- 03 Jun 15
It was a joy to be alive in Dublin on the day the result of the referendum was announced. But there is still some way to go in the campaign for the separation of Church and State...
What an extraordinary fortnight it turned out to be. Since the last issue of Hot Press hit the streets, with its twin covers of two same sex couples kissing, it has been full-on all the way.
That was just a week ahead of the vote on Marriage Equality. Over the following few days, the groundswell of musicians, artists, writers and comedians weighing in on the ‘Yes’ side turned into a tsunami. Meanwhile, campaigners for equality put in a final shift to ensure that every single vote that could be got out would be.
The ‘No’ side, for their part, tried every disingenuous trick in the book to shift the debate away from equality and on to something, anything else: surrogacy; adoption; the role of the Mammy in Irish society – and so on. At this late stage, would the people be spooked? Your gut said no, but it was hard to be sure...
On RTÉ’s Clare Byrne Show, Leo Varadker went head to head against the ’No' lawyer Patrick Treacy. Since he came out as gay earlier in this year, in anticipation of the same sex marriage campaign, the Minister for Health has become much more relaxed and comfortable in himself. He has grown considerably in stature. And on the night he performed well, bringing a vital personal dimension to the debate.
On the last lap, the number of Referendum Commission ads seemed to increase. The one featuring a woman in her twenties or thirties who thinks it’s such a complicated issue that she has to go off to consult the RC’s website was deeply irritating. Is it the role of the commission to sow seeds of doubt where none exist? Hardly.
The final major set-to on RTE was on Prime Time, with Miriam O’Callaghan in the chair. Here, Katherine Zappone, Colm O’Gorman and the Minister for Communications, Alex White, were pitted against Senator Ronan Mullen, Maria Steen of the Iona Institute and, again, Patrick Treacy – whose role it clearly was to establish a fear among voters that the amendment would create a morass of legal uncertainty.
The programme was difficult to watch. Chairing a debate on a relatively emotive issue isn’t easy. But the ‘No’ side and Ronan Mullen in particular seemed to have decided to interrupt and to talk over the opposition at every possible opportunity, and to a considerable extent they got away with it. A decision had probably been taken on the ‘Yes’ side not to be goaded into a scrap: much better to maintain your dignity. And so, for the most part, they soaked up the punishment, and emphasised the positive.
Only Colm O’Gorman, of Amnesty International, showed a hint of the anger they all must have felt, listening to what sounded like complete hypocrisy on the other side. It was a feeling I experienced again and again, hearing different representatives of the ’No’ side expounding via the media. But on the night Colm contained it, and – given the eventual result – it was probably just as well.
For people who supported the amendment, the final few days of the campaign were inspiring. The scale of the Home To Vote movement took a lot of people by surprise. What became obvious was that this issue mattered hugely to a vast number of people: they timed flights out of the country and back to ensure that their voices would be heard. There was a party atmosphere at Dublin Airport on the eve of the election. Social media went into overdrive as returning emigrants announced their arrival back on Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore.
It was highly emotional stuff. And on the morning of the poll, the huge determination of the ‘Yes’ side to do everything possible to ensure victory became even more evident. Queues formed outside polling stations early in the morning, of people who were heading for the airport afterwards or who needed to vote immediately the doors opened, to get to work on time.
Others who couldn’t make it back tweeted their support. Everyone was on tenterhooks: quietly confident, but with a smidgeon of apprehension that would last until the ballot boxes were opened on Saturday morning. And then the adrenaline rush hit. Within an hour of the count starting, the result was a oregone conclusion. The ‘Nos’ conceded defeat. ‘Yes’ campaigners were wary of getting ahead of themselves, but we all knew that Ireland was about to make history.
Every constituency in the country, with the exception of Roscommon/ South Leitrim, voted in favour. The highest majority was in Dublin South- East, where 75% of the electorate votes ‘Yes' – a majority of three to one.
In Dublin in particular there were intensely emotional scenes. Interviewed on RTÉ Radio One, the Dublin North West Labour TD, John Lyons, made no secret of the fact that he was having difficulty controlling his emotions. As an openly gay man, he paid tribute to his own mother, who had gone out and canvassed bravely on his behalf.
Listening to him and others speak, there was no mistaking the decency, the intelligence and the integrity of those at the forefront of the ‘Yes’ campaign. Colm O’Gorman, Katherine Zappone and David Norris all spoke with great warmth and pride about the innate generosity of the Irish people. In Dublin Castle, Una Mullally of the Irish Times – who also emerged from the campaign with an enormously enhanced personal standing – received an especially warm reception.
Eamon Gilmore of Labour, Micheál Martin of Fianna Fáil, Simon Coveney of Fine Gael, Joan Burton of Labour, Pat Carey of Fianna Fáil and Mary Lou McDonald of Sinn Féin all basked in the glow and – for the most part – deservedly so: they too had played their part. As the scale of the victory sank in, a feeling of euphoria gripped the city. It was time to celebrate. The systematic oppression of gays in Ireland was over. The Irish people had spoken. Tears were shed in abundance. But these were tears of joy – and of pride that all those years of agitation and argument and persuasion had finally borne fruit. It was a moment when it truly felt good to be alive...
It was important to maintain a sense of decorum through the campaign. And so I understand why those on the ‘Yes’ side were careful not to do anything which might have smacked of belligerence. But I think it is important now to ensure that no one loses sight of the deeply dishonest nature of the way the ’No’ campaign was fought.
I said it in this column last issue, but it bears repeating. Throughout the referendum campaign, ‘No’ campaigners lied about what is at stake in the vote. They knew that it had nothing to do with surrogacy, but they put the posters up anyway. They knew that it had nothing to do with adoption, but they did everything they could to create paranoia on that score. They knew that it had not undermined heterosexual marriage in any of the countries where it has been introduced, but they attempted to inspire panic all the same.
Posters which said that every child deserved a mother and a father were an insult to single parents of both sexes and to widows and widowers as well. They didn’t care. They threw every bit of groundless mud that they could, in the hope that some of it would stick. They fought a dirty and deceitful campaign.
On this occasion, in a refreshing show of independence, many priests and nuns refused to conform. But we should not forget either that people like Ronan Mullen had vehemently opposed the introduction of Civil Partnerships.
“We have nothing against gays,” the ’No’ mouthpieces of the Iona Institute insisted, even though they too had vigorously opposed Civil Partnerships.
Now they seemed to want to give the impression that civil partnerships were the best invention ever, and a sure sign that gays were not the butt of discrimination.
“We would not want to deny anyone the right to love another person of their choosing,” they said, as if butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths. "That is the last thing on our minds. And yet we are being called bigots. It is totally unfair. People are afraid to say in public that they are voting ’No’.” They were just short of insisting that they were the real victims in all of this. In fact some of them actually did make that claim.
Before the vote, the cynical, manipulative aspect of this was infuriating. Afterwards, it just looked pathetic. But no one should be fooled by their congratulations and platitudes after the fact. In relation to marriage, the bishops and the Catholic ‘intellectuals' alike would still prefer to have gays shunted to the back of the bus, Rosa Parks style, and limited to civil partnerships – and to claim that this was equality. It isn’t.
It comes down to something really simple and stupid in the end. No one that I heard asked Breda O’Brien or David Quinn or Ronan Mullen or even Archbishop Diarmuid Martin this question: is it a sin for two men or two women to have sex with one another? That’s what the Roman Catholic Church teaches and it is the source of all of the vile anti-gay prejudice w have witnessed over the years.
They are perfectly entitled to believe anything they want to. In a democracy that is every individual’s prerogative. And they can argue that the earth is flat as well, and that evolution is just an elaborate spoof on God’s part. No problem. To be perfectly clear about it, Moonies, Scientologists, Hare Krishnas and Seventh Day Adventists are as entitled to their beliefs as Christians, Muslims and atheists. It’s a free world – or should be.
But it is entirely different to attempt to have any of these Religious belief systems imposed on everyone else, whether through the constitution, legislation or taking control of the schools or the hospitals. It is time for the Roman Catholic Church, which successfully dominated Irish public life in the 90-odd years since the foundation of the State to accept that this is a Republic of equals and that the complete separation of Church and State is now required. And it is time for the Government to act.
Education is the next battleground. Watch this space...