Please, Ireland, vote yes to love

I’ll be back to the book reviews soon, but I feel really strongly about this, and haven’t had much time to write of late!

Vote Yes! (Ted Eytan via Flickr)

Vote Yes! (Ted Eytan via Flickr)

I’m worried about the marriage referendum.

I’m worried that complacency on the yes side will lead to a low voter turnout. I’m worried that if the weather’s bad, people may not bother voting. I’m worried that people will think that the yes vote will carry through on the back of others’ votes, and it won’t pass.

The Yes side has slipped in the polls. They are currently standing at 60% in the lead, and this may be generous. The last time we had a referendum on a ‘morality’ issue was the 1995 divorce decider. Back then, the No side (which involved many of the same organisations, or their antecedents, as the No side in this referendum) scaremongered. The infamous “Hello Divorce, Bye Bye Daddy” posters have been mirrored by the “Every Child Deserves a Mother and a Father” this time around.

Other commentators have pointed out the insult casually tossed out to countless children and adults in this country by these posters. Single parents, their children, gay people and their children, orphans, those with neglectful parents, to name but a few. Kelly O’Brien wrote an excellent piece in the Irish Examiner recently, highlighting the upset she felt as the child of a single-parent family. Like Kelly, my mother raised me alone. Fortunately, my father has always been part of my life, despite what the “Bye Bye Daddy” posters would have had you believe. Unlike Kelly, the posters did not make me feel inferior. They made me feel furious.

Divorce came. It’s still here. In 2012, we had the lowest divorce rate in the EU. Many of those who availed of it were merely burying long decomposed marriages. Our lengthy four-year waiting period between legal separation and full divorce probably aids the low rates.

And yet the world has not ended because a couple who barely exchanged a word for ten or fifteen years finally pulled the formal plug on their marriage. But the conservative, (largely) Catholic right have bided their time since divorce was introduced. They’ve had trial runs; the abortion crisis brought on by the death of Savita Halappanavar, the ensuing Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill and the Children’s Rights Referendum. But this is the semi-final if you will… the All-Ireland will come when we inevitably have to deal with the 8th Amendment on abortion. To cling onto the notion that Ireland is still a Catholic country, where the church wields any influence, the vote on Friday must go the No side’s way.

Plus Stephen Fry wants us to vote yes. Who are you to disappoint Stephen Fry??!! (via Twitter)

Plus Stephen Fry wants us to vote yes. Who are you to disappoint Stephen Fry??!! (via Twitter)

They have learned something since 1995. The aim is to sound reasonable, to plant doubt in the heads of swayable voters. As the votes were being tallied twenty years ago, the ever-charming Úna Bean Mhic Mhathúna shouted “Go away ye wife swapping sodomites!” at the Yes side. This time around, the most outré No voices belong to the rambling John Waters, and the increasingly bizarre comments of journalist Bruce Arnold. The core campaigners who have made multiple appearances; David Quinn, Breda O’Brien, Ronán Mullen, Keith Mills and Maria Steen. All five are capable and talented debaters. All of them are gifted at sounding reasonable, and are doubtless swaying a few undecideds.

Let’s take a closer look.

The biggest argument on the No side is surrogacy, and raising of children by gay couples. This is a red herring. First of all, children are already being raised by gay couples in Ireland. These kids are facts, they exist; some of them are old enough to be reproducing themselves. Surrogacy is primarily availed of by heterosexual couples. In the UK, there were 149 successful applications for surrogacy in 2011. 80% were from heterosexual couples. The population of the UK is sixty-four million. For once, I think Ireland and the UK are of broadly similar outlooks and outcomes in this issue. Proportionally, the number of same-sex couples opting for surrogacy will be absolutely miniscule, if and when it’s legalised.

Gay people are 10% of the population, and just because it’s more acceptable to be gay these days, doesn’t mean that number will rise. If you think that being gay is a choice, then I ask, dear heterosexual reader, how you feel about sleeping with a member of the same sex. To quote Mrs Doyle, get a good mental picture.

Unaroused? There you go, you can’t choose to be gay anymore than a gay or bisexual person can choose to be straight.

There’s also a certain section of our electorate who are furious with our government. I understand. I’m not thrilled with their economic policies either. But this is not about water charges or sending a message; this is about a very real, ten percent of our population, fellow Irishmen and women, who deserve rights. If you’re not convinced, remember; the Anti-Austerity Alliance and Sinn Fein, hardly pals of Fine Gael and Labour, are also calling for a yes.

A more recent tactic emerging from the No side is to cast doubt on the Yes side’s funding, specifically the funds received from Atlantic Philanthropies, which have been used in countless projects across the island of Ireland in the last number of years. Doubts have been cast on the funding of conservative groups in Ireland for years, including the Iona Institute, and this smacks of a smear campaign. The Yes side have rebutted all claims of impropriety. In reality, the Yes Equality campaign have set up a shop in Stephen’s Green, used crowdfunding and volunteer canvassers. They even launched a 22 Hours for Yes canvassing plan on site, allowing people to canvass in an organised and non time-consuming fashion.

But the crux of the issue is that, for groups called named First Families First, and Mothers and Fathers Matter, there doesn’t seem to be any actual children’s rights issue that these people care about, apart from gay marriage. And gay marriage between men; all the talk is of depriving kids of their mammies. Surely, going by that logic, the kids of lesbians are doubly lucky?

Anyway, if Mothers and Fathers Matter and Mandate for Marriage and First Families First and all of these other clunkily-named organisations really cared about families, they’d turn their attention to the following:

* Helping the fifth of Irish kids going to school or bed hungry

* Campaigning for affordable childcare, so that both parents, or a single parent, as the case may be, can afford to work outside the home

* Reversing the cut in maternity benefit imposed by the government in 2013

* Campaigning to extend paternity leave

* Helping separated fathers left without access to their children by the courts system

* Reversing the scrapping of lone parents’ allowance once a child hits seven years of age

* Helping single parents return to education or work outside the home

* If they’re really serious about the traditional model, reversing the tax individualisation policy of Charlie McCreevey which made it more difficult for one partner to stay at home

* Helping the many homeless and at risk families in the state

Just imagine if the No side accepted that sometimes men love men, and women love women, and focused their energies on tackling the really messed-up things in Irish society. We could have a far, far better Ireland.

In the meantime, we can make Ireland a little bit fairer. We can have a country ruled by love, instead of the fear and hate that ruled for generations. We can say yes.

Joe Caslin's stunning mural (via Broadsheet.ie)

Joe Caslin’s stunning mural (via Broadsheet.ie)

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