparing him with King Herod, that was national news.

What got much less attention was the huge amount of abuse and hate that was directed at pro-lifers such as myself in that debate.

However, in general our media are not calling attention to the militants on the pro-same sex marriage side who are the mirror image of the worst pro-life militants. Indeed, we have some politicians egging on the pro-gay marriage hotheads and those politicians are not being told to calm down by their party leaders.

We are to have a protest against RTE's apology on Sunday it appears. Let it be noted that RTE also apologised very recently when the producer of the 'God Slot' tweeted that his show would be discussing 'Can gays be cured of being gay?'. The answer the show gave, rightly, was no but he still had to apologise for posing the question.

But this is what is in store for those of us who disagree with same-sex marriage. All responsible people, regardless of how they feel about the issue itself, ought to want a genuinely calm and respectful debate in which there is a minimum of abuse, and emotive-questioning.

Irish Independent

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