The Referendum my friend is talking about is the worlds’ first ever Marriage Equality Referendum. It is the first ever because most governments have recognised same-sex marriage as a logical and correct step and simply written it into law. In Ireland the decision has been put into the hands of the people.
It is not mandatory to vote in Ireland. People over 65 and people in rural areas are the ones who usually vote. These are also the demographics of the groups most likely to vote against same-sex marriage. Irish people living abroad do not have the right to vote. Unless the young people of Ireland get out and vote, there is a terrifying possibility that this Marriage Equality Law actually may not pass.
For most people reading this in Belgium it must seem like a ridiculous situation. Results of a study released last week showed that Belgium was second on the list of European countries in terms of human rights for LGBTI people. 83 percent of human rights are respected for non-heterosexuals in Belgium. In Ireland, this figure is just 40 percent.
It took Ireland a 16-year long battle, and the intervention of the European Court of Human Rights, to achieve the decriminalisation of homosexuality. Male homosexual acts were illegal in Ireland until 1993.
An Act passed in 2010 affording gay couples the right to Civil Partnership and to adopt children. But the law in Ireland currently states that a marriage would be invalid if both parties to a marriage are of the same sex. This referendum now proposes to add the wording “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex” to the Irish constitution.
Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was outlawed in 2000. However, religious organisations, medical institutions and educational institutions are exempt from the employment applications of this law. This means that if you are a doctor, nurse or teacher in Ireland today, it is not illegal for your employer to fire you because of your sexuality.
Divorce is allowed in Ireland since 1997 under the condition that the couple has been separated for four out of the five preceding years. Abortion is not allowed. Not in the case of fatal fetal abnormality. Not in the case of underage rape victims.
Until the 1970s Irish women needed their husbands’ signature to open a bank account or take out a loan. It was only in 1976 that Irish women could own their home or continue to work after they got married. The women of Ireland who smuggled (then illegal) contraceptives in the 1970s still do not have power over their own bodies and reproductive rights.
Separation of church and state didn’t really work in Ireland. This has affected legislation on several issues, including abortion, contraception, divorce, euthanasia and freedom of speech. You can receive fines up to €25,000 for saying negative things about religion. But historically the blasphemy laws in Ireland only applied to Christianity. In 2009 the law was updated to cover the “publication or utterance of blasphemous matter” against any religion.
If you consider the number of scandals that have come to light in relation to the church in Ireland over the last few years, it is difficult to understand that they are still afforded such legal protection – and tax breaks.
Profanity is also considered to be blasphemy. This means that even though ‘Fuck’ is a commonly used word in an Irish persons’ vocabulary, they will never hear the word on the radio. Lily Allen’s “Fuck You Very Much” was cleaned up with animal noises. Cee Lo Greens’ “Fuck You” became “Forget You”.
As with all elections, the media must ensure balanced coverage of the same-sex marriage referendum campaign. In Ireland this has had strange side effects. Journalists, TV or radio presenters who are openly gay, or publicly supporting a Yes vote, have been taken off the air. The presenter of an LGBT interest radio show quit his job of 6 years. He reported feeling pressured into giving No campaigners equal representation on his show. The political editor of national channel TV3, 54-year-old Ursula Halligan, was removed from all referendum coverage within hours of coming out as being gay.
Today the courts ruled against a bakery in Northern Ireland in a court case following their refusal to bake a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan. According to the No campaigners, this is an example of infringement of freedom of speech. The bakery has positioned itself as the victim in this case and said they will appeal. The timing of this ruling could influence the outcome on Friday. The fact of the matter is, they broke the law. The provision of goods and services is covered under the law forbidding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
This referendum has given homophobic people a platform to spread their hate under the banner of freedom of speech and balanced referendum publicity. Their arguments for a No vote refer to topics such as adoption, surrogacy, bestiality, incest, pedophilia and the bible. None of which are addressed in the proposed changes under this referendum.
The largely Catholic backed No side asks voters to “think of the children”, calling for a No vote because “every child deserves a mother and father”. This use of children to confuse and scare the voters is terribly dishonest.
The Catholic church in Ireland are guilty of decades of child abuse. They consider having a child out of wedlock as a sin. They took thousands of babies from their (unmarried) mothers as recently as the 1960s. These unfortunate mothers were locked up in “Mother and Baby homes”, forced to do physical work to “repay the cost of their sin”. The babies faced a fate of being sold into drug trails, illegally adopted by rich families in America, or neglected to death. To this day the church deny survivors access to their birth certificates, dashing any hope of ever finding their birth mothers.
In the 1990s, and continuing until this day, hundreds of cases of child sex abuse by members of the church have come to light. Closely followed by a huge scale cover-up operation. But now, NOW they want us to “think of the children”.
Charities concerned with the welfare of children and young people strongly back a Yes vote. Fergus Finlay, chief executive of children’s charity Barnardos, responded to the No campaigns slogan:
“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. There is not a shred of evidence anywhere in the world that says that the nature, or gender or sexual orientation of the parent is more important than the quality and commitment of their parenting.”
465,000 children called the Irish Child Help Line last year, of which 30,000 were calling due to concerns about their sexuality.
The outcome of this referendum will change more than just the number of people who can marry. It will be a direct, personal statement to a percentage of the citizens of Ireland. A declaration of whether or not their existence is accepted by their country. An announcement of whether their country-fellows think they deserve equal human rights or not. It’s not just about making beautiful wedding memories, but who could be against that?
It is a nasty situation. A population should never have to judge if a certain minority group deserves to have equal rights. Governments should ensure that all citizens have the same rights. If the language of old laws needs to be updated to include everyone, this should just happen.