So what was the Vatican’s response to Ireland’s historic vote for marriage equality?
Slightly muted, somewhat bitter, and more than a little enlightening.
The Pope himself said nothing publically, presumably not to appear fallible. It was left to close deputy Cardinal Pietro Parolin to make this odd but revealing pronouncement:
The Irish vote, he declared, was a “defeat for humanity”.
The decision of a majority to accept and cherish a minority? To me, that is the triumph of all that is best about people, humanity at its absolute finest. It seems that when the Catholic Church uses the word “humanity” it means something quite different.
Itself, I suspect.
A 2,000 year old all-male global institution. For sure that’s an organism of a sort, able to preserve and replicate itself successfully. But its goals and its needs, its triumphs and defeats, are not humanity’s. Life, but not as we know it.
A Yes vote won’t change so much. Not all Gay people will be rushing out to get married just because they can. It won’t, contrary to the fantasies of the overly religious, give them a strange new right to get babies tailor-made. And nor will it stop them being bullied in school or beaten on the streets. Life will go on about the same. So why is it so important?
Imagine you’re an ugly person. I know, it’s hard. But just picture yourself as unappealing. Possibly some sort of mutant. Even so, you might still fall in love. With someone equally hideous, presumably, but that’s life. So you’re about to get married, but suddenly your society turns around to you and says “Sorry, no. You’re… You’re just too damn ugly. We can’t be doing with that.”
Or say the objections of the religious were actually honest, and they made it the law that all infertile couples couldn’t get married. Or we had a more coldly logical regime where you can’t legally marry if you’re too poor to raise children in safety and health. Or too stupid. Or you and/or your prospective life partner are habitual drunks with a history of rage and violence. Consider a more pure and idealistic world where rich old ugly people aren’t allowed to marry poor young pretty people, where celebrities didn’t marry each other as a career move, one where you actually have to be in love before you can commit your life to someone else.
Thankfully – I think – we don’t live in any of those worlds. Destitute, ugly, drunk, diseased, violent, angry people have every right to get married – and sometimes do. In fact as long as they’re over the age of consent and aren’t siblings, it’s perfectly legal for any two people whatsoever to marry each other, however tragically unsuited.
Unless they are the same sex. It doesn’t matter how much in love you are, how long you’ve been a couple or how good you are together, you can’t marry your partner if you’re both girls or both boys. Society at large thinks you getting married is worse than drug-trafficking arms-dealing sadistic escaped war criminals settling down to raise a brood.
But you can have a sort of cut-back version called Civil Union, what’s wrong with that? Well there are some legal niceties, but the main difference is straightforward: It’s not marriage. It’s marriage-except-you’re-not-allowed-to-call-it-that.
And that’s the nub of the whole thing. When it comes down to it, Gay people aren’t allowed to marry… because they’re Gay. It’s not the marriage part that so many disapprove of. It’s the Gayness bit. This is why most of the arguments of the No side are so illogical. Marriage won’t create a right to have children by surrogacy, any more than it does for straight couples. Nor will it change the criteria that adoption services use. Yet these fervid scenarios are dragged in anyway, because they are about the only quasi-acceptable opposing arguments they can make. Their purpose is to disguise the real motivation: A refusal to accept that homosexual is just a thing that some people are, and not a terrific sin that bad people are getting up to because it’s secretly enormous crack. It’s not about the children. It’s about the religion.
We’re being asked today to stop blatantly discriminating against Gay people. It won’t, as I say, change the world. But it will send a message. It will tell people that we oppose the oppression and mistreatment of people who happen to be Gay. That we no longer demand, as we have for so long, that they hide the truth about themselves in fear and shame. That we oppose the mistreatment and discrimination, the bullying and the beatings. That we consider Gay people to be… just people, with the same possibilities and rights to respect and responsibility as anyone else. This is the message we can send by voting Yes.
And if we let the No side win, we will send precisely the opposite message.
The final result of the Scottish Independence Referendum is still some hours off, so I will avail of this last chance to speculate. What will happen to Great Britain if Scotland really does leave?
Well nothing. Great Britain is the name of an island, not a country. Not even the proper name for it in fact – the more historical one is simply Britain.
So where did the “Great” come out of? I get the impression that a lot of British people vaguely think of it as a title their country was awarded somehow. At a country show, presumably. I have even heard people who should know better espouse the folk etymology that Britain refers to the combination of England and Wales, which became Great Britain with the addition of Scotland. That is of course completely made up.
Great Britain is simply the English for the French name for Britain – Grande Bretagne – and might be more accurately if prosaically rendered “Big Britain”.
Little Britain in this instance being Bretagne – or as we call it, Brittany – a province of France that was settled by people from Britain and where a language closely related to Welsh is still spoken today, now and again. Somewhat ironically perhaps, these British colonists were actually refugees, fleeing from the foreign invader we now know as the English.
Well partly, them – to be honest they were being invaded from Ireland too. After the Romans withdrew from Britain it was basically a warrior’s free-for-all.
So Britain was called Great Britain merely to avoid confusion with the French name for a Welsh colony. It’s like an irony layer cake. But French was the dominant language of much of Europe – and indeed, of Britain – for many centuries, so the “Great” stuck.
And still sticks today, and becomes ever more sticky. It is now kind of embarrassing, used when they can’t think of an idea for a cooking programme, or for politicians to clutch when they have reached the absolute nadir of rhetorical inspiration. It is high time a way was found to retire the term. And if Scotland does ever leave, that would be the moment. To refer to what remained as Great Britain after that would sound like sarcasm.
But what else could the remaining country be called? Well the answer is obvious, and I’m surprised it didn’t come up more in the debate. It would of course be the United Kingdom of Southern Britain and Northern Ireland.
“It’s hard to know which way to vote,” my mother said today. We’re having a constitutional referendum on whether children should have the right to be recognised as individuals rather than as the property of their (biological) parents – which, simplifying violently, is the situation as it stands.
Don’t worry, my mother’s not ideologically opposed to freedom for kids. Like many others she was just confused by all the argument. The law requires the state – and state media – to give an equal hearing to both sides of a constitutional referendum. So if we ever decided say to put a clause against genocide in the Constitution, the government would have to publish booklets that were 50% in favour of massacring whole ethnic groups. Which would be interesting.
And this referendum has found so little mainstream opposition that it’s already spotlight time for the loons. Sinn Féin are in favour, for God’s sake. Even the Catholic Church isn’t opposing it openly. So people with some really quite odd opinions have been dug out to appear on TV. “Who is this John Waters?” she asked. “A wanker,” I explained.
There are some opposing arguments that are not irrational, but the overwhelming majority of people who have to deal with issues around child protection seem to be for this change, so it’s them I think I’ll go with. But whichever way you feel, I hope you do vote – if only to take advantage of the chance to protest against the horrific economic punishments being forced on this country. I don’t mean spoil your vote – referendums are too important for that. Someone made a brilliant alternative suggestion:
You have to fold your ballot before you put it in the box. But there are no rules about how you fold it.
Fold it into a paper aeroplane, to symbolise the ultimate fate of the children for whom government professes to care. Imagine the impact it would have when they opened the boxes on national TV if we all did it.
You’d hardly notice, but we’re being asked to change the Constitution this Thursday. Twice. Yet nobody is acting like this is much of a deal. The amendments are being thrown in with the Presidential election like some sort of democratic side order, and getting about as much attention. This despite the fact that a Constitutional amendment actually, you know, changes something, while a ceremonial President – in spite of the impression they try to create in their election campaigns – can change about bugger all.
These are not trivial matters either. One would remove the bar on reductions to the pay of judges, something placed in the Constitution deliberately to prevent the sitting government pressuring the judiciary. The other would allow the houses of the Oireachtas¹ to conduct their own quasi-judicial investigations. That would seem to give them quite a lot of power. How much? Well according to part of the proposed amendment:
4º It shall be for the House or Houses concerned to determine, with due regard to the principles of fair procedures, the appropriate balance between the rights of persons and the public interest for the purposes of ensuring an effective inquiry into any matter to which subsection 2º applies.’
So only the Oireachtas can say how much power it can give itself. Though it is of course restricted by law. Which the Oireachtas also creates.
Yes parliaments often have powers of investigation, but this seems very broadly drawn, and likely to make power in this country even more unbalanced. Government in a democracy is generally divided into three main branches: The executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. There is meant to be a measure of conflict between these roles, in order to ensure that everyone is watching what everyone is up to.
We’re a parliamentary democracy though; that immediately reduces internal contention because it means there is no effective difference between the executive and the legislature. Unlike countries with an executive presidency such as France or the US, the legislature elects the executive – which then pretty much dictates everything else the legislature does.
Another safety mechanism is a bicameral legislature; two houses each with oversight of the other – House/Senate, Commons/Lords, etc. Our upper house though is effectively the creation of the executive, which appoints the majority of its members. So no balance there either; whatever party wins most seats in an election just sweeps the board of executive and both houses.
That only leaves the judiciary as an independent power, and we are being asked to pass two amendments to our constitution, one of which will take away its chief protection against undue government pressure, the other of which will usurp some of its functions. Still wonder why I’m worried?
Bridie O’Flaherty¹ warned us last week that a shop which sells vibrators will attract undesirables. Hmmm… Apparently the most frequent purchasers of these things are actually long‑distance lorry drivers – male ones. Not because the job makes them kinky about vibrations, but in the belief that such ‘marital aids’ will help their wives remain faithful to them while they’re on the road.
Interesting that they don’t seem to purchase reciprocal devices (if that’s the phrase I want) for themselves. One can only assume that they find a different method of remaining faithful. Or perhaps Bridie is right, they’re simply undesirable.
This leads neatly back to my campaign against divorce. Last week I pointed out that the whole idea was fundamentally illogical, and the only sane option was polygamy. I should mention here that in practical terms the situation would be little different from divorce, in that separated partners would need nobody’s permission to enter into new marriages. Thus it would be a way to avoid the divisive process of having a referendum, (the constitution doesn’t even mention polygamy), and in principle we’d still have lifelong marriage. Instead of just lifelong alimony.
With polygamy however you wouldn’t necessarily need to be separated in order to marry someone else. Not that the husband, say, could wander in one day with a brand new wife. (‘Darling, meet Darling. Darling, Darling.’). Once two people are married, they both have to agree to any addition to the partnership. Presumably a certain amount of bargaining would occur. She may well insist on an extra husband too. Or something more useful. The point is that all parties have to consent, because they’re all going to be married to each other.
HANDFUL OF MEMBERS
With everyone having a veto like that it’s unlikely that many marriages would end up with more than a handful of members. On the other hand though, with the gradual addition over time of younger partners, a marriage could go on indefinitely. This ‘extended marriage’, being both voluntary and yet binding, would become a far more stable core unit of society than the old extended family ever was. It could be the saviour of social cohesion.
Okay, I could write a book on this new system. Maybe I’ll get into further details at another time; meanwhile, feel free to write to me with any faults you see in the design. I bet you won’t find one though. This is the best of all possible systems. It’ll work.
On a related topic, I was glad to see that in a recent survey, 21% of teenagers claimed to be sexually experienced. That’s very reassuring – when I was that age there’s no way 79% of us would have dared own up to being virgins.
But back to important matters, we have to halt this referendum campaign. You know what the real purpose of putting the conditions for divorce in the constitution is, don’t you? So that individual TDs will be able to say “I didn’t bring in this divorce law. The people did.” In other words it’s a neat trick to avoid accountability in government.
GET THE BOOT IN
Clever swines. And having got away with it once, they’ll soon be using it for every controversial measure that comes along. It’s a recipe for a form of dictatorship. A representative government has to find working compromises, please enough of the people enough of the time. For a referendum you only need 50% plus one to think it’s quite a nice idea, and it doesn’t matter a damn if the other not-quite-half hate it with every fibre of their collective being. What if PAYE payers got up a campaign to constitutionally gas people on social welfare? It could happen.
So in principle I’m against the idea of messing around with the constitution for political ends. But I guess if you can’t beat them, get the boot in first. I propose a referendum: Give the cash of the richest 25% of the population to the rest of us.
It can’t fail. Let’s start collecting signatures.
I’ll just say she wasn’t our most liberal local politician.