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Irish Left Archive: The path to marriage equality in GCN – II June 6, 2016

Posted by Tomboktu in LGBT Rights, Marriage equality, Social History.
1 comment so far

To mark the anniversary of the marriage equality referendum, The Cedar Lounge Revolution is publishing a short series of posts on the evolution of discussion of same-sex couples, lgb families, and their legal recognition, as portrayed in the pages of Gay Community News in the 1990s. The first post in this series covered the years 1990 to 1994; here we continue the story with material from 1995 and 1996. The articles are from my collection of GCN issues from the 1990s. (My collection is incomplete, and important developments may not be included because of that.)

The first piece is from the April 1995 issue, and it is a short review of John Boswell’s The Marriage of Likeness: Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe, which is an atypically scholarly book to make the review section of GCN. However, as the review itself explains, this particular book had ‘broken out’ of academia and had garnered attention in Newsweek. I notice, but don’t know what significance to attach to, the fact that the reference in the article to ‘same-sex “marriages”‘ places inverted commas around the word marriage.


Irish Left Archive: The path to marriage equality in GCN – I May 23, 2016

Posted by Tomboktu in LGBT Rights, Marriage equality, Social History.

It is a year since we voted not only to lift the ban on same-sex couples getting married, but to place an obligation on the state to put in place a law for marriage equality.

Marriage equality was not always the priority for the gay community. This post looks at the evolution of interest in that topic and the related questions of gay families and of the recognition — both legal and unofficial — of partnerships. It is far from a scholarly article: First, it uses just one strand of data: the pages of Gay Community News (GCN) in the first half of 1990s; second, my collection of back issues is incomplete. Never the less, they illustrate what the gay community’s leaders were saying and what its media felt was important to report.

The first issue of GCN in my collection is from 1990, and even that is too late if you want to do a complete analysis, because it does not show if or how the Irish lesbian, bisexual and gay community reported on or reacted to the introduction of civil unions in Denmark in 1989.

Marriage referendum: The kids will be fine May 6, 2015

Posted by Tomboktu in Bunreacht na hÉireann, Human Rights, Inequality, Marriage equality.

[Update: in the comments, CMI1991 points out that I misread the 67 percent figure I cite — and badly. I apologise for that, though my underlying point remains valid.]

It looks like children will be key in the marriage referendum. The last Red C poll (PDF here) showed a combination of views that must cause some anxiety in both campaign HQs: support for the referendum was at 68 percent, but 67 percent agreed with the statement “It is inappropriate for children to be raised by gay couples”.

The standard Yes Equality response so far has been to point out that legally, the referendum is not about children, that legal issues concerning them have already been dealt with in the Children and Family Relationships Act which will still require that the best interest of the child is the primary criterion when it comes to applying the act to parenting, guardianship, adoption, and so on, whether the referendum passes or not.

At a meeting last week I watched an exchange between a representative of Yes Equality and a woman unhappy with same-sex couples becoming parents, in this case through surrogacy (though that was not her only concern). The Yes Equality representative thanked the woman for asking the question, and for doing so at a meeting where she was in a minority, and then he answered her question. He outlined the legal situation with surrogacy (unregulated, it happens), and that the government will be free to regulate surrogacy — including introducing a total ban if it chooses — whether the referendum is passed or not. He also that the reality is that in Ireland surrogacy is availed of mainly by different-sex couples, not same-sex couples.

If there were a textbook for this campaign, it would be a textbook Yes Equality answer: it was polite and respectful, and it provided accessible legal analysis and empirical evidence which showed that the woman’s concern was misplaced. But yet, but yet … I came away thinking it was missing something.

The May issue of Alive! has an article which highlights that missing element. The article — the Media Watch column — asks about the right of children ‘to be brought up, as far as possible, by a mother and father’. Actually, it’s not true that children have such a right. The previous week, Conor O’Mahony, a lecturer in child law and constitutional law at UCC, had tweeted that he had ‘Been searching legal databases all afternoon for a law that gives children a legal right to a mother and father. Results: zero‘. But even though it’s not true, it feels like it could be or ought to be. And that’s because it appeals to our emotions. There is a world of a difference between ‘a right to a mother and father’ and ‘a right to your mother and father’. For the fortunate majority of us, the latter concerns real people, and the feelings we have for our mother or our father — and for both in most cases — are a hugely important and positive part of our life. It is easy to slide from that positive felling most of us have about growing up with our mother and father, via a false claim about a non-existent universal right, to believing that both a mother and father are an essential part of a healthy, loving childhood. However, not only is not a human right: the empirical evidence shows that to grow up loved  cared for and develop and mature does not require the presence of both a mother and father; and the empirical evidence also shows that growing up with same-sex parents does not affect a child’s well-being or development.

The no side — Mothers and Fathers Matter and the Irish Catholic Bishops in particular — have appealed to voters’ feelings (both positive and negative); on the question of children, Yes Equality has appealed to their reason, hoping that the legal analysis and empirical evidence will be enough to persuade voters who have concerns about children. A month before polling day, Red C found that 67 percent were not making that connection, and two and a half weeks before it, Senator Katherine Zappone said it is hard for people she is talking to to move beyond the traditional concept of family.

It is ironic that campaign formed by and led by lesbian and gay people should be struggling to get this message across. So many of us who are gay have deep personal experience of the conflict between feelings and reason in the period before we came out, and we had to let go of our deeply held fear. A challenge for our leaders in the next two weeks is to see if they can find a way to encourage and help enough of the 67 percent to make a similar step and let go of their irrational fears. The task is to ensure enough voters realise that the kids will be fine.

A month out, the campaign April 22, 2015

Posted by Tomboktu in Equality, Human Rights, Marriage equality.

We now have a month to go to polling day in the Marriage Equality referendum, and in September I noted challenges that the Yes Equality campaign faces.

Referendum outcomes can be difficult to predict. Certainly, the 80 percent poll ratings were a boost to morale over the last few months, but as David Quinn of the Iona Institute has noted, support for a referendum often drops significantly once the campaign starts.

Although there is a long month left, it is clear that the Yes Equality side has organised an outstanding campaign, albeit not all of the challenges have been overcome.

Yes Equality has had a problem that although support was highest among the younger voters, these were least likely to vote and also most likely to not be registered. With the Union of Students in Ireland, Yes Equality ran a voter registration campaign in October and November that has been reported to have added 40,000 young people onto the register (20,000 through the USI campaign in colleges, and 20,000 by the main Yes Equality coalition outside the colleges).  The last few weeks have seen a ‘booster’ campaign targeted at that group, this time asking them to pledge to vote, and thus encouraging a sense of ownership of the issue. And the registering of students has continued, with 1,500 added to the register last week.

But Yes Equality recognised the need to appeal as much as possible across all age groups and demographic groups. The ambassadors have been varied and include:

  • Babs Keating, the Tipperary hurling manager;
  • Mary McAleese, the thinking Catholic’s Catholic;
  • Charlie Bird, the retired journalist;
  • Eamon McGee, the Donegal footballer;
  • Brighid and Paddy Whyte, the Co Louth Roman Catholic couple married for nearly fifty years;
  • Jack O’Connor, the SIPTU General President (still not smiling);
  • Gay Byrne, former Late Late Show host;
  • Brian O’Driscoll, the rugby player.

Yes Equality and its allies has so far used many of the standard campaign tools: radio and television debates, letters to the editor, press events and statements, celebrity endorsements, public meetings, a rally on Dublin’s O’Connell Street (where Brighid and Paddy Whyte received a super-star roar of welcome when they came on stage), stands at events like the union conferences over the last few weeks, badges, car stickers, and street art. The Yes Equality posters have yet to be deployed, although Sinn Féin has started its postering. And Yes Equality plans to take a ‘battle bus’ around the country in the next month.

Organisations that have supported a ‘yes’ vote include IBEC and Congress, all Dáil parties, and Bohs, the Dublin football club.

They have also used tools that are not so familiar in Irish political campaigning: heavy and sustained use of Facebook, Twitter and the Web (including some very moving and inspiring online videos and, separately, a Yes Equality ‘twibbon’), online fundraising, and a ‘phone your granny’ drive. And this week, SIPTU’s LGBT group started operating a phone bank to call their union comrades in order to ask for their votes.

Seven months ago, Yes Equality had no local network, and none of the three organisations in the Yes Equality coalition — Marriage Equality, the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties — had any experience at grassroots organising. But now, Yes Equality has teams canvassing in every constituency (some more intensely than others). And it underpinned that local connection some months ago when the civil partnership data was published, providing local newspapers and radio stations with localised press releases on the take up of the ceremony in their county.

At this stage, Yes Equality has done everything it could to this time to secure a victory this day next month.

The support will be tested and challenged by the No side in the coming month. Probably the most significant difficulty Yes Equality faces is the use of incorrect and spurious arguments, particularly when they are used on a live radio or TV programme with a large listenership. For example, last Sunday on Marian Finucane’s programme on RTÉ Radio 1, it was claimed that passing the amendment would make it impossible for the Oireachtas to pass any laws regulating access to surrogacy or donor-assisted human reproduction in the future. It took two days before that claim could be legally assessed and responses by Amnesty International and by Conor O’Mahony of UCC Law School published, but it is unlikely that the responses can have the same effect as the original claim.

The next month will tell us if Yes Equality and its allies have effective campaign strategies to deal with the disinformation tactics of the No side.

Marriage equality… March 26, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Irish Politics, Marriage equality.

Bruce Arnold is in dissenting mode again. Fresh from the spat over the Irish language wording of the referendum, he writes along much the same lines as his IT piece about how so much is about to change and be changed utterly. And so he writes, despite effective evidence to the opposite in relation to the many marriages where people choose not to have children or are unable to, that ‘The complementary ingredients of marriage that give it completeness and are vested in sexual partnership would become an optional rather than an essential feature of marriage’. I’ve noted the willingness of the anti-marriage equality side to throw so many in marriages today under the bus. Having been married myself for almost a decade before the creature appeared I find it equal parts entertaining and absurd that that was clearly not a marriage in the eyes of those making that case.

The apocalypse beckons by his reckoning in other areas:

Much of the existing law of marriage would have to be revised and re-enacted – and much of family case law abandoned – at considerable loss.


The law of judicial separation would also change in that the grounds of adultery would no longer be sustainable, as adultery can only take place between a man and a woman.

Then there’s this:

A big question mark also hangs over the future solemnisation of civil marriages in religious ceremonies. It is very doubtful if solemnisation of civil marriages in churches could continue under a same-sex marriage regime.


Same-sex marriage is being aggressively promoted by a small minority of people for their own ends, regardless of the effect on society as a whole. It is the duty of the government and the Oireachtas to promote the interests of society as a whole, even if that impacts on the wishes of a minority. It is not possible to grant the wishes of every citizen. Mature and responsible societies know this.

And so on. Away from his eschatological visions those of us inclined to the sense that all this is easily enough dealt with will draw our own conclusions.

But’s what this, a new front being opened, or at least extended, by the anti-marriage equality camp?

Education policy would have to be reformed and widely changed. Under the amendment the state would be authorised to engage in a programme of positive discrimination in schools and elsewhere in favour of same-sex marriage.
The state would inculcate acceptance of the new reality of gender-neutral marriage in children and young adults. I believe parents are as yet unaware of this intrusive reality facing all types of the newly framed family.

‘positive discrimination in favour of same-sex marriage’… ‘intrusive reality’… hmmm… how on earth does he come to that conclusion? But it doesn’t take any great insight to see how that line will be used, or how articles like his which reference it will become touchstones in future arguments.

The planned marriage referendum: Some sense in the Dáil October 10, 2014

Posted by Tomboktu in Bunreacht na hÉireann, Inequality, LGBT Rights, Marriage equality, Uncategorized.

Yesterday in the Dáil, Michael McNamra made an interesting contribution to the debate on a bill amending the Civil Registration Act. At last somebody has asked this rather obvious question,

Another issue is impediments to marriage. This is an amendment to the Civil Registration Act 2004, which was the first legislation to note that being of the same sex is an impediment to marriage. The Government tells us there will be a referendum on this but I question the need for that. Can we not simply legislate for the issue? It will be a divisive and hurtful campaign for many people and it may not be necessary to engage the public in a referendum. After all, we Members of the Oireachtas are paid to be here and the Constitution says we are legislators, although Departments are the de facto legislators and we merely apply the rubber stamp. Do we need a referendum? I am led to believe a former Attorney General said a referendum is required on this in an opinion supplied to the Government. I have not seen this opinion nor has anyone else because no one sees the opinions of Attorneys General. Can an exception be made in this case? Is there a reason such opinions are not made available? Should such opinions be made available as a matter of course? If it is a matter where the State is being sued and there is a potential liability to the State, the Government will not wish to show its hand by publishing an opinion. Surely, however, opinions relating to matters of public importance that require the time and expense of a referendum could be published. Very few people want a referendum on this issue if it can be legislated for. That is certainly the case for most of the gay people who want to marry and to whom I have spoken. Why is it not possible to legislate for this?

I am aware of cases relating to this topic such as Murray v. Ireland and a high-profile one involving Senator Zappone. In Murray v. Ireland Mr. Justice Costello of the High Court and once of this House said the Constitution makes clear that the concept and nature of marriage, which it enshrines, are derived from the Christian notion of partnership based on irrevocable personal consent. It is clear, then, that the judgments refer to the Christian notion of marriage in the Constitution and on this basis the court found it was acceptable for Ireland to refuse to recognise same-sex marriages from abroad. There is a world of difference, however, between saying it is acceptable for the Oireachtas not to recognise same-sex marriages and saying it would be unlawful for the Oireachtas to legislate to recognise same-sex marriages or allow same-sex marriage in Ireland.

It is clear the notion of marriage in the Constitution is based on a Christian notion of marriage, but that does not mean civil marriages are unlawful in Ireland. Even divorce is lawful in Ireland since the constitutional referendum on that issue. Our notions of what provisions of the Constitution mean constantly evolve. Many people accept that gay marriage is part of the right to have a family, that the security of family life should apply to heterosexual and homosexual people equally. I question the need for a referendum on this issue if it is possible to legislate for it.

Marriage equality – 85% and complacency September 1, 2014

Posted by Tomboktu in Bunreacht na hÉireann, Equality, Human Rights, LGBT, Marriage equality.

In the speeches outside the Department of Justice at the end of the March for Marriage Equality on Sunday week (24 August) Laura Harmon, President of USI, warned against complacency in the referendum campaign next year.

That might seem unnecessarily anxious. Sure, hadn’t the previous week’s Sunday Times’s poll (PDF here) shown that approval of gay relationships has reached 85%, up from 76% in the Sunday Business Post & RTÉ poll in February (PDF here) — heck, at that rate it would reach 94% by next February. If the referendum was passed with that majority, there would be one heck of a party.

But Harmon is right to warn against complacency. Reports the Irish Times on Thursday and the Irish Independent on Friday suggest that the government is also worried about complacency.

RED C, who conducted the February 2014 poll for the Sunday Business Post and RTÉ, reached the same conclusion.

Despite the high figures in the two polls, the ‘no’ side have the easier task in the referendum campaign. The proposal is to change the law, and the pressure will be on the ‘yes’ side to show why that is needed. To win, the ‘no’ campaigners need only cast doubts in enough minds — a constitutional “if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit”. One particular objective will be to dissuade those who are ‘soft’ yes voters from voting that way, whether by voting ‘no’ because of their area of doubt or by staying at home.

Before turning to that RED C analysis, it is important to note that the Behaviour & Attitudes poll for the ST did not ask about support for a constitutional amendment. It asked “Please tell me whether you personally believe that in general it is morally acceptable or morally wrong”. A list of fourteen items was then read to the survey participant, and “gay or lesbian relations” was one of them.

Further, as doctorfive pointed out here a few days ago, polls on abortion referendums have not been an accurate predictor of actual outcome. Add to that the difference between the actual result and the opinion polls in other referendums, such as the recent proposal to abolish the Seanad, and you have to be cautious, if not downright doubtful, about the accuracy of a figure of either 76 or 85 percent support for lifting the ban on same-sex marriage. In fact, the bread-and-butter polling of levels of support for parties is known to be inaccurate, and companies apply techniques to deal with that. Behaviour & Attitudes asks a question in polls on party support about who the survey participant actually voted for in the last election. The company later combines stated level of support for each party with the actual outcome at the previous election to modify the raw data in a poll to generate what it believes is a better measure of the actual current support for each party.

Even without statistical adjustments for accuracy in stated intentions compared with actual behaviour, neither the 85% nor 76% figure is likely to be a realistic indicator of the vote to amend the constitution. Both polls asked a second question, about adoption, which show the folly of relying on the headline figures. Both polls showed lower support for adoption of children by gay couples. But the rights of children with same-sex parents is at the heart of why lifting the ban on same-sex marriage is needed and why civil partnership is inadequate. In light of the lower level of support for gay adoption, campaigners against marriage equality would be stupid not to exploit the concerns that result in lower support for adoption.

The small number of people who will directly benefit from lifting the ban on same-sex marriage is likely to be a factor in how each side campaigns. Some on the ‘no’ side may use the small number of lgb people in the population as a campaigning point. The campaigners of marriage equality will be painfully aware that lgb people will need to rely on the support of hundreds of thousands who have no personal stake in the issue of equality in marriage for same-sex couples.

The polls do give them some information on where the support lies. For example in the Behaviour & Attitudes poll, when broken down by party, opposition to gay adoption is highest among Fianna Fáil voters and those who voted for “independents and others”. And those “might not vote” or “definitely would not vote” show the highest support for the view that gay adoption is morally acceptable. The need to persuade those passive supporters to become active supporters is probably the reason that a coalition of lgb campaigning groups spent the weekend at the Electric Picnic running the Marriage Equality Tent.

Nevertheless, GLEN and Marriage Equality will need something stronger than the promise of a favour if, on a rainy polling day, a 30-something heterosexual parent on the way home from work is to stop off at the polling station if they have two hungry kids in the back who would need to be “unloaded” from the car and “reloaded” so Daddy or Mammy can do their bit for equality. That particular inconvenience may not be the issue, but those kinds of everyday routines will deter many voters who were very certain when the man from RED C or Behaviour & Attitudes asked them the question in that poll they did back in 2014.

The opponents of equality also have the advantage of the experience of battle from running other referendum campaigns. They were not always victorious, but the nitty-gritty of a campaign targetting voters are familiar to them. The lgb organisations, in contrast have never had to rely totally on the public before. In some — but not all — of their successes to date, public opinion has mainly served to show policy makers that there is sufficient demand to justify them paying attention to the issue at hand.

The ‘no’ side has another advantage in the media. Two of its key strategists, David Quinn and Breda O’Brien, are weekly columnists in papers with circulations that are the largest (Quinn) and fourth largest (O’Brien) in the country. While there are columnists in national papers who are supporters of marriage equality, none are at the heart of planning the campaign and able to use their columns to synchronise messages with that campaign. And the opponents of equality have won key battles in how the broadcast media will deal with or be allowed to deal with the debate, with the RTÉ payouts in the “Pantigate” affair and the recent advisory note from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland following the complaint about the Mooney Show on RTÉ.

On the other hand, GLEN has applied some findings from the polls in its media work. In the last month, it has been the source of news stories on local papers and radio in Sligo and Leitrim, in Donegal and in Kerry on local data on the number of couples who entered civil partnerships in those areas. Them gays are not all up in Dublin, you know.

“The dogs of war [were] unleashed week after week after week to attack me…” April 24, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Marriage equality, Social Policy.
1 comment so far

… or so says John Waters here.

‘Tsunami’s of hatred’, ‘an ideological dimension’, ‘sinister developments’, ‘alert the Irish people to what’s happening’, ‘your freedom is at stake’, ‘what happens to the Irish Times isn’t a domestic matter, it’s a matter for the Irish people’, ‘a mob on twitter are dictating what is happening’, ‘lack of support’, ‘condescension’, ‘why should I have to endure this kind of abuse from people for expressing my opinion’, ‘I’m saying to them ‘wake up’, your newspapers and media are being taken over’, ‘the chanting mobs on twitter’…

And more… and more… and…

Marriage equality and rapid societal change March 6, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Marriage equality, US Politics.

Fascinating point made by John Dickerson on the Slate.com political gabfest this last week or so on the issue of same-sex marriage in the US. David Plotz had asked was there no leading Republican Presidential candidate in favour of same, and the answer was a vehement no, and Emily Bazelon’s response was to the point, ‘what are you talking about, were you expecting instant change from five minutes ago?’ and as Dickerson said, ‘the Democratic Presidential candidate wasn’t in favour of same-sex marriage until ten minutes ago!’ (they jest in terms of minutes, mostly).

But Dickerson continued that:

‘The CBS poll in the Fall of 2012 24% of Republican voters supported same-sex marriage, now in the Winter of (2013) 2014 40% do.

You never see that sort of movement particularly in the constituency that is so against it – to use a rough stereotype… that’s a lot of movement…that’s a lot there already’.

And Dickerson responded to Plotz’s question as to why no Republican Presidential candidate is in the field in favour of marriage equality by suggesting that that constituency is there to grab. Interesting that, but more so the sheer pace of change.

I wonder why that is? Is it that the issue is, for most – and I accept people take a sincere viewpoint to the contrary – actually once it’s worked through nowhere near as problematic as might be thought? After all, if one accepts the concept of civil unions then there’s little to stop movement to full marriage equality. Even so, there’s such rapid movement on this it suggests that at some level for all the talk of people feeling ‘threatened’ in actual fact the idea has been much better integrated into general attitudes than is sometimes thought.

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