All Being Equal

Originally posted on an older blog, May 201th 2015, ahead of the marriage equality referendum:

I love my mother, my girlfriend, my sister, and I have great respect for the women of Ireland and the role that they play in our community. Nevertheless, I do not believe that women should have a vote.   It is not out of any sense of misogyny, sexism or bigotry – as many would have you believe – but stemming from reasoned argument and rationale based on what I believe is best for our nation and our loved ones, that I make this statement.  I claim it with a heavy heart, because although I respect women and I have always stressed that the public should treat them with the care and appreciation that they deserve, notwithstanding, votes for women are detrimental to the fabric of our society.  

What would a vote for women lead to?  It would challenge the father’s role as breadwinner and undermine his chances of employment; it would undercut his pay and force him to work for less as he competes with women who inevitably earn less.  This, of course, would be disastrous for the entire family.  Indeed, it would be disastrous for the economy.  Conversely, votes for women will undoubtedly encourage ever more women to work, as they will increase and assert their rights in the workplace to win more favorable employment conditions; this in turn would certainly threaten the continuance of their important role in the home; it will risk the child’s right to have a caring mother there.  Surely we should put the rights of our children first in all of this?  Every child has the right to a caring mother at home and the uniquely beneficial upbringing that having a mother at home provides.  We need to take the rights of our children and future generations into consideration here.  But I do not say this unsympathetically as a man; many women agree on these same reasons, and who could disagree with those women who are, after-all, at the coalface of the issue?

At the height of the suffragette movement over one-hundred years ago, I’m sure similar such arguments were made.  But no matter how I frame it or illustrate it, if the above point-of-view was argued today, it would be dismissed by the Irish public as absurd, archaic and discredited (without meaning to neglect the fact that women still have much to struggle for in a largely patriarchal society). However, a similar argument, more or less, is being made today, by those on the “No” side of the marriage equality referendum, regarding the right of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to be married and receive equal recognition in the eyes of the State for their relationships.

In recent days, support for the No side has risen slightly, judging by the polls.  It has risen enough, at least, to be perturbing in how the No side, with the help of centrist media and debates, has influenced well-meaning people who might otherwise vote yes.  It seems that they have managed to convey integrity by eloquently affirming that they are not homophobic or bigoted, as bourgeois commentators nod in agreement and concur, “well we weren’t suggesting you were”.  No campaigners have developed their validity by making confusing and technical legal arguments (such as surrogacy) that bear no relation to the constitutional amendment being proposed; arguments which even confused gay-rights legal experts such as David Norris.  The No side have tugged at our heart-strings by stressing the importance of our children’s “rights” in all of this, by imposing the conservative view that what is right for our children is nothing short of how the traditional catholic family is defined, and that it is a child’s “right” to have this family and nothing else (by doing so, incidentally, they have also offended the many members of one-parent families in Ireland, which are becoming more common).  Advocates of a no vote have broadcast advertisements with their messages expressed by gay people, and how could we vote yes if those at the coalface are telling us to vote no? – who has better judgement on the issue than they?

What do we now think of similar “well-meaning” and “rational” arguments in favour of restricting votes from women, or working-class men, or to take a more extreme example, of those who persuasively debated against the thirteenth amendment abolishing slavery in the U.S. in 1864?  Is there still any relevance or credibility to their “well-meaning” arguments, or do we see them now as irrelevant and ultimately restrictive to the progress of humanity?

Let’s be clear about it.  It does not matter how well-meaning the intentions of those on the No side are when propagating their position.  It does not matter whether they consider themselves bigoted or homophobic or whether they are gay or straight themselves; the result of their argument is the same, and that is, the continuance of a discriminatory society in which to be gay; bigotry will have been given a shot in the arm.  The effects for LGBT people in Ireland would be devastating, perhaps too devastating for heterosexual people to comprehend.

Let’s think about the results of this referendum on gay children if the result is a no.  Will those gay children feel comfortable, confident and secure in themselves knowing that the society in which they live has said no to them?  It would be devastating.  As just a small example of that insecurity, take what journalist Ursula Halligan wrote as a 17 year old girl, afraid to admit she was lesbian:

“These past few months must have been the darkest and gloomiest I have ever experienced in my entire life… There have been times when I have even thought about death, of escaping from this world, of sleeping untouched by no-one forever. I have been so depressed, so sad and so confused. There seems to be no one I can turn to, not even God. I’ve poured out my emotions, my innermost thoughts to him and get no relief or so-called spiritual grace. At times I feel I am talking to nothing, that no God exists. I’ve never felt like this before, so empty, so meaningless, so utterly, utterly miserable.”

I cringe when I think that, as it is, I am effectively being asked to give other people my permission to get married.  It is our potential opinions expressed on a ballot paper that stand between their happiness.  It is against my nature and soul that such freedoms should be restricted from people in this day and age and place, and that I am put in a position by which I can choose to aid the continuation of such restrictions, or help them to win their rights.  But while our collective opinion is fundamental in permitting people the same rights as the rest of us in this regard, and we are, for now, in a position to help them, I will be voting Yes to marriage equality.

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