The Irish electorate will be going to the polls on May 22nd to vote in a referendum. The motion that is being put before the people is if the constitution should be amended by removing the definition of a family as a union between a man and a woman (I seem to have to add that this is not a verbatim reflection of the constitution but merely the widely accepted interpretation). By removing this definition from the constitution it will be possible to define a marriage as a union between a man and a woman, a man and a man, a woman and a woman and if you want to drag it into extremis it could be a union between anything and anything.
But that’s not what this blog-post is about. I for one think that a referendum is a good thing, as long as it’s an informed one. Let the electorate decide and whatever the majority desires will be passed into law. Or into the constitution in this case. Such is the way of democracy.
There is a fly in the ointment though. Or actually there is a whole swarm of blue-bottles. See the thing is that in order for democracy to work the electorate should be able to inform themselves and to speak freely and discuss the issues at hand. There should be no fear for repercussion for having a different or unpopular opinion and informed debate should not only be possible, it should be stimulated and safe-guarded.
However this is not the case. At the moment in Ireland a case of genital warts would make one more popular than opposing the above described constitutional amendment. Those favouring traditional marriage are shouted down in debates, insulted, labelled as “homophobes” and threatened with violence. But that’s still not enough. No, repeated calls can be heard during debates, in the press and in/on (social) media for supporters of traditional marriage to be silenced. It’s a clear case of “dissent will not be tolerated”. Rather than engaging in robust debate the same-sex marriage storm-troopers insist that any different opinion is ground to dust under the heel of their jackboots. Ad hominem attacks are preferred over arguments and some really unsavoury methods are used. Comments are made along the line that certain prominent traditional marriage supporters should “just die”. Other rabid lefties have started profiling traditional marriage supporters, their families and their professional activities and sharing this information amongst their cronies. It’s a highly questionable method and one that only requires one single mentally unhinged person who thinks that this constant vilification is enough justification to take direct action.
What’s interesting is that if you return the profiling favour you will notice that same-sex marriage storm-troopers all have very similar profiles. They support abortion, euthanasia, Palestine, higher taxes, are pro vaccination (and quite a lot of them are soccer fans for some reason). But the over-arching trend is that these people are all prototypical statist. They all believe that the state should determine what the greater good is and that everyone should subject themselves to this. This is a profoundly un-intellectual and un-democratic way of reasoning. After all dissent leads to debate and a frank and honest exchange of thought, ideas and opinions lies at the base of some of the greatest progress made by mankind.
Which brings me to my next point; history has proven that this type of legislation will lead directly to the end of freedom of speech and expression. I am going to use Canada as an example as that country legislated for this type of same-sex marriage in 2002. So we will have a period of over 10 years to see what the effects were. Removing the definition describing marriage as a union between a man and a woman from the constitution not only makes it possible for same-sex couples to marry, it by effect makes a marriage between a heterosexual and a homosexual couple equal.
A corollary is that anyone who rejects the new orthodoxy must be acting on the basis of bigotry and animus toward gays and lesbians. Any statement of disagreement with same-sex civil marriage is thus considered a straightforward manifestation of hatred toward a minority sexual group. Any reasoned explanation (for example, those that were offered in legal arguments that same-sex marriage is incompatible with a conception of marriage that responds to the needs of the children of the marriage for stability, fidelity, and permanence—what is sometimes called the conjugal conception of marriage), is dismissed right away as mere pretext. (Justice LaForme in Halpern v. Canada (AG), 2002 CanLII 49633 (On SC), paras. 242-43)
Once you classify something as bigotry and hatred its only a logical next step to ban it and take legal action against those who display it. Two groups will be hit hardest by this; those employed by the state and those who on religious or conscientious grounds object to partake, service or host ceremonies involving same-sex marriage. Those groups have been hit with sanctions, dismissal and legal action. In short resistance will be futile. However there is hope, in certain states in the US laws have recently been passed allowing people the freedom to do as described above on religious or conscientious grounds. Reactionists have called these laws “homophobic” but nothing less is true. The laws make no reference to anyone’s sexuality and equally give people the right to refuse to do business with someone they find offensive, rude or smelling badly. A similar law is currently being debated by the Northern Ireland government. Here in Ireland deputy Mattie McGrath brought the issue of such a law up in the Dial only last week.
The above only touches on the area of acting in objection to equalising same-sex marriage to traditional marriage. There is also the issue of simply voicing such an opinion. Remember freedom of expression is the bedrock of democracy. To explain my point I’ll quote from an article on the “Public Discourse” website by Bradley Miller;
Much speech that was permitted before same-sex marriage now carries risks. Many of those who have persisted in voicing their dissent have been subjected to investigations by human rights commissions and (in some cases) proceedings before human rights tribunals. Those who are poor, poorly educated, and without institutional affiliation have been particularly easy targets—anti-discrimination laws are not always applied evenly. Some have been ordered to pay fines, make apologies, and undertake never to speak publicly on such matters again. Targets have included individuals writing letters to the editors of local newspapers, and ministers of small congregations of Christians. A Catholic bishop faced two complaints—both eventually withdrawn—prompted by comments he made in a pastoral letter about marriage.
Reviewing courts have begun to rein in the commissions and tribunals (particularly since some ill-advised proceedings against Mark Steyn andMaclean’s magazine in 2009), and restore a more capacious view of freedom of speech. And in response to the public outcry following the Steyn/Maclean’saffair, the Parliament of Canada recently revoked the Canadian Human Rights Commission’s statutory jurisdiction to pursue “hate speech.”
Teachers are particularly at risk for disciplinary action, for even if they only make public statements criticizing same-sex marriage outside the classroom, they are still deemed to create a hostile environment for gay and lesbian students. Other workplaces and voluntary associations have adopted similar policies as a result of their having internalized this new orthodoxy that disagreement with same-sex marriage is illegal discrimination that must not be tolerated.
So there is factual proof that once such laws are passed equalising same-sex marriage to traditional marriage that acting or even speaking out in disagreement will no longer be tolerated and will have serious consequences. Couple this to the fact that the majority of those supporting the introduction of such legislation already do not tolerate dissent in the debate prior to a democratic vote on this issue and it will be clear that if such a constitutional amendment is allowed to pass that these people will call for the strictest and most stringent punitive action for anyone who still dares to simply disagree.
It is also not beyond the realm of possibility (and has actually already happened in other countries and jurisdictions) that parents who on religious or conscientious grounds object to same-sex marriage will be forced to have their children educated otherwise in their schools. Again if the state classifies objection as hate-speech (thereby making it akin to racism or holocaust denial) the state cannot allow children to be taught such hate-speech in schools.
In conclusion one cannot deny the fact that experience in other jurisdictions/countries combined with the rabid intolerant of dissent displayed by the hard-line same-sex marriage campaigners *even prior to the referendum* that yes indeed, the constitutional amendment on which the Irish constituency will vote on May 22nd will, if passed, lead to end to freedom of speech, expression and quite possibly thought in Ireland. That my friends, and that alone should be sufficient reason to vote no.