Friday, 27 March 2015
An Bille um an gCeathrú Leasú is Tríocha ar an mBunreacht (Comhionannas Pósta) 2015: Céim an Choiste - Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015: Committee Stage
The whole thing was a ready-up. It was the Labour Party in Government creating the Constitutional Convention as a mechanism to build up a public impression that there was public support for this particular measure above other measures. We got a set menu of some of the Labour Party's favourite issues and, it has to be said, the Government's favourite issues, but this one was at the heart of it. Putting this issue before the Constitutional Convention was all about a fig leaf of legitimacy to say that this is a burning issue that is coming up repeatedly again and has to be resolved. However, the decision on what to put to the people in a referendum is really a decision to prioritise an issue above all sorts of other issues.
We remember the former leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, talking about this as the civil rights issue of our time. He was doing so, no doubt, at the behest of the very group of young Turks in the Labour Party that ended up throwing him out. We will see how enthusiastic he is during the campaign.
The Constitutional Convention brought forward this issue and there were some very tendentious presentations at that convention. That gave the Government the excuse it needed to act on the recommendation of the Constitutional Convention to bring forward this referendum. Not content with that little bit of readying up, however, the Government then engaged in the strategy of naming this referendum in such a way as to convey the idea that people who like equality and all of that good stuff will be in favour of this referendum. Meanwhile, the unpleasant people who do not like equality but like to discriminate against people, will be the ones to vote against it. In fairness, they do not always call them "unpleasant". They might otherwise portray them as benighted in some way.
The Government has been in such a haste to do all this that we even had the fiasco of a wording as Gaeilge for the referendum that had the possible effect of banning heterosexual marriage in favour of same-sex marriage. A compliant media again let the Government right off the hook on that when they hastily went to amend their hand and came up with a better translation into the Irish language of what they were proposing to do. Does it not tell us an awful lot that that even happened? It tells us a lot about the arrogance and presumption that this could all be rushed through quickly, so much so that they did not even get it right at first. What does that tell us about the preparation that underlay this proposal in terms of understanding the full outworking of the legal issues involved? What does it tell us about the issues I, Senator Quinn and others have been raising in this House about the possible meaning of this referendum proposal down the line?
If the Government were to be judged on the fiasco of the Irish language wording of this amendment, it would tell us that it does not have the faintest idea of where exactly this amendment might lead when it comes to being interpreted in the courts. That should have received much more attention because it was very revealing.
Senator Healy Eames mentioned the Patricia McKenna judgment and the Coughlan judgment. Those two individuals did much more public service for the cause of democratic legitimacy than this Government has ever done. It was thanks to Patricia McKenna's initiative, and the court decision that flowed from it, that we will have anything like a semblance of impartiality in the broadcast media's coverage during this campaign, and indeed in other coverage, by preventing the Government from spending public money to advocate one side or the other in the referendum. Mr. Anthony Coughlan's case concerned party political broadcasts.
Those two civic-minded individuals brought their cases in the context of the divorce referendum. I do not think anybody even knew their position on that referendum, but they saw the point about democracy and fairness. If the Government even half got the point, it would not be engaging in this patronising and manipulative pretence with the electorate by putting marriage equality as the title of this referendum. It is entirely tendentious campaigning and anything but in the spirit of the McKenna and Coughlan decisions. In a sense, the Government is using public money through its Oireachtas majority to tilt, or attempt to tilt, the public's view on what stand they should take on this issue.
It is a long way from the Government's earlier expressed line that it is only about marriage. If it was only about marriage, it would talk about it as marriage. However, by taking on the phrase of a lobby group on the ballot paper, it has shown what way it wants this referendum to go. That may well raise constitutional points. I do not know what view of it the courts would take if it were challenged. I do not think this Government can be relied upon to have thoroughly scrutinised that issue. It is so choked up with its own ideology, haste and arrogance to get all of this through that I doubt very much if it has considered any ideas that are unpalatable to it.
The same attitude is to be found in comments by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Reilly, and others who have tried to suggest that this referendum is about sending a message to gay people, and in particular young gay people, that they are loved and respected. Think about what that is saying. It is saying that the only way one can send that message of love, respect, acceptance and equal dignity is by voting "Yes".
Suppose, however, that people in their wisdom decide to vote "No" because they believe that this referendum would undermine a child's right to a father and mother, while they totally respect and love gay people and their right to equal dignity, their private life and all of those good things. It is quite clear that this Government is happy to use the mental health and happiness of those young people as some kind of a battering ram to get its will through. If the Government were more socially responsible, it would be sending out messages to the effect that no matter what way this referendum goes, gay people in our society should know that they belong as much as anyone else, that they are loved, have equal dignity and rights, and that the right to marriage is specifically because it has to do with the two-gender nature of marriage, the complementarity of the male-female relationship and the particular good that does as a special case for the upbringing of children.
The Government would then be communicating much more sensitively so as to really send a message of inclusion and respect, but in fact it is doing the opposite. It is using other people as a battering ram to get what it wants. It is trying to do so in a context of emotional manipulation, which does not do the Government credit.