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.
Over four thousand women from Ireland are known to have obtained an abortion in England or Wales last year, a figure that probably under-represents the true numbers significantly. Why are they having abortions abroad and not here?
If you could sum it up in a single word, that word would be “hypocrisy”.
We have a hypocritical Constitutional ban that has the effect not of preventing abortion, but of making it someone else’s problem. It allows us to pretend it hardly happens at all, that we live by higher ideals. In fact, we live a lie.
And oddly, to an extent it is not even our own hypocrisy. The amendment was the result of a manipulative campaign coming largely from overseas, particularly the British organisation SPUC, that intended to make Ireland a showcase for Conservative Christian values. They wanted to prove it was possible, despite the examples of the US, UK and most of Western Europe, for abortion to be banned in a country where women had a vote.
Yes, a clear majority disapproved of abortion. They don’t necessarily approve of enforced birth either though. Irish people are no strangers to moral complexity and contradiction, and even if doctrinal absolutes came easy in those post-Papal-visit days they would not have stayed that way for long. But the amendment to the constitution stifled that moral debate by rendering it pointless.
It still stifles it. Even now we are hung up – insanely – on whether a danger of suicide constitutes a legitimate threat to the life of a pregnant woman. Of course suicidal feelings are a real threat to life, but some want to pretend the danger away in case it is used as a pretext to give abortions to those who merely want them.
This is all mad. Why are we trying to force women to give birth when, for whatever reason, they do not want to give birth? Only remorseless ideology produces such inhumane law.
Ah but the unborn are people, you can’t kill them!
Except they are not. That is just a religious doctrine, a philosophical view, forced into our Constitution to make hypocrites of all of us. Who is to say at what point human life begins? We could leave the decision to priests, to doctors or scientists. But I think instead we should leave it up to the woman who has to bring that life into the world.
Who else’s decision should it be?