The Appeasement Of Prejudice Has Got To End

As we draw nearer and nearer to the same-sex marriage referendum the homophobia emanating from the No Side is intensifying, as they endeavour to persuade the electorate to perpetuate a homophobic law. Because they are devoid of any reasonable arguments against providing access to marriage equality to the LGBTQ community, they have resorted to the tactics which were expected like fear mongering, red herrings and obfuscation.

Initially most of the strategies by the No Side were ineffective but lately some people have become more amenable to them, even members on the Yes Side. The most notable one being yielding to the No Sides’ claim that not all people who deny access to equal marriage are homophobic. Which suffice to say is ludicrous, there is a perception that homophobia invariably consists of vitriolic slurs hurled at gay, bisexual or pansexual people but homophobia exists in many forms and it’s glaringly obvious to anyone who cares about social justice that restricting rights on the basis of sexual orientation constitutes a severe display of homophobia.
Admittedly this pandering could be attributable to an apprehension from members of the Yes Campaign that labelling people homophobic is divisive in a heteronormative society and may deter ambivalent voters from siding with them. But an unintended consequence of that is legitimising homophobia; it implicitly suggests homophobia is acceptable in discourse and that we should heed the arguments of homophobes. This is nonsense and patronising, considering how entrenched and pervasive homophobia was in Ireland it would be beyond the realm of possibility that a member of the LGBTQ community hasn’t already been subjected to prejudiced and asinine justifications for homophobia, the LGBTQ community has worked tirelessly for years confronting and counteracting the prevalence of homophobia in society and the whole reason we have a referendum is because of that struggle. What truly infuriates homophobes is the loss of an unwarranted privilege, for decades they were afforded access to platforms where they could propagate prejudice without much resistance, the lack of resistance has ended and now they feel victimised because that untenable position has come under increased scrutiny. The No Side have a persecution complex, a false perception they are being silenced which unsurprisingly doesn’t correspond with reality. They are afforded tremendous clout, which far exceeds what’s warranted, and write and appear on prominent platforms like the Irish Independent, The Irish Times and RTE. I must reiterate the point that it is not that they are under attack, but that the once privileged position they had of facing little resistance for their odious views has ended. They were accustomed to propagating problematic views with a very slim prospect of confrontation, now that their views are rightly coming under increased scrutiny they’re struggling to rationalise them and so they perceive this as an attack because values they regard as sacrosanct are being rejected by society. Several people on the No Side also feel reluctant to express their sentiments due to fear of ridicule or criticism of their homophobia, insinuating that is symptomatic of an intolerant society. Expressing controversial ideas or views usually entails a backlash of some kind regardless of whether those ideas contain any merit. There’s never any assurances society will embrace your views but if you believe in your convictions you will persevere and try and persuade people to the best of your ability. While legally anyone should have the right to express the most controversial of ideas, there should be no guarantee that those ideas will receive respect or approval.

Brendan O’Connor expressed a pernicious viewpoint in a piece for the Irish Independent suggesting that ambivalent voters may vote vindictively in the election to deny access to same-sex marriage and that the Yes Campaign would be culpable because of their pontificating and characterisations of people as homophobic. This line of reasoning is not only absurd, but again consists of homophobia. It implies equality should be contingent on members of the marginalised group exhibiting deference to the hegemonic group in society, namely heterosexuals and only then they’ll bestow equal rights to them. Hypothetically even if all members of the LGBTQ community were terrible people they would still be entitled to their rights; human rights should never be conditioned on civility, they should be the default and they should be inalienable. The other problematic aspect of that piece was absolving no voters of their immoral action by asserting that the yes voters would bear responsibility for their months of sneering. If people do genuinely vote no espousing that mindset they are not very nice people to put it mildly, attempting to deny access to equality because you harbour resentment towards some members of the Yes Campaign because of trivial sneering amounts to a severe abdication of your responsibility as a voter.

One of the assertions from the No Side is that some people on the Yes Side are hostile and uncivil. Be that as it may, hostility and impoliteness are innocuous; working strenuously to deny equality however is not; I’d much rather a moral position expressed antagonistically than an abhorrent position conveyed with superficial civility. The No Side have a facade of civility, on the surface it looks civil and unthreatening but underneath it contains the most virulent homophobia, which evinces a sheer disdain for gay people. The protagonists of the No Side intellectualise their prejudice; their hate veiled in sophisticated language giving the impression it’s more reasonable than homophobic slurs.
But when you decipher it, it’s patently obvious it’s just a more decorated form of homophobia, and one which is potentially more insidious.

When Dublin GAA footballer Ger Brennan penned a piece for the Irish Independent declaring his support for a no vote, it was perturbing to see several members of the Yes Campaign commending him for his ostensible bravery and standing up for his convictions; this is a mistake and only emboldens bigots, there is nothing laudable about expressing a prejudiced position which has been prevalent in society for centuries.
Bravery, contrary to popular belief is not always a virtue, it has to be accompanied with a righteous position for it to be worthy of extolment. People who have committed some of the most egregious crimes have exhibited bravery; bravery without an ethical purpose is futile at best and dangerous at worst. The type of bravery that should elicit reverence is the one manifested so potently by the LGBTQ community over the last few decades. Despite the risk of genuine ostracisation, inevitable abuse and increased risk of being subjected to violence they have persisted in the struggle for equality and the conspicuous improvement in the treatment of the LGBTQ community is a testament to not only their courage but their tenacity too. The people who reap the rewards of a more tolerant society will always owe a debt of gratitude to those valiant crusaders of justice.

The strategy of the no campaign since the beginning has been to put an emphasis on the welfare of children, in a cynical attempt to exploit people’s natural tendency to protect children. Essentially they are using children as props to mislead people into thinking same-sex marriage will have disastrous implications for the future of our nation. Any studies they usually cite to claim same-sex parenting will have an inimical effect on children’s development contain methodological flaws and they refuse to heed the views of child welfare groups who falsify their inanity. Even though the issue of children is extraneous to this referendum let’s confront this dubious suspicion that same-sex parenting will have adverse effects for society, one of the claims they make is that depriving a child of a mother or father will be detrimental to their development, but this is predicated on essentialist thinking which insists men and women have immutable behaviours which distinguish them from each other, that’s a facile way of looking at gender differences. In reality it’s a lot more intricate than that with socially constructed gender roles having more of an impact on behaviour than generally assumed. When it comes to the rearing of children what takes precedence is unconditional love and stability, that should be the priority not the gender of the parents. Furthermore there are actual empirical studies testifying to the fact that gay parents are as equipped to rear children as heterosexual ones, the largest world study conducted on gay parenting bears that out. Despite the scientific consensus on gay parenting the homophobes will continue to peddle sinister myths claiming there are perils to gay parenting. Concern over the implications gay parenting will have on children is nothing more than a pretext to justify discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation; this posture can’t be indulged, anytime this ugly theory that gay parents are somehow inferior rears its ugly head it’s got to be confronted and falsified. Thankfully child welfare groups have done just that expressing support for marriage equality and have denounced the contemptible tactics of the no side. Children’s Rights Alliance condemned the No campaign’s exploitation: “The No campaign are using children as pawns, and in a way that is dishonest, that’s part of the reason we’re coming together to call for a yes vote” Fergus Finley chief executive of Barnados said: “I see a sickening insult to the thousands of lone parents who love and care for each other in Ireland every time I see a poster calling for a no vote because of the claim that every child deserves a mother and father” “The message is exploitative, hurtful and dishonest, what every child deserves is love, respect, safety. That can come from two parents of either sex, two parents of the same-sex or a single parent” Tanya Ward chief executive of CRA said: “In no way does the referendum undermine the rights of children, the question is why are children being used in this referendum as pawns” “A yes vote would send a message to all children that when they grow up, they fall in love and want to make a life-long commitment to a person, that the relationship will be respected and valued.” Grainne Long chief executive of ISPCC said: “A yes vote in this referendum is in the best interests of children, I’m worried by the extent to which children are being used in this debate. Those statements are an unmistakable repudiation of the No campaign’s duplicitous tactics regarding the welfare of children.

Judith Stacey, of New York University, stated: “Rarely is there as much consensus in any area of social science as in the case of gay parenting, which is why the American Academy of Pediatrics and all of the major professional organizations with expertise in child welfare have issued reports and resolutions in support of gay and lesbian parental rights”.

In 2006, Gregory M. Herek stated in American Psychologist: “If gay, lesbian, or bisexual parents were inherently less capable than otherwise comparable heterosexual parents, their children would evidence problems regardless of the type of sample. This pattern clearly has not been observed. Given the consistent failures in this research literature to disprove the null hypothesis, the burden of empirical proof is on those who argue that the children of sexual minority parents fare worse than the children of heterosexual parents.”

The other issues injected into the debate by the No Side have been surrogacy and adoption in a deliberate attempt to complicate the matter. With regard to adoption, marriage or coupledom isn’t a prerequisite to applying for adoption and gay parents already have access by virtue of the recent act introduced by the government. Regardless of which side is victorious none of that will change. The result of the referendum also has no bearing on surrogacy and it will be separately dealt with by the government in the future. Currently it’s unregulated, neither is it outlawed nor is there are a legal right to access it regardless of the sexual orientation of the parents. Dr Conor O’Mahony has an in depth piece on the misleading claims from the No side, and he masterfully refutes the assertions from the no side. The following paragraph is most salient:

The first question is whether the amendment would, as claimed, give same-sex couples who marry a constitutional right to access donor-assisted human reproduction and surrogacy and make it impossible for the Oireachtas to pass laws regulating or restricting access to such services. The case law does not support this claim. The courts have not, to date, recognised a right of opposite-sex married couples to unfettered access to such services; and far from claiming that the constitutional protection afforded to the institution of marriage precludes regulation or restriction of access, the courts have repeatedly called on the Oireachtas to enact long-overdue legislation to provide a legal framework regulating artificial human reproduction, lest Ireland “become by default an unregulated environment for practices that may prove controversial or, at least, give rise to a need for regulation” (per Hardiman J in Roche v Roche [2010] 2 IR 321 at 383). The recent decision of the Supreme Court on the issue of surrogacy in MR and DR v An tÁrd Chláraitheoir [2014] IESC 60 repeatedly stressed the preference of the Court that controversial social issues such as this be dealt with by way of legislation, with the courts playing a highly deferential role and preferring not to involve themselves.

The antics from the No Side belie the simplicity of this referendum: A yes vote would ensure that same-sex married couples would be guaranteed constitutional protection, which would result in parity with the status of opposite sex marriages; civil parternship only permits legal protection which gives the Oireachtas the authority to discard or amend that right. Constitutional protection can only be altered by the electorate. Hopefully voters will bear that in mind.

If the Yes side prevail, Ireland would hold the unprecedented position of securing marriage equality through a plebiscite. It’s disconcerting to think homosexuailty was only decriminalised in 1993 and gratifying to consider how far we’ve come in such a short period of time and whatever the outcome in the referendum it’s clear there’s a lot of work that remains to be done. But Friday presents a rare opportunity to send a resounding message to the bigots that their power in society is waning, and that their prejudice is unacceptable. Victory would definitely mark a momentous day in the pursuit of equality and it would taste oh so sweet.

My favourite Yes poster by far courtesy of the Anti Austerity Alliance. Bold, powerful and poignant: