#SluggerSoapbox: A compassionate plea for a NO vote in the #MarRef…

The following essay is from Kate Bopp, who makes a passionate pitch for voting NO in this week’s Referendum in the Republic.

There is not a single jurisdiction on the planet that alters its constitution on the basis of emotive arguments that relate to adult romantic relationships. Constitutional change follows us and envelops aspects of our lives that go far beyond sentiments like love and sexual attraction. The melodrama being played out by the YES campaign is quite bizarre.

There is a tendency to reflect on dramatic and extreme events from the past and from an Ireland about which most of our younger generation have only read fleeting accounts. Present day Ireland is the place where we have no sexual orientation discrimination in politics, the arts, media, both broadcasting and print journalism, academia, sport, business, any field you care to mention.

In fact politics, media and celebrity life here have a much higher representation of LGBT people than the approx 2.6% presenting in the general population. Any assertion that LGBT are the downtrodden minority falls flat when actual proof is sought with regard to the reality of day to day life here.

This may be why many of those making spurious claims with regard to this kind of discrimination find themselves repeatedly resorting to ad hominem attacks instead of supporting said claims with evidence. There is an all pervading groupthink and consensus surrounding the YES side of the Marriage Referendum campaign, the most troubling aspect of which is not even related to human sexuality.

There are false *givens* in this dispute, not least of which is the *given* that any commentator who suggests that redefining Article 41 (the Family section) of our constitution may not be a good idea for families at all, is in fact a “po faced, bible thumping God botherer”.

There is another *given* that if you oppose amending the constitution to redefine marriage and family, you must be fearful and hateful of gay people in general. There is another *given* that if those who oppose this amendment “only knew” some gay people they would feel differently.

One of the most bizarre *givens* is the one claiming “you could have gay children, then you’d see this differently”.

But the false *givens* are not the most worrying thing about the shape that this campaign has taken. The template that has been tried and tested during the course of this campaign is the biggest worry. It is over 30 years since I first qualified to cast my vote in this state and I have never before seen such intimidation of the electorate.

There are both gay and straight people on the NO side of this campaign.

So far of the many gay individuals who have expressed concerns regarding the implications of amending Article 41, only four of the ones I know personally have said so in any sort of public capacity. When others are gently urged to do so, they apologetically plead “I just can’t come out about this”. Let’s just let that sit there for a moment…..

I wonder do those words resonate with anyone else reading this?

Listen to a heartfelt plea for a NO vote by someone who has first hand experience of the real flesh and blood & insurmountable problems when you remove gender from marriage & family. The bigger picture, spread out over her entire childhood & then into her own children’s childhoods.

I was in the room when Heather made this compelling speech. She is a real flesh & blood person. Her testimony is real and true. She is not alone. There are also many others. And those who carelessly throw away something precious and unique like family & marriage by refusing to acknowledge difference, are foolishly perpetuating a type of harm that is difficult to see at a superficial glance.

Romantic adult relationships regardless of sexual orientation are wonderful, but lives should not be stolen in order to affirm them. The biggest culprits in this sorry mess are neither the campaigners on the YES nor those on the No side though. Ireland’s irresponsible and negligent administrators and politicians must bear the heaviest burden of blame for the fiasco that is The Marriage Referendum.

Instead of returning to the drawing board and finding a solution via Article 40, which is the actual Equality portion of the Irish Constitution, our political elite instead chose to polarise the nation in an unnecessary battle that nobody wants.

Civil partnerships could be given constitutional recognition under Article 40 and there would be no requirement to vandalise Article 41 by introducing a phrase that forces a logical fallacy that will never evolve into fact in the living document that is our constitution. Taoiseach Enda Kenny has presided over this campaign like some kind of dysfunctional father who has made a pompous song and dance of favouring one child over the other.

Various cabinet members have made similar mistakes with regard to the greater Irish public. I was in the audience of a recent televised debate where Minister Simon Covney referenced consensus on the issue. The consensus to which he referred pertains only to the Kildare Street bubble in which he spends most of his working day.

And even there, there is only an outward appearance of consensus as frequently attested to by the Dail bar grapevine. Ireland’s politicians have grown even more disconnected from their constituents and have engaged in pitifully poor exchange of information on this issue. This will prove to be a grave error as time goes on because of all the articles in our nation’s constitution this is without doubt the most deeply intimate and profound.

As with much public discourse in this digital era, a lot of it plays out on social media, while I suspect this referendum will be neither won nor lost there, it is worth noting that a different tone of debate develops online.

The most objectionable and aggressive online commentary regarding the Marriage Referendum does not come from gay people however, it comes predominantly from people who claim to care about equality for all but do not even ponder for a moment about the very real life experiences of those who have been hurt by social policies that run roughshod over children’s rights.

Such commentators not only do not have credibility in this debate, they do not represent the sentiment of the majority of decent LGBT folk I have encountered during the course of this campaign. I have made friends on both sides of this campaign. I have also discovered depth I wouldn’t have guessed existed in certain people.

Particularly those who have an outward appearance other than the progressive, trendy, enlightened, urban stereotype that gets credit from former presidents over and above some of us old world country bumkins. We rural dwellers have been sold short in this campaign.

It would serve some smug city commentators well to engage with country folk and see the harmonious and amicable coexistence we are living day-to-day with our gay friends and neighbours.

I wonder if the obsession with whether people are 1st or 2nd class citizens frequentlly surfacing from various advocates of a YES vote is not simply evidence of their own latent tendency to judge? I have never heard anyone else suggest that a person’s sexual orientation should be a measure of their value as a person.

And with that, marriage has never been a measure of equality.

If that were the case, then those who are raising children outside of marriage are in some way unequal to those who are married. I do not perceive families in this way. My neighbour is unmarried and raising 4 children and I have never looked over the fence and seen anything other than a family equal to my own.

Changing the Family article of our constitution will not be a magic pill for people who struggle with their sexuality or that of their adult children. I sometimes feel that people who insist on a Yes vote due to their gay children are over-compensating somewhat by trying to make the entire citizenry affirm their own child’s sexuality. It should be enough for any parent who loves their child that sexuality is of no consequence.

It is the person that counts. Sexuality does not define us, nor should it influence our affirmation of our children’s worth as individuals. But we cannot as a nation, compensate every young gay man or young lesbian woman for the thoughtless and ignorant words of a minority of those who cannot comprehend their sexuality, by saying Yes to a lie.

Same sex unions are real. Same sex love is committed and rewarding. Same sex couples can and do make committed and loving partners and parents. But the union of two people of the same sex cannot and will not ever be “…the natural and primary fundamental unit group of society”. To this the only answer can be NO.

This is a guest slot to give a platform for new writers either as a one off, or a prelude to becoming part of the regular Slugger team.