Yes!!! Ireland Embraces Marriage Equality (May 22 2015)

May 14, 2015 in General

Looking at Ireland now, as it strove to become the 22nd nation to adopt marriage equality, it’s hard to believe that thirty years ago, it hadn’t even decriminalised homosexuality, which New Zealand had embarked upon at that time. However, as a result of the European Court of Human Rights ruling in Norris v Ireland [1988], Ireland’s Dail (Parliament) finally endorsed complete decriminalisation in 1993, with an equal age of consent at 17 for straight, lesbian and gay couples alike. That was something that the neighbouring United Kingdom had yet to do, and didn’t accomplish until 2002 due to House of Lords intransigence against Blair’s LGBT legislative reforms.¬† At that point, David Norris, who had brought the aforementioned case to the European Court of Human Rights, became an Irish Senator. Ironically too, it was Ireland’s first female President, Mary Robinson, who signed the bill into law, given that she had a long and honourable history of campaigning for homosexual law reform and other human rights issues.

Five years later, Ireland passed its Employment Equality Act in 1998, followed by an Equal Status Act in 2000. These antidiscrimination laws apply to employment, advertising, vocational training, collective agreements and goods and services. However, it did not guarantee retrospective pension equality and the legislation has a large and broad religious exemption to it, applying to church schools and religious organisations. There are some residual areas of inequality. One particularly significant area is the absence of gender reassignment and transitioning for transgendered Irish people. Men who have sex with men are also permanently forbidden from undertaking blood donation.

As for relationship and marriage equality, this was a process of considerable deliberation, undertaken by the Law Reform Commission (2000-6), Constitutional Review (2004-6) and Equality Authority (2001,2002) within the ambit of central government and by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (2004, 2005, 2006).¬† Numerous attempts were made to pass civil union legislation (2004, 2006, 2007) during this period, which culminated in the passage of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010.¬† The momentum didn’t let up, either. Inclusive adoption reform occurred only last month (April 2015), when the Dail passed the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015, allowing individual LGBT and coparent adoption.¬† In 2014, the Irish Government decided to hold a referendum on the question of marriage equality.¬† That will occur on May 22 2015. At present, opinion polls seem to suggest that the Yes (pro-marriage) side of the debate will easily triumph, with seventy-five percent of respondents in favour of reform, compared to only twenty percent against. Some Irish LGBT rights campaigners and the Irish Prime Minister are cautioning Irish LGBT community members and liberals against complacency and urging Irish supporters of marriage equality not to insure that the No (anti-marriage) side triumphs despite itself through supporter apathy and neglect.¬† Younger, Sinn Fein and Labour supporters back the measure, while self-described members of the larger Fine Gael and Fianna Fail parties are likelier to be more conservative.

The No side are a small and pathetic lot, largely consisting of the Iona Institute (2007-) and Mothers and Fathers Matter (2014- ), as well as the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference. At one time, the latter had considerable moral authority, but like other western societies with large Catholic populations and institutional infrastructure, Ireland has witnessed a surge of clergy pedophilia which has diminished it, even in this former bastion of the Catholic faith.  In  1980, Ireland legislated for legal contraception, while in 1995, it enacted divorce legislation after passage of a referendum that authorised this measure, albeit narrowly.

One week before the referendum, the tone was positive, as can be seen in Stuff (17.05.2015):

Irish voters are set to back the introduction of gay marriage by a margin of as much as two-to-one next week and become the first country to approve the policy in a national plebiscite, a series of polls indicate. Long considered one of the most socially conservative countries in Western Europe, support for gay rights has surged in Ireland in recent decades as the power of the Catholic Church collapsed in the wake of a series of child abuse scandals. The Irish Times poll of 1200 voters showed 58 per cent planned to vote in favour of the measure compared to 25 per cent against and 17 per cent undecided. Two more polls to be published in Sunday newspapers put support for the constitutional change above 60 per cent, while a third saw the advantage of the Yes side slip to 53 per cent with 24 per cent opposed and almost as many undecided.

Analysts have said the fall in support in some of the polls is nowhere near as sharp as the decline in support for divorce in a 1995 referendum, when that Yes campaign’s 44 point lead disappeared as conservative campaigners spoke out in the last weeks of campaign. The measure was approved by 50.3 per cent. Meanwhile, an antigay teachers group has just materialised:

A group of Irish teachers has launched a new organization calling for people to vote No in the upcoming referendum over fears of teachers being accused of homophobia. Teachers for No, or Educators for Conscience, say the possibility of same-sex marriage becoming legal will have consequences which have not been dealt with and discussed properly. Reportedly, all of them already also belong to conservative Catholic pressure groups.  The organisation is said to have a total membership of ten.

Update: May 23: ¬†The polls ¬†closed in the Republic of Ireland, where voters took part in a referendum on whether to legalise same-sex marriage.¬†More than 3.2m people were asked whether they wanted to amend the country’s constitution to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.

Polling stations closed at 22:00 BST and counting is due to start on Saturday morning (Sunday NZST).¬†They reported an “unusually high” turnout.¬†Irish state broadcaster RT√Č said the turnout in most areas was well ahead of what it had been in recent referendums.¬†Dublin, Limerick and Waterford passed the 60% electorate turnout mark, while in Cork, Carlow, Kilkenny, Donegal, Tipperary, Kerry and Galway it was above 50%.¬† Without exit polls, it’s difficult to be sure what has happened as a result. Does high turnout mean that the Catholic Right mobilised elderly and rural conservative Catholics against marriage reform, or has that been offset by liberal metropolitan reformist sentiment in the cities and from expatriate liberal Irish voters, who returned home to vote in the referendum? In Canada and Australia, there was a determined attempt to mobilise Yes voters who were eligible to vote in the referendum from their national LGBT communities and allies.

The Outcome: May 24:  Ireland has decisively embraced marriage equality, becoming the first nation to do so through a popular vote. Stuff reported (24.05.2015):

Figures from Friday’s referendum announced at Dublin Castle showed that 62.1 percent of Irish voters said “yes.” Outside, watching the results announcement live in the castle’s cobblestoned courtyard, thousands of gay rights activists cheered, hugged and cried.¬†The unexpectedly strong percentage of approval surprised both sides. Analysts and campaigners credited the “yes” side with adeptly using social media to mobilise first-time young voters and for a series of searing personal stories from Irish gay people to convince voters to back equal marriage rights.

“We’re in a new country,” said political analyst Sean Donnelly, who called the result “a tidal wave” that has produced pro-gay marriage majorities in even the most traditionally conservative rural corners of Ireland. ¬†And unlike New Zealand, no major political party supported the no cause. Just an hour after counting began, David Quinn of the Catholic Right’s Iona Institute graciously admitted defeat.

The New Zealand Herald (24.05.2015) added:

The unexpectedly strong percentage of approval surprised both sides. More than 1.2 million Irish voters backed the “yes” side to less than 750,000 voting “no.” Only one of Ireland’s 43 constituencies recorded a narrow “no” majority, Roscommon-South Leitrim in the boggy midlands. ¬†¬†Inspired by the romantic atmostphere that ensued, the Dail’s Senator Katherine Zappone, an out lesbian, asked her partner Ann Louise Gilligan to marry her. Congratulations to the happy couple!!!

More exactly, according to the BBC (24.05.2015), 1,201,607 people voted in favour of same-sex marriage, while 734,300 voted against. ¬†Unlike Family First here, the Iona Institute was diplomatic in defeat, while Catholic religious leaders worried how out of touch they’d become with their communities given the magnitude of their defeat.

According to Toronto’s Globe and Mail (23.05.2015):¬†Surprising many who had predicted a generational divide, the support cut across age and gender, geography and income, early results showed.

TVNZ News (24.05.2015) noted that support was stronger in metropolitan areas:¬†In the first official result, the Dublin North West constituency voted 70.4 per cent “yes” to gay marriage. But the outcome was already beyond dispute as observers, permitted to watch the paper ballots being counted at all election centers, offered precise tallies giving the “yes” side an unassailable nationwide lead.

As for “our own”, Irish marriage equality campaigners were congratulated by British Prime Minister David Cameron, Sir Ian McKellen, John Barrowman, Sam Smith, Graham Norton, Tom Daley and Stephen Fry from “across the waters.” Norton was particularly and justifiably proud. J.K.Rowling, Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family), Richard Branson¬† and ¬†Miley Ray Cyrus all added their congratulations from across the Atlantic.

On the other side of the debate, Radio Vatican (23.05.2015) voiced regret at the result, predictably describing the result as a victory for same sex “marriage:”

The Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, took to the airwaves pointing to the reasons why he was voting ‘no’, namely because of his belief that marriage is a unique institution involving one man and one woman.¬†The Archbishop, however, stopped short of telling Catholics how they should vote, pointedly saying “those days are gone” – a reference to a time when the Irish Catholic hierarchy frequently instructed Mass-goers on how they should vote.

Concerns have been expressed that the measure may affect religious freedom: the prime minister, Enda Kenny, has already said that Catholic schools will be required to teach same-sex marriage as part of the curriculum.¬†[No] campaigners also worry about the effects the ‘yes’ vote will have on children since it now confers an automatic right to procreate on same-sex couples leading to fears of an upsurge in demand for fertility treatment and surrogacy.¬†Referendums are a key feature in the Irish democratic process. A controversial parliamentary vote in the 1920s led to a bruising and divisive civil war that divided families and communities.¬†The drafters of the constitution were adamant that important decisions should be decided by the people and the people alone.¬†

A depressed Brian Brown (National Organisation for Marriage) sounded a despondent tone in the United States:¬†“We are disappointed but not surprised with the apparent passage of a referendum in Ireland providing for the redefinition of marriage in that country. This is a reflection on the increasingly secularized nature of Ireland, together with the utter abandonment of principle by every political party in the nation, all of whom endorsed the referendum. This, combined with intense harassment of any group or individual who spoke out in opposition to the referendum, made it difficult for opponents. Despite this, millions of Irish citizens stood to vote to uphold the truth of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. “ [Actually, no- "millions" didn't. 734, 400 voted against marriage equality. That isn't one million. Hyperbole much?- Craig] ¬†One fringe “No” group, the “Irish Society for Christian Civilisation” claimed that its bagpipe-toting members were ‘assaulted,’ ‘insulted’ and ‘bullied’ by supporters of equality across the nation.

Sour grapes were evident in an article from Breda O’Brien in the Irish Times (25.05.2015):¬†“Seven hundred and thirty-four thousand, three hundred people did not vote No to love and equality. They are just as generous and inclusive as their neighbours who voted Yes, and just as fond of their gay relatives. ¬†¬†People who voted No recognise marriage as the place where society celebrates sexual and gender differences as deeply embedded features of the human condition, primarily ‚Äď although by no means exclusively ‚Äď because it produces children. They wanted to preserve that in our social structures and law. [In other words, they were religious social conservatives- Craig] ¬†The No campaign was left with the unenviable task of pointing out the consequences of amending the Constitution on the family. They were rubbished and derided at every turn as scaremongers and purveyors of red herrings. [Which happens if you act as a conduit for US Christian Right propaganda- Craig] ¬† [Added to which, the grounds for opposition were religious social conservatism and sectarian, as can be seen by this sentence- Craig:]¬†We are giving the status of marriage, superior and antecedent to all positive law, to a family that can only bring new children into the world through surrogacy, egg donation or sperm donation.

In the United Kingdom, Tim Stanley of the right-wing Daily Telegraph (23.05.2015) complained that Ireland had said “no to Catholicism.” ¬†He accused the Yes campaign of being “trendy, well financed and media backed,” ¬†although he also acknowledged (briefly) the role that Catholic clergy pedophilia disclosures had played in this context. And further out in the political wilderness, Catholic Fr. Keith Fournier lamented Irish secularisation, affirmed conservative Catholic ‘natural law’ dogma related to straight marriage, and literally demonised supporters of marriage equality (we used the ‘smoke of Satan!”) [But I'm an ASH member! -Craig]¬† ¬†Finally, he called for civil disobedience against Ireland’s introduction of legislative marriage equality and consequent formal constitutional reform in the wake of the successful Yes referendum vote.

 

Recommended:

Wikipedia/LGBT rights in Ireland: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_Ireland

Wikipedia/Recognition of Same-sex Unions in the Republic of Ireland: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recognition_of_same-sex_unions_in_the_Republic_of_Ireland

Mothers and Fathers Matter: http://www.mothersandfathersmatter.ie

Iona Institute: http://www.ionainstitute.ie

“Polls show Irish to vote in favour of gay marriage:” Stuff: 17.05.2015:¬†http://www.stuff.co.nz/world/europe/68611926/polls-show-irish-to-vote-in-favour-of-gay-marriage

“Irish teachers concerned over teaching marriage equality:” GSN: 17.05.2015:¬†Source: http://www.gaystarnews.com/article/irish-teachers-concerned-over-teaching-marriage-equality-primary-schools160515

Shawn Pogatchnik: “Ireland votes for marriage equality” Stuff: 24.05.2015:¬†http://www.stuff.co.nz/world/europe/68800018/ireland-votes-for-marriage-equality

“Bold Ireland votes to legalise gay marriage in a landslide” New Zealand Herald: 24.05.2015:¬†http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11453889

“Huge Republic of Ireland vote for gay marriage” BBC: 24.05.2015:¬†http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-32858501

Danny Hakim and Douglas Dalby: “Ireland votes 62.1 percent in favour of gay marriage” Globe and Mail: 23.05.2015:¬†http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/irish-voters-back-gay-marriage-in-social-revolution/article24580948/

“Ireland becomes the first nation to legalise gay marriage by a popular vote” TVNZ News: 24.05.2015:¬†http://tvnz.co.nz/world-news/ireland-becomes-first-country-legalise-gay-marriage-popular-vote-6319090

“Irish voters approve referendum allowing same-sex marriage” Radio Vatican: 23.05.2015:¬†http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2015/05/23/irish_voters_approve_referendum_allowing_same-sex_marriage/1146319

NOM: “Statement on Irish Marriage Referendum” Christian News Wire: 23.05.2015: ¬†http://www.christiannewswire.com/news/1813776107.html

Irish Society for Christian Civilisation: http://www.isfcc.org

Tim Stanley: “Ireland says yes to gay marriage and no to Catholicism” Daily Telegraph: 23.05.2015:¬†http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/11625907/Ireland-has-said-yes-to-gay-marriage-and-no-to-Catholicism.html

Keith Fournier: “The Irish Referendum: Marriage has not changed, Ireland has” Barbwire: 25.05.2015:¬†http://barbwire.com/2015/05/25/0635-the-irish-referendum-marriage-has-not-changed-ireland-has/

Breda O’Brien: “An inconvenient truth about the same-sex marriage referendum” Irish Times: 25.05.2015:¬†http://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/breda-o-brien-an-inconvenient-truth-about-the-same-sex-marriage-referendum-1.2224422