When I first became active in the gay liberation movement almost 30 years ago in 1985, I believed I was at the heart of something groundbreaking that would, ultimately, change the face of Irish society forever.
There can be no doubt that the achievements of the gay liberation movement in the past 30 years, the decriminalisation in 1993 and the Civil Partnership Bill of 2010, have affected the social fabric of life in Ireland for the better.
However, the campaign for same-sex marriage is a move too far, in my opinion, from the principles of equality and is discriminatory in its very nature as it does not value the counter-culture responsibilities of the gay community.
To be homosexual is to be part of a subculture within society. We are, quite simply, different from the norm.
Of course, gay people should have equality under the law. Equality legislation is what sets the standard in a civilised world, but what we need are laws that celebrate our differences and provide for them, not laws that make everyone the same.
This is where, I believe, the campaign for same-sex marriage falls down. It is based on assimilation rather than equality, the belief we can only be equal if we are allowed to live the same way.
The concept of marriage under the Constitution is derived from the Christian notion of partnership and is confined to persons of the opposite sex. In Irish law marriage is grounded in the monogamous union of a man and a woman.
Put simply, marriage, as we understand it in Ireland is a heterosexual construct that has catered for the needs of a paternalistic society and the subjugation of women; so why the gay liberation movement believes it is a fit model for gay people’s lifestyles and values is beyond my comprehension.
I know of many same-sex couples who have been joined in civil partnership and I can say with certainty only one of these is grounded in monogamy. This is not a judgment; it is a fact and an accepted way of life for many gay couples, civilly partnered or not.
One other flaw in the same-sex marriage debate has been how to include for the provision of children. Under the Constitution, the State promises to guard with special care the institution of marriage, on which the family is founded. However, the family, in this context, is defined only in terms of consisting of parents and children, and it is my belief that until this definition is changed there will never be a same-sex marriage.
Variety of models
Modern Ireland has a variety of family models ranging from the promoted norm, to single parent, same-sex parent and no-children families. In the 2011 census, married couples accounted for 69.5 per cent of all family units. With a 500 per cent increase in broken marriages since 1986 and a 106 per cent rise in the number of single-parent families in that period, there is obviously already a change of narrative on marriage in Ireland, which the gay community seems to ignoring.
In my opinion, the gay liberation movement needs to reconnect with its roots and have an unbiased and inclusive debate on same-sex marriage before a referendum. There has been little or no discussion within gay ranks on the issue and nobody seems to be considering what might happen if a referendum were to fail.
The achievements of the past 30 years have created a sense of arrogance within what I call the “gay establishment”,who, with the best of intentions are campaigning for a progressive society, while driving us blindly down a road to conformity.
This desire for some gay people to be assimilated into mainstream Irish society is, in my view, based on a prevailing small town, village mentality founded on Catholic guilt and a desire for Irish gay men and women to fit into the norm so that they don’t upset their mammies.
While I applaud those who march and speak with passion on injustice and inequality, it is all too easy to get caught up in the euphoria brought on by speaking through a microphone to an adoring and accepting public. It is the silent majority that must be won over if the referendum next spring is to bear fruit.
But without consultation there is no consideration for gay men and women, who like me, are not wholly behind the campaign for same-sex marriage as it currently stands. Indeed, many gay people have been silent on the subject for fear of being cast out by their peers, or, dare I say, being branded as homophobic.
We desperately need a change of narrative from the Irish gay liberation movement on the subject of same-sex unions and an honest acceptance of the cultural values and norms of gay men and women in this country if true equality, either constitutionally, legally or culturally is ever to be achieved. Vive la difference! Derek Byrne is an academic and journalist