BY: AOIFE RYAN
For a small island nation with a population of just 4.5 million people, Ireland’s cultural and political reach has spread remarkably far across the globe. This year, May 22nd to be exact, the controversial marriage equality referendum will make an inestimable difference to the lives of millions—not just within this small nation, but also all over Europe and across the world. Some may think that saying this is exaggerating the significance of the vote on same-sex marriage, but with each assertion of legal equality there is a knock-on effect. The public decision to shift the laws of a once dogmatically restrictive country is even more influential. If a country so recently considered a church-run state—a nation which only decriminalized homosexuality in 1993—can legally redefine marriage to make it more inclusive, it will act as a catalyst for nations teetering on the brink of real equality. Yet many of the leading voices in the Vote Yes campaign fear it will come dangerously close in the final outcome, despite promising polls illustrating 76% in favour. What, if anything, is holding back this generation from granting civil liberties to its minority citizens?
Ireland is holding a referendum that might soon unite it with the seventeen countries and select states in Mexico and the U.S. that have legalized same sex marriage
Among leading voices in the Vote No campaign are the Iona Institute—an outspoken religious body—and the newly-formed First Families First group, which consists of a former politician, a columnist and an occupational psychologist. Despite the upcoming marriage equality referendum focusing solely on marriage rights, the Vote No campaigners have been accused by their critics for their dogged focus on children’s rights and issues surrounding surrogacy and adoption. For many critics, this is seen as a tactic to distract from the real cause, as gay couples already have the legal right to adopt or undergo surrogacy.
With the date looming closer, the seemingly unpopular Vote No campaigners have made a conspicuous decision to portray themselves as the underdogs. This can be clearly determined by the controversial political posters dotted around the capital and elsewhere, as well as self-reinventing headlines that paint the Yes campaign as bullies and the Vote No as brave moralists. In a leading national newspaper, The Irish Times, senior counsel Patrick Treacy asks voters to “be brave and vote no” in order for same-sex couples to be “legally recognized and equally respected for what they truly are.” What is dangerous about such arguments is the cloaked language of dismissal, even hate. Statements such as “We seem to have entirely forgotten that a relationship between a male and a female, irrespective of whether they beget children or not, demands distinctive and separate recognition as it captures the wholeness of human nature—male and female—in a unique way” implies a unnaturalness about same sex relationships. The clash between Yes and No voters has never been more clearly delineated than during recent street protests during which the two came head to head. Met with their opponents, same-sex couples chose to protest with a sign of love – by kissing in front of the Vote No placards.
Same-sex couples chose to protest with a sign of love – by kissing in front of the Vote No placards.
Similarly, Vote No campaigners have made the argument that marriage equality is a fight between heterosexual families and same-sex parents. In the eyes of the No campaigners—like Treacy—same-sex marriage will destroy heterosexual marriage, though there is no empirical reason given as to why it should be only one or the other that can exist under the tittle of “marriage.” Extremist language used by the First Families First group allude to the prejudiced conceptions that hide behind their more palatably described “family-oriented” image. At a recent press meeting, the founder John Waters called the move to legalize same-sex marriage “deadly to Irish society” which will cause “mayhem, heartbreak and grief beyond belief.” For Waters, the proposal is “madness […] Sinister.” To most, statements like this immediately call to mind the question: what is possibly so sinister and heartbreaking about equal relationship rights under the law?
Posters with images of young children accompanied by slogans such as “children deserve a mother and a father” and “surrogacy? She needs her mother for life, not just nine months” have created more of a backlash than a support for the Vote No group. A number of hilarious spin-off posters have since cropped up online, shedding light on the ridiculous claims of the Vote No campaign.
No voters canvassed insulting posters with images of young children accompanied with ridiculous slogans
A number of spin-off posters have since cropped up online, shedding light on the ridiculous claims of the Vote No campaign:
Not only has the Vote No campaign posters offended gay activists and members of the public, but single parents and parents of an adoptive/surrogate child, among others. In cases such as this, the power of the Internet to encourage a bounty of humour and social action is evidently very powerful. Pop-up art, street art and online trends have shown a wave of support that has kept the Vote Yes community buoyant, not to mention the connection to an international audience online. One example of this is the #RingYourGranny YouTube video trend, which promotes open attitudes within families and the inclusion of older generations, as well as corporate and celebrity input with online videos promoting the Yes vote. Equality murals have aestheticized the simple message by promoting love in the City Centre of Dublin. Following a council decision to remove the largest mural, which depicts two men embracing, an online petition to keep it up has garnered thousands of signatures.
Beautiful murals have aestheticized the simple message of equality by promoting love in the City Centre of Dublin. Unfortunately, many have been poorly vandalized by No Voters:
Top Photo by: Artur Widak
Even bestselling authors have contributed to the online support, such as Roddy Doyle – a writer celebrated for his distinctly Dublin narrative voice—who published a short fictional piece on the upcoming referendum.
A major player on the civil and gay rights front, Senator David Norris has shown his support for the marriage equality campaign in both the Senate, across media outlets and in fundraising events. He has been merited internationally for his near single-handed abolishment of the anti-homosexuality law, which reigned in Ireland until 1993. Speaking to us on his participation in the campaign, he “only credit(s) a minority of colleagues in the Senate such as Ronan Mullen and Jim Walsh as members against the motion”. Though he fears “it will be tight,” he recognizes “there has been a remarkable change in the last few years. I think the decline in religious practice is regrettable but the shedding of some of the attitudes based on religious intolerance is certainly something very welcome.”
The final hurdle for the equality campaign is to overcome “the dishonesty of the No campaign who keep raising issues like surrogacy and adoption which have been dealt with and got out of the way by the Children and Family Relationships Bill.” Yet given how it has been placed on the table, Norris does not shy away from the subject of child rearing, saying “all the credible research shows that the welfare of the child is ensured not by the gender of the parents but by the emotional and financial stability and love provided…”
With the referendum’s outcome only a few weeks away, Senator Norris summarizes the accumulative positivity shown so far by saying “there are fewer prejudices all the time as more people particularly in the entertainment business and politics come out. My positive memories [of this campaign] are the strong support given by heterosexual people. With the passing of the Referendum pretty well full equality will have been reached in Ireland and we now have to continue to look overseas to the oppression of our brothers and sisters in other lands. We will join the growing number of countries that have accepted same sex marriage.”