- 22 May 20
Five years ago today, Ireland made history as the first country to legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote. To mark the occasion, we're sharing iconic articles from the Hot Press archives throughout the day – plotting the remarkable road to marriage equality on these shores. In the piece below, originally published in Hot Press in ahead of the vote in 2015, Eamonn McCann argues that "the campaign for equal marriage is a fight for civil rights".
I’m a Groucho Marxist when it comes to marriage, don’t want to live in an institution. But others do and they are entitled. The campaign for equal marriage is a fight for civil rights.
The parade of mad-eyed prophets squawking in our ears from dawn to well past their bedtimes complain that a Yes vote on the 22nd will change the nature of marriage itself. And so it will, from an institution which refuses admission to a sizeable proportion of citizens to an institution which offers equal right of entry. Numpties who think this a bad idea can, as they say in Glasgow, go bile their hieds.
So get out and vote, get your friends to get out and vote, get them to get their friends out to vote. You don’t have to approve of marriage to take this positive view.
Marriage as understood by the uncombed crazies (brilliant name for a band, that) is a relatively recent phenomenon. For most of the history of almost everywhere, including and especially in Europe, marriage in the sense of a formal, public, lifetime commitment was the norm only in that section of society for which questions of lineage and inheritance of property were important.
The family relationships of the vast majority were far more fluid. It’s the Yes camp which is pushing for a
return to traditional values.
The imposition in Ireland of the model of marriage which the No side wants to sustain was central to the Catholic Church’s seizure of moral power over the people in the aftermath of the Famine. The purpose was to consolidate the pattern of passing down property ownership. The alliance thus made between strong farmers and bishops mostly born into the same milieu was to shape the State which emerged in 1922 and to persist into the last decades of the 20th century.
Few people I know are passionate about marriage. What they mainly look forward to when they decide to get hitched is the reception, the craic, the big party for family and friends. So much so that they’ll cough up the sort of mazooma a banker might tuck into a politician’s bib at a charity ball to pay for a bash that the guests will talk about forever. The fact that half of the guests, minimum, won’t remember a thing about the feast the following morning is neither here not there.
My friends, we’ll call Joe and Jenny, had two children in wedlock, then the marriage broke up. They are currently suffering deep anxiety, not from any sense of loss or abandonment but because splitting up when there are children involved can be an expensive business and they still owe a couple of grand on the reception.
They hadn’t been much fussed about getting married. They’d just wanted their Big Day. Now the marriage is over, but the Big Day still looms large and dark above them.
Let us ask: In what way is a loving relationship enhanced by its inscription in a legal document or through ritual promulgation?
Is marriage compatible with love at all? With freedom?
Any two people can only be certain they are together for love if each is free to walk away. “As long as there’s no price on love I’ll stay/And you wouldn’t want it any other way.”
To fight for the right of LGBT people to marry is to not to pass judgement on marriage itself, but is merely to assert the right of all to choose to marry if that’s what they want. In the same way, the pro-choice movement doesn’t campaign for women to have abortions but for the right of women to choose abortion. Choice is the operative word. It’s “choice” which conveys agency. There is no argument against gay marriage which is not rooted in a denial of choice on the basis of sexual orientation. Even those on the No side who insist, some more convincingly than others, that they are not homophobic are, objectively, repudiating the idea of equal rights.
Making gay marriage legal won’t remove all anomalies. LGBT citizens will now be able to choose to marry – or to enter into a civil partnership. But heterosexuals will remain barred from civil partnerships. This, too, is discrimination.
I discussed this contradiction with civil rights campaigner Peter Tatchell when we shared a platform at Pride in Derry. He was well ahead of me, he explained, somewhat miffed, had spoken out regularly for equal rights for straights. Let’s get May 22nd done and dusted first. As for what happens next, I feel a new campaign coming on.
In the meantime, in between time, from now until voting closes, the democratic place to be is in the streets, on the stump, at the doorsteps, arguing, urging, encouraging, cajoling, explaining that it’s not what you think about marriage that matters, but whether you think that equality matters, that we are all born free but are chained by silly shibboleths.
Draw breath, then once more into the breach.