Mary McAleese's 'divine intervention' on the side of the angels in same-sex debate
Published 15/04/2015 | 02:30
A divine intervention? Well, not quite, but the decision of ex-President Mary McAleese to make a public announcement about why she and her husband Martin will be voting in favour of the forthcoming referendum on equal marriage will encourage many advocating a 'Yes' vote to believe that they are on the side of the angels. No doubt, traditionalists will feel betrayed.
As Mrs McAleese is now a private individual, her opinion shouldn't carry any more weight with the public than that of Joe the butcher or Mary the schoolteacher. But it does. Not just because Mrs McAleese is a former president, but because she is also an expert in Irish law and in Catholic canon law. So, not only is she a committed Catholic but she also knows what she is talking about - from both a secular and religious point of view.
This is the voice that many ordinary Irish Catholics have been waiting to hear. Why? Because over recent months, they have been inundated with conflicting opinions as to what this referendum is really about. Is it the beginning of the end of marriage and family life as we know it, as so many 'No' advocates would have us believe? Or is it just a way of formalising loving unions - many of which already exist.
Last week, I received a "private study paper" from the journalist Bruce Arnold, warning of a myriad of horrors which would occur if this "needless and reckless social experiment, driven by an irrational ideology" was passed.
In it, I read that the passing of the referendum would be "contrary to the duty of the State to protect...and to promote the best interests of the child" and that "this is the real human rights issue in this debate".
This document seemed to spell out that if the referendum was passed, Ireland would become a bleak, dystopian society where women are exploited by "the highly lucrative surrogacy and genetic donor industry" and where children are "the real victims" as they are "brought up without any idea as to their true origin or identity".
Perhaps Mrs McAleese read it too, because her interview with George Hook on Newstalk last Monday answered many questions I had after analysing it. In particular, she agreed that "it [the referendum] is a debate about children". She also said that "we believe it to be a human rights issue".
But far from depriving future children of potential mothers or fathers, Mrs McAleese said the passing of this referendum would mean that, as in the words of the Proclamation, the children of Ireland would be cherished equally.
Rather then a dystopian future, she sees instead the "kind of future we want for Ireland". Interestingly, Mrs McAleese made the point that: "We in Ireland have a very particular problem of youth suicide, particularly male youth suicide - and we now know from the evidence that one of the most at-risk groups or cohorts within that age group of 18 to 25 is the young male homosexual."
'Really? Where's the evidence?' asked some of the No vote proponents. Well, in late 2014, the 'Irish Medical Journal' published a study called 'Victimisation and Psychosocial Difficulties Associated with Sexual Orientation Concerns: A School-Based Study of Adolescents', which showed that "Irish teenagers who have concerns about their sexual orientation have much higher levels of mental health problems and are much more likely to attempt suicide than their peers" and "to be victimised".
It also noted that whereas "research has indicated that most sexual-minority young people disclose their sexual identity towards the end of their secondary school years, this happens even later among Irish lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT)people".
"These years of concealed sexual orientation or gender identity coincided with psychological vulnerability and distress."
Why is this? Why are these schoolchildren so scared to talk about their sexuality? And why are they more likely to be victimised?
Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that section 37 of the Employment Equality Act allows our faith-based schools to discriminate against LGBT people- legally. Not only are children denied seeing good, caring, openly LGBT role-models in the classroom, but the fact that some teachers must hide their sexuality suggests that there is something wrong, something shameful about them.
When I posted the above report on Twitter yesterday, Cahir O'Doherty of 'The Irish Voice' responded: "Growing up in Donegal, my kind friend was daily tormented by thugs. He took his own life. He was blamed, not the bullies."
He continued: "Any gay person in Ireland could tell you a similar story. The [ex] president's right when she says a Yes vote is about gay children."
Mrs McAleese is also right when she says that "we owe these children a huge debt".
She is indeed on the side of the angels.