In seven weeks time the citizens of this republic will be asked to vote on what is probably the western world’s most outstanding civil rights issue, Marriage Equality. There has been consistent and overwhelming support for the proposition since polls were first taken in recent years, though the gap has recently narrowed. I suspect this is not so much the ‘No’ campaign articulating a cogent and reasoned argument, as it is people waking up to the fact they don’t really get the significance of this referendum. ‘What’s the big deal?’.
The fate of this campaign lies with the citizens of this country, gay, straight, male, female, young, old, of all religions and none. To quote the Irish philosopher Edmund Burke: ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’. It may seem a little extreme to describe the desired outcome of the No campaign as ‘evil’. But let’s call a spade a spade. If the No campaign triumphs it will enshrine in law the gay community’s place as second-class citizens. This will not be put to a popular vote again for many years, if ever.
In the next seven weeks we need to speak to our families, friends, acquaintances, neighbours and colleagues and urge them to vote Yes on May 22. The reasons to support a Yes vote are simple, and overwhelming. There is no sustainable evidence that supports the No campaign. None. Let’s break it down.
WHAT ABOUT CHILDREN?
The No campaign’s argument focuses almost exclusively on the topic of procreation, and the right of children to have their biological mother and father raise them. This referendum is not about children. This referendum is about civil marriage between consenting adults, nothing else.
Even if children were an issue, the rights of children, and their place within the family, including same sex families, is ably covered in the recent Child and Family Relationships Bill, which is in it’s final stages and will be passed by the Oireachtas, and signed into law by President Higgins.
The No campaign singles out same-sex couples when it comes to the issue of procreation, but there are many opposite sex couples that cannot have children for a variety of biological reasons. Why are they silent about them?
They have also completely ignored the fact that many same sex couples are already rearing children. And that the overwhelming evidence shows that people are born gay, and these children are currently being denied the equality of status that the Irish Constitution expressly calls out in Article 40: “All citizens shall, as human persons, be held equal before the law.”
WHAT ABOUT CHRISTIAN VALUES?
There is also the ongoing platitude that homosexuality, and by default Marriage Equality, is against God’s will. It is unchristian. I can guarantee the No campaign that spending hours reading through the gospels of the four Evangelists looking for evidence that Jesus Christ ever uttered a single articulate syllable opposing either homosexuality or marriage between same sex couples would be a master class in futility. He never, ever, mentions it. It is simply not there.
The fundamentalist Christian right usually wheels out the Old Testament, Leviticus in particular; verse 18:22 to be exact. And there’s no escaping it, Leviticus is pretty clear that homosexuality is not really acceptable. I would however argue that Leviticus cannot be taken entirely seriously on this subject. Leviticus in particular and the old testament in general condones slavery, husbands beating their wives and children and forbids you trimming your beard, eating fat, or drinking alcohol in a holy place.
WHAT ABOUT FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE?
This particular argument from the ‘No’ side is a double-edged sword. The freedom to conscientiously object both protects people who wish to hold certain religious beliefs, but allows these self-same people to discriminate against fellow citizens who do not share their views. Church organisations are also voicing fears that they will be forced to officiate over same-sex weddings. The issue at hand is civil marriage. I would no more expect a Catholic priest to marry my partner Alan and I, than he might marry a Muslim or a Jewish couple. Also if they’re so close to their ‘Conscience Clause’, will clerics whose consciences are clear on the subject be free to marry gay couples ?
I will defend to the death anyone’s right to hold whatever beliefs they hold dear. But they cannot use those beliefs to treat other members of society differently. Equality legislation in this country is very clear. Citizens, both as individuals and businesses, cannot, under the law, discriminate based on gender, civil status, family status, age, race, religion, disability, membership of the Traveller community or sexual orientation. Adhere to whichever religious code that gives you succour. Just leave it at the door when it comes to civil marriage.
WHAT ABOUT DAMAGING SOCIETY?
It won’t. It really, really won’t. This is scaremongering of the worst kind. Marriage Equality was first recognised by the Netherlands exactly 20 years ago. It is now the legal standard in dozens of countries around the globe; the sky hasn’t fallen, the citizens have not risen in arms, and people go about their business as usual, apparently underwhelmed by the whole argument.
JUST SEVEN WEEKS
With just seven weeks to go you have an obligation as a citizen to actively support and promote the Yes campaign. To enshrine in law the full and equal rights of all who live here. If you do nothing, and the proposition fails, you will have been responsible for the triumph of injustice.
So, let’s get to work!
© David Wilkins – April 2015
This article was first published in theoutmost.com – April 2nd 2015