Friday 15 November 2019

A 'Yes' vote in the marriage poll won't bring Armageddon - just fairness for all

Colette Browne

Colette Browne

Have you started buying canned goods and stocking up on shotgun cartridges yet, because if the 'No' side is to be believed, the end is nigh and Armageddon is nearly upon us.

That's what two women told the BBC last week, when asked what they believed would happen if same-sex marriage was introduced.

"I'd hope that God would intervene," said one, while her friend suggested the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, the cities consumed by fire and brimstone in the Bible, would be a likely template for God's wrath.

Oddly, it was weirdly refreshing to hear such uncompromising religious views being expressed, because it's clear that no secular equality argument could change their minds. According to the Catholic Church homosexual acts are sinful, so extending the definition of marriage in the Constitution to include gay sexual partnerships probably seems perverse.

This is not a view that is peculiar to the Catholic faith. Muslims and evangelical Christians feel the same way and because we value religious freedom in this country, people are entitled to hold these views.

What they cannot do is preserve a religious definition of marriage in a Constitution that's supposed to serve everyone living in this country.

Religious marriage will remain unaffected by this referendum. It is just the civil ceremony that will change. Still, some out there are clearly worried that extending marriage rights to same-sex couples will normalise gay relationships, signalling there is nothing unnatural or grotesque about one's sexuality.

Laws are not just rules that dictate codes of conduct; they send important messages about society's shared values, the cultural norms that infuse our lives. Enshrining marriage equality in our most important legal document, the Constitution, reinforces a powerful message - that sexual orientation is innate and should not be used to privilege or discriminate.

The law needs to change because, as it currently stands, it has bred homophobia and unhappiness - not necessarily in those opposed to same-sex marriage, but in gay people themselves. The only person to describe herself as homophobic throughout this debate has been TV3 reporter Ursula Halligan, who finally confronted the demons that have been plaguing her for decades when she came out as gay.

"Because of my upbringing, I was revolted at the thought that I was in love with a member of my own sex. This contradiction within me nearly drove me crazy... I resisted facing the truth about myself, preferring to live in the safety of my prison. In the privacy of my head, I had become a roaring, self-loathing homophobe, resigned to going to my grave with my shameful secret," she wrote in a national newspaper.

Ms Halligan works in one of the most liberal industries in the country and yet was so tormented by feelings of self-hatred and despair that it took her 54 years to publicly admit who she is - a person who happens to be gay. So, why should she be denied a right she would have had previously, when she was living a lie, now that she has decided to face the truth?

Others have come forward and told equally brave and moving stories. Former Fianna Fáil minister Pat Carey is now out of the closet after 67 years, thanks to the momentum of this referendum, and tirelessly campaigning so others don't endure the same stigma he felt.

Yet, despite this personal testimony of lifetimes spent in hiding, it is those on the 'No' side who insist that they have been silenced and they have been denigrated. They have suddenly become the disadvantaged minority who are being bullied and abused by illiberal monsters.

The evidence for this is that a few idiots have torn down posters while others have been using Twitter accounts to send vile messages. But the 'Yes' campaign doesn't have a monopoly on idiots and there is plenty of online abuse to go around.

This cynical effort to turn the LGBT community into domineering bullies, while 'No' campaigners are depicted as harassed and harangued, should not be allowed to go unchallenged. Senator Jim Walsh, speaking on RTÉ on Saturday, claimed the 'Yes' campaign had been full of vitriol, before admitting he himself had suffered "very little".

The 'Yes' campaign has tried very hard to respond to the issues that have been raised throughout this debate. The head of the Adoption Authority has confirmed the adoption regime will remain unchanged whatever the result. Legal experts have stated that no married couple, straight or gay, has a right to surrogacy. Children's advocacy groups - from Barnados to Childline - have denied children will suffer any detriment and are staunch supporters of a 'Yes' vote.

With all of these issues settled, education became the next line of attack. On Sunday, Catholic Bishops claimed schools would be forced to teach a definition of marriage contrary to their ethos - despite the fact that 92pc of primary schools are Catholic and their ethos, which pervades the entire curriculum, is protected by the Constitution.

"What will we be expected to teach children in school about marriage or about homosexual acts?" said a pastoral statement, begging the question, what do they teach about homosexual acts currently?

Meanwhile, as notional children are used by the 'No' campaign as pawns in this debate to stoke fear, another real-life child was born into a loving same-sex relationship at the weekend.

Broadcaster Dil Wickremasinghe and her partner Anne Marie Toole welcomed their baby son Phoenix into the world. They would very much like the opportunity to raise him in a loving marital household, but they need your votes on Friday to make that happen.

Irish Independent

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