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Francis Fitzgibbon: Mob mentality won't win right to gay marriage

One of Abraham Lincoln's associates once asked him about how he treated his enemies, "Why do you try to make friends of them? You should try to destroy them." It was then that Lincoln gently replied, 'Am I not destroying my enemies when I make them my friends?'

Lincoln's comments struck me as I watched recent debates on Marriage Equality. Susan Philips and the Iona Institute argue against gay marriage. I'm no supporter of what they stand for, nor am I a friend of Susan. I do know Susan in a professional capacity and have enjoyed the odd cup of tea and a chat on the state of Irish politics with her.

Susan Philips doesn't hate me. That I know for sure. She doesn't hate gay people but she does genuinely believe that gay marriage is not the right way forward. Do I agree with her? No, of course not.

The reaction to her performance on various debates was instantaneous. The rage on Facebook and Twitter was palpable as people flocked online to express outrage.

Irish citizens as young as 16 and 17 gave their lives in acts of extreme bravery so that people would have the right to peacefully express their legitimately held beliefs. What mob mentality does is to deny the legitimacy of the other side of the argument. That is exactly what was done to LGBT people in the past.

The mob is inferring that those on the other side of the gay marriage argument not only have no right to express their opinion, but also don't have the right to even hold that opinion. This is fascist.

It is utterly condescending to undermine their beliefs and rubbish the religious foundation from which they are often derived. Opponents of gay marriage are a minority, yes, but when we silence that minority, as many gay commentators seem to be arguing we do, we go from oppressed to oppressor.

As a minority ourselves we, more than anyone, should value the concept of freedom of expression. Even if we don't like what it is we hear.

I absolutely understand the anger and the hurt that gay people feel when they listen to debates on gay marriage. It hurts me too. People in the straight community forget that while marriage equality is for some little more than a good drunken debate or an academic discussion, for me and others like me, it is my life and my future.

That explains the anger, but it doesn't excuse the mob behaviour that is dished out to those who express an opinion contrary to ours – a bona fide mob that set out to destroy the credibility of Susan Philips because she dared to hold a belief that is contrary to ours.

The mob had a narrative that Susan was evil and they were sticking to it. The mob acted like the man questioning Lincoln's methods would have – they set out to destroy opponents of gay marriage.

I don't agree with Susan Philips. I think some of her arguments are bizarre. I suspect she would not be so entrenched if she had everyday relationships and interactions with gay people and saw firsthand that we are not that different from her. We have the same basic hopes and needs in life that she has.

We cannot on the one hand use the mantra 'Yes for Love', while using hate and anger on the other hand to justify that love.

We are blessed in the gay community in Ireland. We have an enormous amount of power and influence in both the media and the establishment. Other minorities are envious of the power we have, but with power comes responsibility. In our quest for marriage equality and gay adoption, which will happen, we must learn to use this power in a positive way. Not by picking on those who oppose marriage equality but by making them our friends, as Lincoln would have, and showing them that we too bleed, hurt, cry, laugh, but more importantly, we love.

Behaving like bullies to those who oppose gay marriage will alienate the average citizen. The gay community needs to show others that we are human beings in love, not a bunch of bullies hell bent on destroying those who hold different views to us.

The average citizen will vote for others to marry, but they won't embolden a mob.

Irish Independent