Oppressive atmosphere created around referendum debate

Group campaigning for No vote say people are afraid to speak up for traditional definition of family

A claustrophic and oppressive atmosphere has been created around the same-sex marriage debate in which people are afraid to speak out in favour of the traditional definition of family for fear of being labelled ‘homophobic bigots’, a group campaigning for a No vote in the forthcoming referendum has said.

At a press conference in Dublin on Wednesday, Mothers and Fathers Matter highlighted questions they wanted the Referendum Commission to answer, saying questions put to the Commission so far "had been framed by Yes side arguments".

Some of the questions they want answered in the event the referendum passes include whether the parenting rights of same-sex married couples would be constitutionally superior to those of unmarried couples and whether same-sex couples would have a constitutional right to procreate.

The group said they accepted Justice Kevin Cross was impartial in his role as chairman of the Referendum Commission but said they disagreed with his point that the referendum would not redefine marriage.

"You can be impartial but wrong. I accept he's impartial but I don't agree with his point. I think the way he explained it was that they were not redefining marriage but widening the categories of people who can avail of marriage," said Dr Tom Finegan.

Keith Mills of the group said when TDs and Senators felt they could not come out and say they were voting no, people felt they could not do so either.

"There are TDs in all parties that I know of – Fianna Fáil, Fianna Gael, Sinn Féin, Renua and the Labour party - and all have either TDs or Senators or both who have privately said they are voting no. And what that does is that it sets an environment where people think well gosh if the politicians can't even speak out on this how can I as an individual speak out on this because I'm going to be called homophobic, I'm going to be called against equality," he said.

“People want a quiet life at the end of the day. It has created a claustrophic and rather oppressive context for the debate.”

Dr Finegan said it was intimidating to witness hundreds of No posters being ripped down and defaced.

“There is a systematic campaign of poster destruction and defacement right across the country. In Dublin alone we estimate that 30 to 40 per cent of our posters have been ripped down,” he said.

Asked whether he thought people felt resistance to the idea of two men raising a child, Mr Mills said there was a level of discomfort at the idea of deliberately denying a child a mother.

"If you have an example like Elton John and where men of a certain age and a certain wealth can buy a woman's womb, rent out a woman's womb for nine months and then deny a child a mother for the rest of that child's life, I think people feel discomfort with that," he said.

He said surrogacy need not have been brought into the referendum if the Government had acted “as they committed to do originally and dealt with surrogacy in the Children and Family Relationships Bill but they kicked it to touch”.

“This is the legacy of that… and they’ve given no commitment to stopping a situation like Elton John and his partner of denying a child its mother’s love so yes we are getting a resonance in the public with that.”

Asked whether the group was reassured by the Minister for Health saying he would outlaw commercial surrogacy, Dr Finegan said changing the constitutional definition of marriage would have an impact way beyond the minister’s comments.

“Regardless of his commitment, if the referendum passes same sex couples will have a constitutional right to procreate. They don’t have that right now, they will have that right to procreate if the referendum passes. The only way a same sex couple can procreate is through using gamete donation and, in the case of two men, using surrogacy,” he said.