On the 22nd of May the people of Ireland will decide whether or not we will grant full marriage equality to same-sex couples. (Grá is the Irish word for love and rhymes with law, hence the slogan). It’s hard to think of a more straightforward issue than this. If two people love each other, they should be allowed to marry each other. What right does anyone else have to prevent them from expressing their love? It doesn’t do any harm or affect the rest of society in any way at all. It’s simply a matter of equality, giving gay and lesbian couples the same rights as everyone else.
For most topics, there are two reasonable sides and while I usually fall on one side, I can admit that I can see where the other side is coming from. Marriage equality is one of the few exceptions. Even the No side themselves seem aware that there isn’t really any genuine grounds for opposition so instead talk about irrelevant topics or that while they have no problems with the Yes sides argument, they don’t like their tone. Some of the more hysterical even claim that the Yes side are destroying democracy and civilisation as we know it. David Quinn seems to think that the fact that people disagree with him is an attack on the freedom of speech and totalitarianism is around the corner. Twitter, too has plenty paranoid comments about the dangers of a Yes vote (the “scandal” of a Garda registering people to vote being the most recent) but this mostly shows why you shouldn’t spend too much time on Twitter (you start to suffer from cabin fever).
It is a sign of how far Ireland has come that no one has suggested that there is anything wrong with homosexuality. The catechism of the Catholic Church may say that homosexuality is “intrinsically disordered” and the Bible may say that homosexuality is an abomination that must be punished with death, but no one, not even religious people, suggest this is true. While most of the groups and spokespeople opposing the referendum are religious, there has been a striking lack of religious arguments in the debate. Even the Iona Institute is avoiding religious arguments and relying almost solely on secular reasons. The Catholic Church too is unusually silent. It seems that what God or the Church may want is not considered relevant or persuasive.
Nor can anyone give a reason why we should prevent two people who love each other from getting married. The No side knows this and has completely avoided talking about marriage and has instead focused on children. In particular they have rallied around the slogan of “Every child has a right to a mother and father”. As slogans go, it’s very good and has a strong emotional appeal. But in terms of policy, it is meaningless. How are we supposed to enforce this right? Does it supersede other rights? Should we criminalise single parents? Ban divorce? Force all widowed single parents to remarry so as not to violate their child’s right? All of these scenarios sound absurd, but how else would this supposed right be enforced? The fact is that the slogan looks great on paper but is meaningless in practice.
The No side is putting all its emphasis on children as it seems to believe that this is the weakest spot. But marriage and children are two separate issues. Not every same-sex couple wants children, in fact, we have no idea how many will adopt (it could be large or small). But by definition children who are adopted are those missing a mother and father, so adoption by a same-sex couple would be giving these children two loving parents instead of none. Another argument is about surrogacy. I agree that surrogacy is a very messy issue, but it’s just as messy for straight couples as it is for same-sex couples. Voting No will not make the issue any clearer for anyone. While the No side can dream up absurdly complicated scenarios, the fact is that surrogacy is an option taken by a tiny number of people.
For all the sloganeering of the No side, they have yet to explain what a man and a woman can do to raise a child that two men or two women can’t. My father does the cooking and laundry and my mother shovels shit from the horse’s stable, so I don’t believe there is some magic line dividing what men or women can or can’t do. Nor is there any evidence that being raised by same-sex couples is in anyway damaging to children. The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC) has even endorsed a Yes vote, saying it would further their goal of ensuring all children are equally loved and valued. Considering the difficulties that LGBT children go through, a Yes vote would send a strong message that there is nothing wrong with them and they are equal to everyone else. The Irish Association of Social Workers (IASW) also endorsed a Yes vote. The guidelines of the Psycholgical Society of Ireland, state that “Empirical studies have failed to find reliable differences between the children of same-sex and heterosexual couples”.
One of the world’s oldest and most respected medical journals, The New England Journal of Medicine also endorsed marriage equality writing that
“Same-sex marriage should be accepted both as a matter of justice and as a measure that promotes health. . . . Many same-sex couples are now raising children, and the health of those children demands that their parents have the full rights and protection of marriage.”
The American Psychological Association too has stated that
“there is no scientific basis for concluding that gay and lesbian parents are any less fit or capable than heterosexual parents, or that their children are any less psychologically healthy and well-adjusted”.
In fact they believe that denying marriage to same-sex couples stigmatises them and causing stress and negative mental health. By providing marriage equality, not only is no damage done, but there are even many positive benefits gained.
I could sit here all day quoting the number of studies that show that children raised by same-sex couples are no worse off than those raised by opposite sex couples. Here are some recent studies and here is an overall literature review by the American Psychological Association. It concludes that
“there is no evidence to suggest that lesbian women or gay men are unfit to be parents or that psychosocial development among children of lesbian women or gay men is compromised relative to that among offspring of heterosexual parents. Not a single study has found children of lesbian or gay parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents.”
The essential point is that contrary to the No side’s fear mongering, two men or two women can raise a child just as well as one man and one woman. These children are just as well developed and don’t suffer from any difficulties regarding their gender identity. Children of lesbian mothers are as likely to be masculine and heterosexual as children raised by heterosexual parents.
But all this talk of adoption and surrogacy is frankly irrelevant as it has been covered by the Children And Family Relationship Bill 2015. Regardless of the result of this referendum, same-sex couples will still be able to adopt and surrogacy will still be an option. Voting No will have absolutely no effect. If you disagree with the rules on adoption and surrogacy in Ireland, then contact a TD, as these are legislative issues, not constitutional ones. Voting No to marriage equality will have as little effect on adoption and surrogacy as voting No to lowering the Presidential age (the second referendum to be held on the same day).
Another argument is that marriage equality is redefining marriage. This is wrong for two reasons. First of all, marriage was never simply about sex and children, marriage is defined by love. After all, marriage proposals and weddings emphasise love, not procreation (married couples say “I love you” far more than they say “I want your babies”). If marriage is about procreation, should couples who are infertile or don’t want children be prevented from marrying? My parents don’t want any more children and have finished raising myself and my sister, so is their marriage meaningless? Is marriage not the ultimate symbol of love or is it just a baby factory?
Secondly, the fact that marriage changes is not a bad thing. Marriage used to mean the wife was the property of the husband and must obey his every command. At one time, marriage between people of different races or religions was as unthinkable as marriage between two people of the same gender. During the 60s in America, racists opposed “redefining” marriage to allow blacks and whites to marry and used surprisingly familiar arguments.
The No side is doing everything it can to whip up hysteria about the horrors that will befall us if we pass marriage equality. But we’ve heard this all before. During the debate over civil partnership in 2010, the very same people issued grave warnings about how disastrous this would be. David Quinn warned that “We’ll pay a heavy price for allowing same-sex unions”. He warned that it was
“arguably the most serious attack on freedom of conscience and religion ever seen by this country”
and “it will treat belief in traditional marriage as a form of prejudice, to be outlawed under certain circumstances.” The Iona Institute too warned that
“belief in traditional sexual morality and traditional marriage will be treated as a form of prejudice to be punishable by law under certain circumstances.”
Yet none of that happened. The social conservatives are like the boy who cried wolf, at every step away from Church teachings, from divorce to the legalisation of homosexuality, they have warned of chaos, yet this never comes to pass.
Another argument is that marriage is unnecessary as same-sex couples can have a civil partnership. However, there are 160 differences between a marriage and civil partnership (although the Children and Family Relationship Bill 2015 will reduce these) mainly in the area of the relationship of a child to its parents, access to social support and the family home. Without getting bogged down in legal details, essentially the “family” is given special protection under Irish law, but civil partnerships do not count as a family unit, only a married on does.
But far more important than the legal details is the symbolism. Would you like if you were denied the right the marry and had to accept a second best option? Would you be content if your love was deemed unworthy of marriage? Would you accept only a civil partnership while others had marriage? This referendum is all about equality and giving same-sex couples the same rights as everyone else. When Rosa Parks sat at the front of the bus, this wasn’t because there was anything wrong with the back of the bus, but because it was wrong to create a divide between people. Likewise, the biggest problem with civil partnerships is that it implies that same-sex relationships are inferior to opposite-sex ones. By voting for marriage equality, we can show that they are the same.
It isn’t always easy being LGBT. Many suffer from bullying, discrimination and exclusion by the rest of society. This can be especially difficult for teenagers still coming to terms with their sexuality and unsure if there is something “wrong” with them. By voting Yes, we can all say that there is nothing wrong with being gay and that same-sex couples are just as good as anyone else in society. We can give equal rights to all the citizens of Ireland. This referendum is about love and equality. Vote Yes.
This referendum won’t be won just on social media, but by going canvassing on people’s doors. I would strongly encourage everyone to find your local Yes Equality group here and get involved. I’ve been canvassing in Dublin Bay South and it’s been fantastic.