Slugger O'Toole

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United Ireland’s struggle against gay rights wins RTE damages

Tue 4 February 2014, 6:45pm

 

Is it defamatory to accuse opponents of same sex marriage of homophobia? Or are they fairly exercising their consciences in declining to recognise equality with heterosexuals?   Irish Times columnists are on opposite sides of an argument which is part of the Republic’s slow emergence into the modern era. Sadly though the columnists haven’t gone head to head over it yet; let’s  hope they do.   The issue arose when John Waters and Breda O’Brien, both Irish Times columnists as it happens, and members of the Iona Institute which campaigns for traditional values, were paid a total of 85,000 euros for comments made about them  by  drag artist Rory O’Neill aka Miss Panti on RTE’s Saturday Night Show.  RTE paid out the money rather than get embroiled in a lengthy and even more expensive legal battle. So much for the defence of free speech by Ireland’s national broadcaster. One of the beneficiaries Breda Power gives a familiar reply “it wasn’t the money it was the inadequacy of a right of reply without an apology.”  So much for the defence of free speech by a name writer who like Waters enjoys the privilege of making her case in the public multimedia .

In his column Fintan O’Toole carefully concedes good faith to his colleagues but magnificently declares it irrelevant.

Sincerity is irrelevant here as malevolence – it simply doesn’t matter why people uphold structures of discrimination. Throughout history, decent, moral people have believed with complete sincerity that slavery is a moral good, that women are lesser beings who must be protected from their weakness by being obedient to men, that Jews should be confined to ghettoes, that the Irish are incapable of rational thought, that Catholics are unfit to live in democracies and so on..

It’s good that most of those who oppose gay marriage love and respect and cherish individual gay people, though they should hardly expect a pat on the back for not hating their fellow citizens. But they need to recognise that that’s not enough. The whole point of the law is that it’s not about giving people equal status because you like them. It’s about freeing people from subjection to the arbitrariness of other people’s benevolence.

How much better it would have been to have argued the toss.  O’Toole’s argument applies to  the disagreement of John Larkin  ( never slow to seek out a target) with the terms of the Supreme Court’s finding against Christian hoteliers who refused to give a gay couple a bed for the night in  Bull &Hall (as reported by Alan.) The conclusion is that these people may or may not be homophobes but they are no longer free to exercise their consciences at the expense of others. The issue is not whether there are other hotels but whether gays should suffer the indignity of discrimination – whether direct or indirect. But tread carefully before you accuse discriminators of homophobia – even if you  find the distinction with prejudice hard to understand. It’s not much of a discovery to learn that both parts of Christian Ireland are stronger on social conservatism than the heathen English even in the highest court in the kingdom.

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Comments (19)

  1. abucs (profile) says:

    Equality is a subjective concept that when applied universally makes a mockery of itself.

    Someone (group) has to decide which two other groups should be treated equally and on which basis.

    As Aristotle said way back in the day – “There is Nothing So Unequal as the Equal Treatment of Unequals.”

    To force other people to do this against their own ‘free and rational thought’ should be a crime.

    To get the state to force people to do this against their own ‘free and rational thought’ smacks of why the Progressive Left can never create a free and civil society.

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  2. babyface finlayson (profile) says:

    “Is it defamatory to accuse opponents of same sex marriage of homophobia? Or are they fairly exercising their consciences in declining to recognise equality with heterosexuals?”
    Both I think. If they feel their church should not endorse same sex marriage on doctrinal grounds, well that is their right even though it may be homophobic to the rest of us.
    And they are entitled to lobby for law changes in line with their beliefs as representatives of a special interest group.
    I draw the line when they become elected representatives who must represent all their constituents fairly and press for equal rights for minorities. At that point those personal views have to be left aside.

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  3. Rory Carr (profile) says:

    That’s the trouble with democracy. Representatives are not elected to represent the views of all their constituents. They are elected on their manifesto which, if passed into legislation, may impinge severely on the views of minorities. And this is what democracy demands – that the views of the majority prevail.

    Good job then that manifestos have less credibility than a moneylender’s commercial.

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  4. Harry Flashman (profile) says:

    A phobia is a psychiatric condition, a manic and irrational fear of something.

    What exactly is someone described as “homophobic” supposed to be manically and irrationally afraid of?

    Is there the slightest shred of evidence that either Waters of O’Brien suffer from a mental affliction because they happen to adhere to a social/political position that was not only utterly commonplace a decade or so ago but is in fact consistent with current legislation?

    It is a very serious issue because ascribing mental illness to a political opponent was a very effective means of shutting down political dissent in the old Soviet Bloc. It is something that should be utterly resisted in a free society.

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  5. circles (profile) says:

    Abucs could you maybe elaborate a bit on what you meant by “Equality is a subjective concept that when applied universally makes a mockery of itself.”

    Or by quoting Aristotle with “There is Nothing So Unequal as the Equal Treatment of Unequals.” (Should it be pointed out here that the ancient Greeks wasn’t exactly the most egalitarian of societies with voting being limited to an elite class of free men?)
    Who, in this situation are unequal? (apart from people being treated unequally before the law)

    Harry, a phobia is commonly defined as “a persistent fear of an object or situation in which the sufferer commits to great lengths in avoiding, typically disproportional to the actual danger posed, often being recognized as irrational.”
    An irrational fear.
    Which pretty much sums up the fretting and huffing and puffing that a lot of people get themselves into to try and stop something private that happens between two other people that has absolutely nothing to do with them. Irrationality does make a person look ridiculous.
    Flat earthers are irrational, as are young earthers, as are homophobes – and yes all these ways of thinking were once popular. But that in no way validates them.

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  6. mrmrman (profile) says:

    @circles The literal definition of equality is things being equal i.e. the same. Equality (in this narrow definition) rides roughshod over our sense of individuality reducing us to interchangeable cogs of the machine a la communism. What most people really mean when they talk about equality is equity. Equity preserves our sense of individuality at the same time providing everyone with a fair chance.

    The “problem” with equity is a) demonstrating the equity and b) it turns up results that may appear unfair.

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  7. circles (profile) says:

    Semantics aside, I think it would be very hard, in a democracy to argue with the “The whole point of the law is that it’s not about giving people equal status because you like them. It’s about freeing people from subjection to the arbitrariness of other people’s benevolence.”

    Now one can spend hours discussing whether it should be “equitable status before the law” or “equal status before the law” – but that just I think the general principle is clear enough here.

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  8. babyface finlayson (profile) says:

    Rory
    “Representatives are not elected to represent the views of all their constituents.”
    True enough, but surely once elected they are required to represent the rights of all their constituents, gay or straight?
    They may stand on their manifesto yes, but whether they are entitled to put in that manifesto policy promises that are blatently discriminatory is another matter.
    Of course bringing church matters into the arena of politics just complicates things.

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  9. Scáth Shéamais (profile) says:

    One of the beneficiaries Breda Power gives a familiar reply “it wasn’t the money it was the inadequacy of a right of reply without an apology.”

    And yet, according to RTÉ’s head of television:
    Legal advice was sought and the other options explored, he said, included a right of reply and an offer to make a donation to a “neutral charity”.

    He told staff that the complainants did not accept the proposed remedies.

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  10. mrmrman (profile) says:

    Opponents against gay marriage are quite clear on what they wish the law of the land to be on this issue – same sex marriages should not be allowed. There is no arbitrary benevolence here.

    References to Jewish ghettos is pure hyperbole.

    The principle argument against gay marriage is one usually informed by religion and therefore logic (by the definition of faith) doesn’t really come into it.

    The problem is that marriage straddles the “boundary” between church and state and therefore means different things to different people.

    The purely secular argument against homosexual marriage is much more uncomfortable (and taboo?). It is usually informed by a sense of “wrongness” about homosexuality in general.

    Personally while I have sympathy with those who oppose gay marriage on religious grounds I believe that the state should not be regulating who gets married (except for purely bureaucratic purposes). Although this does leave the door open for polygamy. I guess we’ll square that circle when we get to it…

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  11. Clanky (profile) says:

    People should be free to voice their opinions on homosexuality without being declared homophobic, however, they should not be free to treat gay people any differently in a professional setting than they would a straight person.

    In the same way that criminals must be entitled to an adequate defence in order to validate a guilty verdict, for a change in attitude towards gay people to mean anything then those who oppose it must be allowed to air their views, so long as they do so in a way which does not incite hatred.

    I can respect someone who says “I don’t agree with gay marriage on religious grounds”, I can’t respect someone who says “gays are immoral creatures and should not be allowed the same rights as others”.

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  12. Harry Flashman (profile) says:

    @circles

    “Which pretty much sums up the fretting and huffing and puffing that a lot of people get themselves into to try and stop something private that happens between two other people that has absolutely nothing to do with them.”

    And what evidence have you, besides your own ill-informed prejudices, that “huffing and puffing about what people do in private” is the driving force behind opposition to gay marriage? Has it ever crossed your mind that people who oppose gay marriage, might just might, have valid socio-political reasons for their opposition beyond a dislike of homosexual acts?

    Of course not, you support gay marriage, you’re a good progressive, you toe the party line and anyone who disagrees with the party line must be a dangerous lunatic whose voice must be suppressed by ridicule initially but if he persists then through censorship.

    @clanky

    I can’t respect someone who says “gays are immoral creatures and should not be allowed the same rights as others”.

    I might not respect such a person either, there are a lot of people I don’t respect, however in a free society people who you don’t respect are free to express their points of view.

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  13. drover (profile) says:

    Abucs quotes Aristotle as saying:
    “There is Nothing So Unequal as the Equal Treatment of Unequals”

    in support of the view that gay marriage should not be accepted. Aristotle also said:

    “It is clear, then, that some men are by nature free, and others slaves, and that for these latter slavery is both expedient and right”:

    Is Aristotle a reliable guide on equality?

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  14. IrelandNorth (profile) says:

    Strictly speaking, “homophobia” is fear of men, not hatred of homosexuals. Equally, “gay” connotes temperament or humour. I’m sure there are such things as gay heterosexuals as well as depressed homosexuals. Equally, the opposite of gay isn’t straight. To infer such is to be semantically as well as geometrically challenged. But how ethical or moral is it to highjack semantics and terminology, (or previosuly unpatented environmental or ecological rainbow emblems) to one’s cause? Sadly, the sexual orientation debate in Ireland (and GB) flags-up just how political correctness (PC) is fast becoming the new secularist dogma to fill the vacuum left by the decline and fall of the Holy Roman Empire. And heterophobia appears in the ascent.

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  15. BifterGreenthumb (profile) says:

    IrelandNorth said: “Strictly speaking, “homophobia” is fear of men, not hatred of homosexuals. Equally, “gay” connotes temperament or humour. I’m sure there are such things as gay heterosexuals as well as depressed homosexuals. Equally, the opposite of gay isn’t straight. To infer such is to be semantically as well as geometrically challenged. But how ethical or moral is it to highjack semantics and terminology, (or previosuly unpatented environmental or ecological rainbow emblems) to one’s cause? Sadly, the sexual orientation debate in Ireland (and GB) flags-up just how political correctness (PC) is fast becoming the new secularist dogma to fill the vacuum left by the decline and fall of the Holy Roman Empire. And heterophobia appears in the ascent.”

    The meaning of words change over time as people use them differently. ‘Gay’ may mean ‘happy’ but in the context of 21st century discussions of sexuality ‘gay’ means homosexual. You, me and everyone else knows this so what point you are trying to make about happy straight people and depressed gay people is beyond me. Equally, ‘homophobia’ in the context of the current discussion means either ‘discrimination against homosexuals’ or ‘fear of, or hatred of homosexuals’ so your ‘fear of men’ point is completely irrelevant. The point isnt the meaning of words it about how people treat other people.

    Political correctness is not for liberals, it’s for old bigots who lack the common decency to treat other people with politeness and so need to be told what is acceptable in polite society. Liberals are people who feel that we should live and let live and as long as you are not hurting anyone else you should be left to your own devises. Liberals therefore have no need for political correctness as their natural respect for other people and tolerance of harmless diversity means that they treat other people as people and not as ‘niggers’, ‘fenians’, ‘huns’, ‘faggots’, ‘rag heads’ etc

    ‘heterophobia appears in the ascent’? Who hates straight people or in what way does modern society discriminate against heterosexual people? That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever read. How does asking questions about homophobia or discrimination against homosexuals equate to hating straight people?

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  16. Newman (profile) says:

    Before we get carried away trying to prevent religion taking a proper place in the public square I think it is time to dust down Edmund Burkes’ speech to the electors of Bristol in 1774..it is timeless.

    Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution.

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  17. David Crookes (profile) says:

    The headline used for this posting is reprehensible.

    Ireland is not united.

    There exists no such thing as a border-crossing union of persons who resist the granting of rights to other persons.

    No such unexistent union has won anything for itself.

    No such unexistent union has won any damages.

    One court in the RoI has awarded damages to two persons who have been defamed. (What those two persons choose to do with the money which they have won is no one else’s business.) If the court’s judgment encourages some people to stop pelting other people with stupid phobe-words, three cheers.

    On a point of expression, “wins RTE damages” in headline English means, “wins damages for RTE.”

    The headline represents emotion-driven conspiracism gone absolutely mad.

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  18. IrelandNorth (profile) says:

    BifterGreenthumb! I appreciate that the meaning of words change over time with common usage. But, I’m an old fashioned guy. I happen to believe that they shouldn’t. Why not construct new terminology to describe new sexualities, instead of purloining other people’s retroromantic semantic certainties. It’s one of the few comforts one should be allowed in the early Autumn of their years. If amateur linguists want to compose dictionaries (or reinvent semantics), they should looke for a job in Oxford university, which composes the bible of the English language – the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Alas, my experience of politics in contemporary Ireland is that the Orwellian Dictionary of Newspeak is the preferred reference material when dealing with bureaucrats and administrators. They all appear to have willing swalowed the blue pill. But conscientious homosexuals should equally respect the solitude and serenity of confident heterosexuals who sit meditating in public parks, without misinterpretating their motivations for being there.

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  19. David Crookes (profile) says:

    Here we go again. The following non-story has appeared on the BBC NI news site.

    ‘Presenter Graham Norton has called Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to pay opponents of gay marriage an 85,000 euros settlement “absolutely moronic”.’

    This is NOT a news story, and it is cast in exactly the same kind of partisan terms as the recent LECTURER DISAPPOINTED BY EMAIL ROW non-story.

    What some unimportant TV presenter thinks about a particular judicial decision is not news.

    If the media keep on force-feeding us red-hot non-stories of this kind, they will face demands for strong affirmative action. Not so long ago an obscure historian passed some trivial remark about Keynes. The remark was immediately blown up by the killer-pack into a BBC news story. The idea of newsworthiness doesn’t seem to be relevant.

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