In his July 2014 TV3 debate the presenter Vincent Browne asks his panel if marriage equality is a step too far for Catholic Ireland.
Catholic Ireland? The 50s are long gone, Vincent. It is ironic, the term ‘Catholic’ means universal; one would assume then that, at least in the strictly linguistic sense, the term must embrace a diversity of marriage options.
Looking at the diverse range of issues raised by talking heads from a smorgasbord of stances is a dizzying exercise. The field, I fear, has been muddied. The core issue trampled.
Let me start with the actual wording of the proposed amendment to the Constitution: The Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015 (bill no.5 of 2015)
Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex
Read as is it is straightforward, bland even. But listening to the raging controversy it has stirred up you would not be amiss to imagine that by Constitutional Amendment, all children over ten years had just been drafted into military service.
We in Ireland are in the final stages in the run up to a Constitutional Referendum on the rights of all citizens to be treated equally under the law. Certain lobby groups have worked to reduce the debate to old and threadbare arguments centred on the inability of same sex couples to provide a safe and supportive environment for children. The most egregious of these voices is that of the Iona Institute with their emotionally manipulative and wholly disingenuous ‘Surrogacy’ poster led crusade
It is nothing if not an effort to trivialize and dilute the key issue, more, it is demeaning to single parents and the many same sex couples who care for and nurture children.
What this referendum is about is what it says on the tin. The single crucial issue is that of citizen equality. It is an issue fundamental to European democracy. Senator Catherine Zappone put it to us with such passion in a recent Oireachtas debate; ‘It is that the minority will have access to what the majority already have access to.’
We assume that we are a modern progressive society, one that is equal and egalitarian in form. We take it for granted that the shackles of religious conservatism, that diffident scraping and bowing we used to engage in at the feet of God’s holy bishops and priests, is long gone. But it hangs around still, like a bad smell.
There is something rotten in our modern Ireland, it is the vestiges left by a once all powerful Catholic theocracy.
To be fair, our esteemed bishops have come a long way since the days of outrage at the rampant paedophilia they condoned in the priesthood. But on the rights to same sex marriage, they are about as medieval in their thinking as are the flowing ceremonial robes they don when engaging in serious holy business.
The Catholic hierarchy’s stance is revealed in their official statement on this issue; – note that they cheekily claim to speak, not only for the devout, but for the complacent agnostic too:
“The Catholic Church, with other Christians and those of no particular religious view, regard the family based on marriage between a woman and a man as the single most important institution in any society,” the statement said.
“To seek to re-define the nature of marriage would be to undermine it as the fundamental building block of our society,” the bishops said.
The bishops said the “Church seeks with others to reaffirm the rational basis for holding that marriage should be reserved for the unique and complementary relationship between a woman and a man from which the generation and upbringing of children is uniquely possible.”
This cabal of single and – ostensibly – celibate, old men are obviously experts in the nurturing of infants. The Bishops Conference and its narrow definition of society and the blocks that it is built upon have missed out on Bowlby and Ainsworth. Then I suppose that studies conducted and tested in the late 1940s are a bit too modern. It is in a fantasy-land that these people live in. The Prods are not much better:
“The Presbyterian Church in Ireland upholds the historic – and Christian – view of marriage as exclusively between one man and one woman. We affirm that it is needed for the common good of society.
“In recognising the rights of all people within a democracy, we must include the rights of children, and the natural responsibilities of a father and a mother in their nurture. We believe the change proposed in the referendum denies these rights.
Ah, they rue the day that they lost their moral authority. Back when it was they who told the populace what was good and what was bad. Back when a book compiled from snippets of an Iron Age, Middle Eastern tribe of nomads’ social history could be used to beat the flock back into submission.
Now the meat and potatoes of this referendum have been perfectly encapsulated by Professor Fiona de Londras of Durham University:
Gay people are not different to straight people. A ‘no’ vote involves more than ‘merely’ upholding an historical or ‘traditional’ conception of marriage. It is a decision of the electoral majority to maintain heterosexual privilege and to perpetuate inequality.-
Opus Dei – sorry, The Iona Institute – are busy defending their cosy De Valera-esque concept of marriage while muddying the waters with their most recent poster campaign.
The IONA INSTITUTE is the ultra-conservative Catholic lobby and pressure group formed 2007 at the height of the Church child abuse backlash. It is incorporated as a private limited company. Headed by the adamantly pro-Church Irish Independent’s columnist David Quinn, it boasts an illustrious board membership that includes the psychiatrist Patricia Casey, journalist Breda O’Brien, Fr. Vincent Twomey, former Church of Ireland Bishop of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh, the Right Reverend Ken Clarke, and Jimmy Sheehan, a co-founder of the Blackrock Clinic.
This rather nasty ‘Surrogacy’ poster campaign they trotted out a week or so ago is redolent of the blinkered, blunt and dogmatic thinking that radical extremists of all hues are guilty of. The theological stance is of greater import than the wellbeing of the people it allegedly serves.
They did not stop to consider the effect the campaign will have on kids who are gay and those raised by same sex parents. A case in point being that of my bright, confident, playful and endlessly curious niece and the inspirational women that nurtured her, allowed her to bloom into the wonderful adult she has become. I cannot but rage at Quinn and his cronies.
I spent twenty two years of my life in the Scientology cult. To my eternal shame, I professed a visceral hatred of the homosexual and lesbian as a consequence of a fundamental tenet of that rigid thought mode. Hubbard describes gays as malicious, dangerous perverts. They can be made straight by application of Scientology, but it will cost them. Until they are ‘fixed’ they cannot be trusted, they will ‘stab you in the back’. I held to this as truth with all the fervour of the woefully ignorant.
I emerged from the psychological shackles of the Scientology world with the realisation that it was my Guru, Hubbard, who was malicious, vindictive and indeed, a dangerous pervert.
As a late bloomer, or more accurately, as a water-starved plant, they let me study for a degree. Some of my best lecturers were gay as were many of my fellow students. While in uni, I made fast friends with a taxi driver called Mike and his daughter. Mike used to be Mary. He was as brilliant a father as she had been as a mother. I have rarely seen such a confident and well balanced seventeen year old girl as was the daughter he had brought into the world.