Sunday, 24 May 2015

Ireland votes for equal marriage

It is clear overnight that Ireland has voted overwhelmingly in a referendum to allow equal marriage. The vote demonstrates the social and economic progress that Ireland has made, but also shown us how slow we have been to grasp the nettle and allow equal marriage to occur here.

Under the domination of the Catholic Church, the complaint of many Irish was that Ireland was incapable of reform. It was in 1944, for example, that Ireland had a referendum as to whether women could use tampons (they were allowed to). Even in the 1990's gay sex was illegal, and until recently Ireland was one of only two nations (the other being the Philippines) in which divorce was banned.

Until the GFC, Ireland has flourished economically. It now has a much more diverse economic base than that of farming.

The other recent shocking event was the commission of inquiry into sexual abuse, when many stories were told for the first time of children being sexually and physically abused by nuns and priests.

Suddenly the moral authority of the Church seemed tarnished.

In the lead up to the referendum, by sheer chance I happened to be, albeit too briefly in Ireland, courtesy of Aer Lingus, as well as having had the opportunity to talk with a number of Irish lawyers while I was attending conferences in London. I received two messages. Both messages were hopeful of change. One was from Olivia, a fellow passenger. Olivia said that the old days of church domination were over. Ireland was young again, modern, progressive, outward looking, innovative, and accepting of gays and lesbians. She was certain that the referendum would pass. She said that the bad old days would not happen again- Ireland had moved on.

By contrast was the pessimistic view expressed to me by several lawyers. Essentially it went along these lines: yes, change is needed, and it would be very welcome, but don't believe the polls as they are always unreliable in Ireland, the yes vote is very soft, and the no vote is determined to fight this with all its worth.

Added to that was the message that the referendum was originally going to cover the issue of surrogacy, but that surrogacy was dropped. It was considered by lawmakers that after the successful passage of the referendum that altruistic surrogacy would be enacted in Ireland later this year. Despite that concession, the leaders of the no campaign were targeting surrogacy, in particular gay surrogacy, with pictures of men holding babies as evidence of the sky falling in if equal marriage were allowed.

In addition, it seems that US evangelicals, no doubt depressed that (if I have the figure right) 37 States back home now allow equal marriage, came over with both organisational skill, volunteers and money to try to hold back the tide.

The Irish vote begs the question: if Ireland, seen as much more socially conservative than Australia, can allow for equal marriage, then why can't we? This should not be a party political issue, but a basic matter of human rights.

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