Gay people have long been subjected to the nonsensical presumption that they and the activities in which they engage are unnatural; as if the concept of opposite-sex marriage is somehow more natural than the concept of same-sex marriage.
This happens to form one of the most popular moral attacks against homosexuality out there. Both types of marriage are non-static social constructs and, thus, both are inherently as natural or unnatural as each other (if one indeed wishes to invoke such a false and meaningless dichotomy as “natural/unnatural” in the first place).
The demeaning and lazy presumption that homosexuality is unnatural, which unfortunately still happens to be casually accepted by many in Ireland, has endured as an undercurrent to the superficial sugar-coated exterior of the ‘no’ campaign for tomorrow’s referendum on constitutional recognition for same-sex marriage.
For gay people (also of nature, like every other human being in existence), being gay feels like and is the most natural thing in the world. It is as natural for them as eating, drinking, riding a bike or playing sport might be for any human. Even if homosexuality was unnatural, why would that automatically render it morally wrong anyway?
Nature has given us plenty of diseases and disasters, whilst artificial creations have long given man and woman great happiness. If a gay couple are fit to raise children, why stop them? That can be entirely good and natural too. Why should opposite-sex couples be uniquely privileged, as if to suggest they will always perform an inherently better job at parenting a child?
Those campaigning for a ‘no’ assert that to say there is no distinction between the union of a man and a woman and of two men or two women is wrong and ridiculous, but I have yet to hear a compelling argument as to why such an assertion should be trusted. Is it intuitively true? That is certainly disputable, for it is a claim that relies wholly upon the rigid, out-moded and ultimately-discredited essentialist stereotypes of “masculinity” and “femininity”.
All relationships are unique in their own way, whether they are between a man and a woman, between a man and a man or between a woman and a woman. There is no reason to assume that a same-sex couple will be inherently limited to offering a child less diversity or quality of nurturing, emotion and experience than an opposite-sex couple simply because of their shared biological sex. There is no necessary reason either why two men cannot enrich a child with love and qualities traditionally viewed as “feminine”, nor is there any necessary reason why two women cannot enrich a child with love and qualities traditionally viewed as “masculine”. There is no reason why two men, if they are so inclined, cannot demonstrate, for example, the traditionally “feminine” traits of care and empathy just because tired social assumptions might deny the possibility of them providing such.
All humans are different and possess differing qualities with which they can enrich and nurture their children, whether those children be their biological offspring or adopted. Different people simply are who they are and emotional diversity is not dependent upon a combination of opposite biological sexes. It is dependent on a whole myriad of other factors. Ultimately, it is the quality of love offered by a parent or parents that is crucial to a child’s development; not the biological sex of the parent or parents. Even if, say, two men, deemed fit and suitable to adopt a child, in raising that child were to practically and exclusively impart traditionally “masculine” qualities, that would be their choice as independent parents and there is no reason to assume that the experiencing child would be rendered socially dysfunctional or become somehow deficient. To suggest that there is an ideal or perfect family unit to the exclusion of “non-traditional” types is offensive; to suggest that there might be an ideal or perfect standard of child is just downright obnoxious.
The ‘no’ side have been quick to paint themselves as a suffering and voiceless minority subjected to suppression and intimidation by the majority. This is in spite of the obligation upon the state broadcaster, RTÉ, to ensure balance of coverage. Protecting balance is vital in a healthy democracy, but one might even say that such protection has provided the ‘no’ side with a disproportionately loud voice considering support for their cause is in the distinct minority. Their voice is being heard.
If ‘no’ people have felt unreasonably badgered or that opposing views have been forced upon them in some way, that is unquestionably wrong, but it is important to acknowledge an important distinction within the general debate here. Forcing one’s views upon others is not inherent to the ‘yes’ campaign or vote. If it occurs, it occurs as a practical shortcoming and, whilst that is disappointing, the over-riding philosophy behind ‘yes’ theoretically remains one of tolerance (despite possible practical intolerance experienced by some) and respect for diversity. On the other hand, forcing your views over, onto and into other people’s personal lives, even when it has no impact upon your life whatsoever, is inherent to the ‘no’ case; it is essentially what a ‘no’ vote encompasses as it would directly impinge and enforce (or sustain a situation of) discrimination upon a certain section of Irish society who would remain without access to a set of rights that are available to most Irish people if they ever wish to avail of them.
Many, possibly even most, of those citizens voting ‘no’ this Friday will be people who may never have encountered homosexuality or gay people in their day-to-day lives, in any practical sense or for any real intents or purposes. As Dara Ó Briain recently tweeted: “The best thing about campaigning for a “No” vote in the
#MarRef is, even if you lose, it will make no difference to your life whatsoever.” It is perhaps easier then under such circumstances to view gay people as abstract, distant or irrelevant concepts rather than as real people with the same hopes, desires, dreams, emotional needs, qualities and faults as any other Irish person. The ‘no’ side have desperately and disingenuously tried to make this a debate about children. It’s not; it’s about tolerance, recognition, progress and equality. Gay people are citizens of our republic too and it is high time that Irish marital rights, accessible to most, were extended to them.
Unfortunately, as an Irish citizen living abroad, I will not have the privilege of voting tomorrow, but, if I could, I would be voting in favour of ‘yes’. To my fellow Irish citizens with a vote, I would strongly encourage you to use it so that we as a nation can take an important step towards finally shaking off the last legal vestiges of the stifling stranglehold the Catholic Church has had over Irish social life for the majority of the last century. Yes to equality!