OPINION:AFTER LAST year's introduction of civil partnerships for same-sex couples, the debate has swiftly progressed to the question of introducing gay marriage. Several characteristic limitations of the case for doing so are apparent in Kieran Rose's argument in favour (The Irish Times, April 10th).
A number of self-contradictory or inaccurate arguments must be dispatched before the kernel of the question can be reached.
Public opinion data showing majority support for the introduction of gay marriage is now increasingly cited. This is doubtless accurate.
Public opinion is, however, no more conclusive a reason to legislate for gay marriage today than hostile opinion was good reason to delay reform concerning homosexuality.
Gay activists retrospectively give false legitimacy to the criminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland until 1993 by adducing opinion polling to a debate requiring resolution by reference to the common good. If majority opinion today is good cause to introduce gay marriage, it must have been similarly good cause for the profound imprudence of the law until two decades ago.
That this is absurd betrays not only a shallowness discernible in the case for gay marriage but also what has to be identified as a degree of intellectual dishonesty.
One is as likely to hear both that the Irish public desires the introduction of gay marriage and that the Irish public harbours a dangerous degree of homophobia.
Rose draws on both claims, yet they are clearly self-contradictory.
Separately but similarly, Rose says summarily “the court of public opinion has spoken”. This constitutes an attempt to shut down the debate on gay marriage.
One could appeal to the injustice of this commonplace summary cloture, visible at the recent Fine Gael Ardfheis at which no dissenting voice was allowed speak against the pro-gay marriage motion, but it is wiser to appeal to the imprudence of the imposition of gay marriage by decree rather than by decision.
Closely allied is the frequency with which opponents of gay marriage find their arguments pathologised rather than engaged. This is true despite the existence of gay opponents of gay marriage, such as this writer.
As for claims raised in the name of the gay community, I would prefer if someone with whom I share nothing but sexual orientation did not use that rather uninteresting fact to raise in my name political claims I and others do not share.
Rose states that gay marriage would have “resonance in related areas of difference and inclusion such as ethnic origins”. In short, we are asked to believe that Irish social cohesion through demographic change rests in enough measure to warrant mention on the introduction of gay marriage.
That such arguments can be made with a straight face indicates not only a certain hubris one detects in Irish liberals today.
Perhaps more tellingly, it bespeaks the absence in this country of much willingness in the media or in the political debate to scrutinise Irish liberalism rather than genuflect to it.
In terms of its attitudinal centre of gravity, Ireland has swung from one pole to another in recent decades. Yet comparing today’s Ireland with the Ireland of Archbishop McQuaid reveals that neither the deferential quality of debate in Ireland nor its intellectually undernourished nature have much altered.
The essence of the gay marriage demand is stated by Rose in the assertion that “the right to marry is a basic human right”. So far as claims of justice are concerned, this is the most serious contention that can be raised in support of the introduction of gay marriage.
In Rose’s account, the claim is buttressed by the UN Charter of Human Rights and “other human rights treaties”. Such claims are raised increasingly frequently. They rest on no more than assertion.
Recently, France’s supreme court has found that no discrimination is implied in the distinction between marriage and partnership provisions. The European Court of Human Rights has found there is no right to gay marriage in the European Convention on Human Rights and this does not amount to discrimination.
In considering gay marriage, it is essential to see treating different situations differently in no way constitutes discrimination.
What is more fundamental here is the co-option of human rights language by an increasingly hegemonic strain of intolerant liberalism. Whereas the “right to marriage” as pertaining to couples of the same sex is a recent invention, the right of a child to both a mother and a father where possible is not.
The reason for opposing the unnecessary elevation of civil partnerships to the notional status of marriage is that marriage then loses its nature as the one institution supported by society because it is the family form which on average gives a child the most advantageous upbringing.
It is agreed by most that civil partnerships mostly suffice in practical terms for same-sex couples. Altering the focus of marriage from children to relationships disadvantages future generations to no more necessary end than the further march of an increasingly cavalier and triumphalist liberalism.
Richard Waghorne is a freelance journalist