In the run-up to Ireland’s Marriage Equality referendum on May 22nd, I’ve invited a series of guest posters– people from Ireland or who live here, of many different backgrounds and orientations- to share their thoughts on the referendum, the campaign, and what it means to them. Contributions to Guest Posts for Equality are welcome- drop me a message.
This post comes from Brian O’Flynn, from my own home town of Cork, Ireland.
In the course of this referendum debate there have been many complaints, in particular from the No side, about an undemocratic atmosphere of censorship. When No posters are defaced by unknown persons, they behave as if the Yes campaign had ordered an official strike. When a mural depicting two men embracing was permitted on George Street in Dublin, they behaved as though the government was conspiring against them to give the Yes campaign more publicity.
In short, they are trying to pin the actions of some rogue vandals on the entire Yes campaign, as well as attempting to politicise the everyday culture and celebrations of the LGBT community. We, as gay people, feel that we can no longer hold hands in the street without having someone from the No side present to “give balance” to the situation. In the process of indignantly claiming their democratic rights, they’ve virtually censored our lives and personal histories.
Just watch the very condescending infomercial released by Mothers and Fathers Matter. It claims that one cannot come out against SSM without suffering verbal abuse and accusations of homophobia; a profoundly unfair generalisation. The official No campaign are experts at playing the victim. Their strategy is to assume the role of the underdog, in the hopes that the Yes campaigners will be seen as extreme liberals who believe that free speech and democracy are less important than our feelings.
The end result is that we are supposed to believe that the No side are the defenders of democracy, balance and free speech in Ireland. But let’s examine just how “democratic” the No side are.
At the end of the day, the purpose of a referendum is to allow constitutional change to occur in line with a country’s changing values. We know that contemporary Ireland is in favour of SSM. Every legitimate poll that’s been carried out here in the last decade has returned a landslide victory in favour of marriage equality. For example, the most recent Red C poll returned a 76% majority in favour. Whenever the people of Ireland are asked in plain terms, “Do you support marriage equality for same sex couples?” the answer is invariably “yes”. It follows that this referendum should deliver a landslide “Yes” majority, if the referendum were to fulfil its purpose as a tool for reflecting our country’s contemporary ethos of equality.
Of course there are going to be dissenting opinions. Of course those dissenters have every right to attempt to convince the majority that they should change their minds. Of course the No campaign are well within their rights to campaign against the amendment and to explain why everyone should vote no. But they have a responsibility to do so honestly. To be dishonest in your campaigning is to corrupt the democratic process; if people are lied to about what they’re voting on, how can they then represent their actual views on a polling card? If you launch a national campaign based on lies and misinformation, then you are certainly guilty of being undemocratic. You are attempting to trick the public into accidentally voting against something they are in favour of.
Therein lies the glaring hypocrisy of the No campaign. They have not been honest in any of the campaigning that they have done thus far. Their entire campaign is dedicated to convincing voters that the referendum is about surrogacy, adoption and child-rearing. Their posters are specifically designed to plant the false notion that surrogacy will be a key aspect of the referendum. The impartial Referendum Commission itself has confirmed that this is a blatant lie.
“There is no right of access to surrogacy. There is, spoken of, a right of a married couple to procreate but that right does not and has never been defined to include a right of access to artificial means such as surrogacy.”
- Mr Justice Kevin Cross, Chair, Independent Referendum Commission
Children’s organisations align with Yes side
Unbiased Referendum Commission discredit No campaign
The Law Society of Ireland and every major child-oriented charity in the country, including the ISPCC, have confirmed that the passing of the referendum would be only a positive thing for children. Gay couples now will have exactly the same access to surrogacy and parenting as they would after the referendum is passed. Every major argument of the “No” side (i.e. those centring around surrogacy, adoption and parenting issues), have been discredited by the Referendum Commission and by the relevant children’s authorities.
The No campaign has been a systematic attempt to mislead the population. Their aim has been, and still is, to muddy the waters around SSM by conflating it with unrelated issues such as surrogacy. They know that the general public is in favour of SSM, so they want them to think that they are voting on something other than SSM.
It’s an ingenious tactic.
But it is despicably dishonest.
They are working from the belief that if a lie is repeated enough times, it will worm its way into the collective mind of the voters. The scary thing is that this belief is not without foundation. I have been questioned several times, even by “Yes” voters, about the issues of surrogacy and adoption. People are fully convinced that the passage being added to the constitution contains some sort of clause to do with these issues. For those in doubt, the exact wording is as follows:
“Marriage can be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex”
Instead of being truthful about the amendment and explaining their opposition to it, the No side have changed people’s understanding of what the amendment says in the first place. They have fundamentally deformed people’s understanding of what is being voted on, and they know it.
How is this helping democracy to be achieved, I ask? How is this helping us as citizens to exercise our freedom of speech? The No campaign has been an obstacle to democracy and freedom of speech since day one, because it seeks to ensure that we as a people do not know what we’re voting on.
Seeing that a population is overwhelmingly in favour of something and then seeking to trick them into voting against that very thing by a campaign of misinformation is not democratic. If the official No campaign really had any conviction in their belief they would be emphasising what is supposedly wrong with SSM in itself. They would not be hiding behind smoke screens and diversionary tactics.
For all the No side’s shrill yelling about their democratic rights and freedom of speech, it seems that they are less interested in true democracy than they’d like us to believe. For all their self-pity and falsely innocent victimhood, they seem to know exactly how to connive and deceive. There is a serious disconnect between their self-image as defenders of Ireland’s virtue, and their reality as a dishonest grouping who seek to impose their own minority opinions onto the entire population.