Tuesday, April 14, 2015

In the News: The Marriage Referendum


It's hard not to take to the Internet-waves about the hottest issue facing Ireland in years. In the wake (heh heh, wake) of the water charges battle (which is still raging in some places), this officially Catholic nation is faced with a choice. On May 22, voters will take to the polls to circle YES or NO to the following statement:
Féadfaidh beirt, cibé acu is fir nó mná iad, conradh a dhéanamh i leith pósadh de réir dlí.
Thankfully, for the overwhelming majority of Irish citizens who can't read the previous statement, voting cards will also feature an English translation:
Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.*
*As is the case with all Irish laws, in the event of a contradiction between the Irish version and the English translation, the Irish takes precedent and is upheld. That most Irish citizens (and many Irish lawmakers) can't fluently speak or read Irish is irrelevant...and hilarious.

Yes, this Catholic theocracy – which only legalized divorce, birth control, and other "immoral vices" in the 1990s – now has the opportunity to be on the progressive side of history. Not surprisingly, after dealing with decades of church-controlled governments and schools, a very vocal population has come out in support of marriage equality. Also not surprisingly, a small but loud minority is pushing for a NO vote on referendum day. 

As an American, I of course have no knowledge of small but vocal minorities spinning misinformation, clouding the debate with phony phacts™ and swelling themselves to appear much larger than they are, like a bird scaring off a predator. Irish equal time media laws – well-intentioned regulations like those in the US demanding that representation from opposing sides is heard whenever a political issue is discussed on the air –  helps this small group look like a large, organized movement.

One of the biggest areas of debate (and confusion) is the issue of child adoption. Inconveniently, the government is also working on a separate bill dealing with surrogacy, adoption, and other child-rearing issues. This is completely separate from the marriage equality referendum, but the NO campaigners are trying to convince the public that they are one and the same, or at least related, citing old-timey statements like, "Children deserve a biological mother and a father...except the children of divorce, or parent death, or single parents, or...well, we certainly don't want the gays to raise them!"

In the lead-up to the referendum, public figures are choosing sides. Former President of Ireland Mary McAleese said in an interview that marriage equality was a human rights issue; that future gay Irish citizens deserve to have the same opportunities as their fellow citizens. The following morning, a representative of a hardline conservative action group (chillingly like the ones gaining renown in the US) took to the airwaves in a rebuttal/debate with a morning show host on NewsTalk FM. I believe it neatly sums up the position of both sides: "Equal rights to all citizens" versus "AHHHH! GAYS!" 

Read and/or listen to the interview here.

What the NO side supporter here cites is the issue of child-rearing and the rights of children to be raised by both of their biological parents – which is not part of the upcoming referendum – and the status quo of other countries and the European Court of Human Rights. Heaven forbid Ireland make a more progressive choice than the lowest-possible agreed-upon level of human rights by a continent-spanning court!

After all this discussion of civil partnerships, the right to a Mary and a Martin for parents (like Mary Lou McDonald and Martin McGuinness, hardcore IRA defenders?), misquotes, misrepresentations, and misunderstandings, one line sticks with me: "Equality by any other name is not equal." Pretty simple.

It will be very interesting to watch the upcoming social issues battles as the referendum approaches – especially if Ireland approves same-sex marriage and shows just how far they've distanced themselves from church control and influence in just a few short years.


  1. Unfortunately I cannot vote as I am not an Irish citizen, but I do hope the YES goes through... It will be interesting to see how it turns out. All the Irish people I've talked to are in favour of a Yes vote, now we'll have to see if people actually go to the polling stations (and I've never understood why they don't vote on Sundays like in France...)

    1. Same here, no vote for me. It's been interesting watching the campaign process so far.

  2. Interestingly, it's the other 'tick' that Tiernan and I have had the most discussion over: Is intofa chun oifig an Uachtaráin gach saoránach ag a bhfuil bliain agus fiche slán.

    Lowering the age of presidential candidates.

    1. I've heard very little discussion about this in the news reports. It seems like an afterthought. I don't even know what the polls suggest for it, but I'll find out on voting day!


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