Against the deployment of the ‘homophobia’ word in the marriage equality debate…

So, An Taoiseach announced in his Prime Time interview last night that same sex marriage is “a question that will be put very clearly to the people. I expect it will be on 22 May.”

That’s a reference to the fact that to get through any statute allowing same sex marriage that poor battered book of basic rules (aka the Irish Constitution) has to be amended by Referendum.

Now if the polls are anything to go by, it should be a walk in the park. Left to their own devices and instincts, even some of the most socially conservative of Irish folk are minded to let this one go through on the nod.

It was famously the case in the first divorce referendum when a week beforehand, the polls suggested there was a latent 2/3 majority in favour of granting the right to citizens of the Republic to divorce. One Bishop’s letter and less than a week later, and the numbers flipped rather spectacularly.

It was to be another nine years before a divorce referendum was won and brought in as the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, and ten before it made it onto the statute books.

It may be true that the Bishop’s powers of persuasion are not what they once were. The imperative has passed to well matched and intellectually fit secular groupings like the Iona Institute.

Given this government’s record of losing what have been often seemingly fairly straightforward Amendments to the Constitution, the Taoiseach’s promise to back the proposal to the hilt means little in terms of its likelihood to pass.

But it is significant in another respect. The Taoiseach and many other of those in the Dail and Seanad who support equality in marriage, come from a socially conservative background.

As such, there’s a lot more work to it than just winning or losing a populist referendum campaign, not least because Article 41 which deals with the family gives such a loose and yet highly prescribed definition of what the family actually is.

The late arrival of primary legislation in the form of a Child and Family Relationships Bill – by definition a heavyweight piece of legislation, as you can tell from its general schema – won’t help matters, not least because it offers an alternative framework for the campaign.

Point one in Paul Evans’s famously lucid argument against referendums in a parliamentary democracy:

Referendums are often a framing exercise. We often don’t want either of the options we’re being asked to adopt, preferring one that isn’t on the ballot.

Given the tight timetable for the legislation, the Child and Family Relationships Bill may allow critics to amplify messages around adoption and other child related marriage rather than focusing on the universal civil right to marriage: ie the Yes lobby’s strongest suite.

This is likely to lead to a very tough and very dirty fight indeed. Article 41 may well deserve all the liberal contempt Fintan O’Toole can throw at it, but it’s far from a solid base from which to prosecute a winning campaign.

Long time advocate Ivana Bacik warned last night about complacency amongst yes campaigners. But focus may be the problem in holding together the broad coalition necessary to get this one over the line.

Even with the campaign barely begun there is clearly tension and impatience with the incoming anti gay rhetoric from the No side, as this piece from Tomboktu demonstrates:

…the explicit homophobia in the broader debate needs to be challenged, even if that means modifying a commitment to be positive and an intention to focus only on the referendum. However much GLEN, Marriage Equality and the ICCL may not like it, the question of children is now part of the debate. We saw on Saturday that we cannot depend on straight allies to expose the homophobia, but if it is left unchallenged, it will damage the Yes campaign.

Whilst that sense of outrage is  perfectly understandable given the hard won experience of many out gay and lesbians, red mist alone is not likely to give rise to an optimum campaign. Crudely put, this a campaign to get 50% + 1 of the Irish population to vote the measure in.

As Ruarai has noted of Andrew Sullivan’s clarion essay for the New Republic back in 1993:

[Q]ueer” radicalism’s doctrine of cultural subversion and separatism has the effect of alienating those very gay Americans most in need of support and help: the young and teenagers. Separatism is even less of an option for gays than for any other minority, since each generation is literally connected umbilically to the majority.

The young are permanently in the hands of the other. By erecting a politics on a doctrine of separation and difference from the majority, “queer” politics ironically broke off dialogue with the heterosexual families whose cooperation is needed in every generation if gay children are to be accorded a modicum of dignity and hope.”

The humanising of the gay experience has to start where almost all gay life begins: ie, within the quintessentially conservative context of the family. Most Irish people understand this implicitly.

As the far from radical Mary O’Rourke has noted, most objections have faded as it has become clear that gay people are not alien, but already an integral to their families and wider social networks.

These conservatively minded folk are the very people, if they are not alienated by the indiscriminating broad brush of homophobic taint, who will help to carry this referendum and help open new chapter in the developing inner social life of the Irish nation.

Keeping such a broad coalition on board will need not just simple forbearance (and it will take that and more), but a clear eyed on the nature and quality of the prize at stake.

And the opportunity for Ireland to begin (yet again) to live up to its founding ambitions as a state and learn to properly cherish all the children of the nation equally.

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  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    As Rory O’Neill, aka. Miss Panti, eloquently pointed we gay people occupy some strange no man’s land like that of Scrodinger’s cat where the majority deliberate on our status without knowing or understanding what our status and experience really is. It has been in response to this that queer radicalism rejected wider society making decisions on our behalf and made as many self determinist decisions from as close to a separatist standpoint as was allowable. This was an inevitable step in the process of finding a voice.

    Monogamy is inherently traditional in the Judaeo/Christian context. The institution of marriage is also. It is a curious change to want to bring about in that it will alter perceptions of stability, tradition and their promotion whilst promoting an inherently conservative agenda amongst those from whom it has traditionally been excluded. Nonetheless, a deep interrogation of inequality and uneven esteem will be necessitated.

    It will be an interesting “tyranny of the majority” whatever the outcome. In any case, a little more of Archbishop McQuaid’s legacy can be buried alongside him. RIP

  • Jag

    Slightly off topic, but only slightly.

    I’m surprised there hasn’t been an Ashers-bakery type of response to the RC priest in Fermanagh who says he won’t marry Travellers in future (this is the same priest who was at the centre of the wedding last week in which a man was killed)

    Will the Equality Commission take Fr King to task?

  • kalista63

    I the spirit of turning a negative in to a positive, maybe we should, north and South, chase the pink pound/dollar/euro and sell our fek’dup attitude to all things LGBT as a tourist attraction for all those poor fellas and girls who were unlucky enough to live in a decent country.

    We could arrange chartered flights, with the Naked Civil Servant playing on the last hour and a half of the approach, just to set the mood. I’m sure there’s loads who would love to know what it was like to be gay back in the day.

    On a political tip, how the hell is this island divided with such nonsense so consistently occupying both arenas?

  • Kate Bopp

    Slugger, it is interesting that you end with that very noble sentiment of cherishing all of our children equally. Yet you remain stubbornly oblivious to that core contentious issue in marriage redefinition. When marriage & family is redefined in our constitution, the ideal of father, mother, husband & wife is abandonned. The new standard will become a broad one that doesn’t even as much as bother to nod at natural ties and the complimentarity of man & woman/mother & father. This would be fine if everyone has given up entirely on this ideal. But are you sure that is the case? Is here national consensus that there is no longer justification for a preference, where at all possible to support & promote the notion of a mother and a father raising children together? This is not to say that we must recognise and assist in every practical means available, the existence of other family models. But should we abandon forevermore the universally recognised family model of mother, father and child? Who will benefit from this new departure?

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    What a good idea! And while we’re at it, can we gayboys requisition DeValera’s old house to redecorate it: all streamlined minimalism in the spirit of IKEA and Skandi modrin Oirland? I don’t recommend chucking out all the chintz coz we do love a bit of kitsch. The odd child of Prague and luminous virgin decorated with fairy lights are absolute musts and is of course a nod to the holy mother church that gave succour to so many homos and other undesirables in the erstwhile dreary Eden.

    Why be trapped by the past when we can camp it up and celebrate it in the brightest gayglo colours? My Andy Warhol portrait of Paisley Snr must be worth a fortune by now. What am I bid on Ebay?

  • kalista63

    Imagine all those poor LGBT kids for in San Francisco, for example, born in to accepting families and a tolerant community? What bastards? They could go to somewhere like Abbey Leix and be refused service in a pub. Now, that’s proper gay.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Why should this be in the constitution at all? As societies evolve over time the family unit changes over time. The nuclear family is a fairly recent occurence after all. Traditional models tend be resistent to external changes as well. The paradigm is safe.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    It only becomes proper gay when you refuse to leave the establishment and invite all your mates over after being refused service.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    This was the original use of the term ‘protest camp’

  • Sp12

    Kate, out of curiosity, how would the “redefinition of marriage” adversely effect children in a male/female or single parent arrangement?
    Children don’t wake up at 4AM and experience angst over the redefinition of their parent’s marriage (or non marriage for that matter).
    So if you’re gonna play the “won’t somebody think of the children” card, pray tell, what horrors lay in wait for them?

  • Abucs

    As said previously, equality is not a stand alone value. It only makes sense in relation to underlying cultural viewpoints. The equality that is being pushed brings with it another plank in the underlying values of 1960’s liberalism that has been totally destructive to society, as it was designed to be.

    Secularist individualism has meant there is no unified society anymore. As a result government legislation is now used by one segment of society to force their morality on another segment.

    The government is not for this and is belittled when it is used in this way.

    Because of an encouraged and purposely crafted disparity of culture now in the West, government is left with a choice of two alternatives. Either withdraw from the position it once had in expressing a unified culture (including moral questions) or alternatively force partisan legislation through in an authoritarian way against a segment of the population.

    This latter situation has been adopted under a cover of a fake hegemony where the segment that dissent are ridiculed as being ‘behind the times’ and ‘not educated properly’ and ‘will come around eventually’. Progressive legislation is then introduced to ‘clear up these backward people’ whose views are then against the state.

    It leads (as we have seen elsewhere) to Catholic adoption agencies being closed, Christians and Muslims forced out of professions such as psychiatry, the forcing out of people such as business leaders who support contrary views, questioning the suitability of Christian foster parents, forcing teachers against their will to teach unethical positions in school, etc etc.

    The problem is so many of the people pushing this have socialist views where the very functioning of government is to be authoritarian and push their views onto others. They should have a good look around and ask themselves if their pushing over the last 50 years has actually created a more tolerant, ethical and compassionate society.

    It is a challenge for such people to envisage a process where government withdraws from questions such as gay marriage and leaves the question to society. For the socialist there is no society without government. This is a very unhealthy position which leads to authoritarianism.

    The government for it’s own sake needs to withdraw from marriage altogether and leave it up to the choice of people and groups within society to live and define what marriage is.

    We are not a culturally unified people anymore, Using the government to force through social change under the pretence that we are leads to authoritarianism and rebellion.

  • mickfealty

    Unless you can explain the relevance I’m marking this as distraction…

  • chrisjones2

    abandon forevermore the universally recognised family model of mother, father and child

    Who is asking you to abandon anything? If you want that for you, fine, have it. Just don’t deny different views and rights to others.

    the universally recognised family model

    Universally? Where is it universally recognised? In the UK US and most of Europe there is recognition and tolerance of many different and just as viable and nurturing families. What about religions and countries where polygamy is permitted? Just excluding them suggests a very narrow perspective

  • chrisjones2

    Monogamy is inherently traditional in the Judaeo/Christian context.

    Perhaps for the rich. Not always for the poor. And for the rich it was about property and succession …things the poor didnt need to worry much about

  • chrisjones2

    Its not an equality issue. He has expressed concern about the tensions at such weddings, the fact that they all come north to get married at 16 as they cant get hitched in the south (and by inference sometimes need to marry quickly as the baby needs a Da). Thats all reinforced by having two persons shot and one stabbed at the last ceremony.

    All of that adds up to a pretty powerful case for saying hes not doing this any more

  • chrisjones2

    Perhaps its all just Gods will

    LIke some people being Gay and some straight

  • chrisjones2

    Boom boom

  • Framer

    There was no need for a referendum to start with. The constitution could have coped with same sex marriage. Read the text in the Irish language in particular. The decision by the constitutional convention to push for a referendum was both foolish and backward. It was for the government to propose a new law but it hadn’t the courage, fearing an anti-gay backlash.

  • Kate Bopp

    No horrors have been cited Stephen. Just indisputable facts. Every human being in existence has a mother and a father. In some cases those are not the people raising them. When a child is raised by someone other than their natural, genetic parents it is perceived as a loss by that child at some level, if not in their very young childhood, then most certainly at the onset of puberty. If you do not understand how significant identity is to teenagers in particular, then you are quite ignorant of a hugely profound rite of passage phase in human development. You can be like some others on social media and dismiss my protest against some appalling aspects of #cfrBillcfrBill as *God bothering* despite the fact that I am agnostic & raise a house full of children, teens & younger free of any kind of *God bothering*. And you can choose to bury your head in the sand just like most of Dáil Eireann, who are so whipped by an elite & allegedly progressive cabal that they do not dare to articulate any slight apprehensions they may have about aspects of this bill. The #cfrBill is in fact the most intrusive & intimate piece of family legislation this state has ever seen. But you and others are so entrenched in your defensive mode arguments about sexuality, you simply refuse to see that this is not about you. Neither is it about any religious dogma. The new dogma is that of those who claim to be liberal and free thinking. I am not at all comforted by the certainty that within two decades if this bill passes unamended, the state will be negotiating a redress scheme for the donor conceived young adults who will (rightly & indignantly) pursue it for not just permitting but putting a constitutional seal on the greatest human rights injustice the Irish state will have carried out since the foundation of the state. Saying *I told you so* to you and others will be of no help to an entire generation of young people robbed of their genetic heritage. But hey, carry on feeling important about your personal wants & desires. You’re so vain I bet you think the Child and Family Relationships Bill is about you.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    There are quite a few grandes horizontales, concubines and mistresses that feature in the histories of the rich and powerful; Louis XVI for example. Monogamy was the model but individual practices defied or ignored it in every stratum of society. Traditions are invoked when it suits us but the reality of lived experience was often quite different.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    At any point in history you wil find that a vast majority of the population only paid lip service to “the unified society (sic)” when they find themselves in something like what I think you mean – totalitarian states maybe???. I can’t think of any western nation since the Renaissance that could be described as a unified society even in times of war. Europe’s great philosophers emerged BECAUSE they didn’t acquiesce. If you’re arguing for a monoculture with no dissent then Iran, Saudi Arabia or N. Korea seem good destinations to set up home.

    Many with “socialist views (sic)” may not be socialists per se and therefore may occupy a position of the libertarian left and eschew any form of authoritarianism.

    So if I’ve followed your final argument correctly, marriage with the legal protections it provides, its questions of inheritance, property and so on should be left up to society at large without central Govt enshrining anything on any statute book? All we need do then, I guess, is find the right commune that society has broken up into that suits our tastes and preferences and relocate to it to live happily ever after? That sounds like the 60’s now. Oh I’m confused.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Whoops, Louis XIV. The one I erroneously mentioned was ridiculed for the lack of lead in his pencil.

  • Robin Keogh

    As a gay man myself i am little bit fed up with the use of the word ‘homophobic’ every time somebody disagrees with marraige equality. Of course there are homophobes out there as there are racists and bigots; we have to live with them and hopefully catch them on the hop from time to time before they do any damage…..but there are also people who have genuine and sincere beliefs in the ideal of traditional marraige and feel nervous at the prospect of redefining the ‘family’. They have no need to be afraid of course and they can be quite safe in the knowledge that their family brand and child raising principles are perfectly safe from attack. They can also be assured that they will not be obliged to break from their own traditions in order to accomodate the contemporary paradigm. Only through education and understanding coupled with a generous dollop of tolerance will this message get through. Screaming ‘homophobic’ ! …. will have the opposite effect.

  • Abucs

    No i am not arguing for a monoculture with no dissent. That is a broader question. I am pointing out that the dissent that has been manufactured in Western countries is at such a level that it’s purpose was to attack common culture. There is a difference between this fact and wanting no dissent. Dissent is healthy. Different viewpoints are healthy, Destroying common values for ideals that have been shown to be a failure is something different.

    Part of this destruction is the idea that rejecting common culture is healthy and creates independent thinking which is where i am assuming your comment about philosophers comes from. There is a difference between questioning and rejecting common culture and i do not acquiesce to the suggestion philosophy (or indeed free thinking) comes only because of dissent. I consider such a view both incorrect and unhealthy for society.

    This is quite obvious because if one generation would dissent from the previous in the name of good philosophy and free thinking, then the following generation would have to dissent from that one to show the same qualities. Such a view is destructive and it can be shown that the rise of much of the good that we see in society today comes from an inter-generational commitment to common good ideas and values. Good philosophy and free thinking can grow out of a commitment to inter generational good values and ideas. The building and development of the hospital system, educational system, university system etc

    You have indeed wandered off from my argument slightly. Property is a legal transaction where ownership is registered to the signature on the contract.

    Inheritance would be based on the will of the deceased and failing that then, as now, a formula for who gets what.

    A new form of legal commitment would be created that couples or groups could register regarding unions. Religious marriages (including gay marriages where the religion allows) or civil unions, or society groups or even your hippy communes could enter into this new agreement. Like religious marriage homosexuals can create their own secular legal unions which would reflect their desire to share assets regarding splits and death.

    In general, unions could be platonic, sexual, communal – whatever, the state would not care because the legal arrangements would be for inheritance and asset splits only.

    Such contracts would not have to be supported or respected in any way (as with religious marriage) by society at large. They would be recognised by the state only for purposes of splits and death. This includes the removal of taxation considerations.

    Adoption agencies would be free to not recognise certain unions without being closed down. Schools would be free to not promote certain unions without being closed down.

    Psychiatrists would be free to pass on patients to other doctors if the doctor considers their homosexual union as part of the patient’s dysfunction (and the patient has other views) without being closed down. etc etc.

    No need to join hippy communes, but you are free to do so if that is your fancy.


  • carl marks

    This is bit confusing perhaps you could give us some example’s
    ” forcing teachers against their will to teach unethical positions in school, etc etc.”
    I don’t think this actually ever happened, what you mean is positions you disagree with,
    and this (how many time have we ben through this)
    ” questioning the suitability of Christian foster parents”
    It (as you know) is not the questioning of the suitability of Christians to be foster parents, every years many many Christians foster with the full approval of the authorities, However those who believe that Homosexuality is a matter of choice and not birth (as you do) are deemed not suitable because of the severe harm such a misplaced notion can do to a gay child!

  • carl marks

    we could put together a business plan, run it by the tourist board, get a grant and Pootsy can launch it for us.
    could be a money spinner for the place.
    the slogan could be,
    Come to Northern Ireland we will take your money but not your blood!

  • carl marks

    Got any evidence that ” their homosexual union as part of the patient’s dysfunction ”
    the reason that Psychiatrist’s are not permitted to treat Homosexuality as a condition is that it not a condition and treating people for it can cause a lot of harm.

  • carl marks

    this common culture thing, perhaps we could have examples of it please! as has been pointed out by others here, it is very hard to find a society with a “common culture” anywhere in history.
    and could we also have a list of where
    ” Destroying common values for ideals that have been shown to be a failure”
    It would help a lot if you were to explain what you mean by these vague terms and give us examples.