From the wonderful mind of Aoife
This morning, on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore stated that “the issue of gay marriage is a human rights issue”, that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry and that he would like to see a referendum on same-sex marriage “as soon as possible”. Gilmore’s party, the Labour Party, have long been supporters of LGBT rights and same-sex marriage, including their support for those rights in their core party principles, nevertheless, this comes as a very positive announcement. The Tánaiste expressed the personal opinion, that same-sex marriage is “the human rights issue of our time” – one that should not be postponed.
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But how will Ireland deal with same-sex marriage? In the wake of Ireland being elected to the UN Human Rights Council, Gilmore conveyed that Ireland’s inclusion on the council marked a “vindication of our human rights record” and represented “the restoration of Ireland’s reputation”. According to the Tánaiste, the issue of same-sex marriage will be addressed by the Constitutional Convention, where the position of LGBT persons in society, would be one of the first issues to be looked at, along with freedom of religion and the position of women in society.
Gilmore also expressed that the Constitutional Convention was an “innovation” on how we address constitutional issues, in its inclusion of, not just politicians, but citizens.
In his speech at the 2012 ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association) Europe conference in Dublin this year, Gilmore highlighted the ‘remarkable journey’ seen in Ireland, in terms of the rights of LGBTI persons, saying that the Ireland of 30 years ago would be entirely unrecognisable to young people today and that the results of the “campaign to liberalise Ireland’s laws” and the hard work could be seen in the “vibrant, open, modern country that we live in today”.
This change, has led to thousands of young LGBT people staying in Ireland, rather than leaving, enriching the country and making it more tolerant. Gilmore heralds the Constitutional Convention as a chance to work on Ireland “so that it better reflects the society we are now but the society we aspire to” – a tall order, perhaps, but a reflection of the goals and dreams of the Irish people. LGBT rights are not a “fait accompli”, he pointed out, and we must continue our hard work.
While the inclusion of LGBT rights and same-sex marriage in the agenda for the Constitutional Convention is without a doubt a positive step, as well as representative of change, and one which, not so many years ago, might have been considered impossible, in the grander scheme, it is also questionable. The Tánaiste is a strong advocate for the LGBT community, and indeed, human rights defenders in general, however, it is prudent to question whether a constitutional convention and a referendum is even the most suitable way to address same-sex marriage. As Gilmore himself stated, LGBT rights are human rights – should rights really be voted on?
Why have a vote?
It would be naive to say that no obstacles stood in the way of equal rights for LGBT people in Ireland, and across the globe, though the support of major government officials always helps, but at some point, we need to be critical of what message it sends to insist on referendums, to ensure public support. It is well within the purview of the government and the law to allow for same-sex marriage without public support – the constitution does not define marriage as between a man and a woman and, as such, it does not necessarily need to be changed to allow for same-sex marriage to be legalised in full.
The courts, however, continue to interpret marriage as between a man and a woman. To ask for public support before ‘giving’ a large portion of the population access to their human rights, which are technically universal and inalienable – their right derives from their humanity, is like asking for a popularity vote. That is not, and should never be, acceptable. Human rights are interrelated, interdependent and indivisible. A vote on same-sex marriage in Ireland is a vote on continuing to address rights in a misguided way. I quote from the Tánaiste’s speech:
to deny equality is to look another in the eye and proclaim them to be a lesser person, it is to distinguish between the quality of one persons humanity over another. The case for human rights is not a radical one; it is simply the logical conclusion of that fundamental belief, a belief that transcends national boundaries and narrow national interests. It is not a question of other values being imposed from the outside, rather to believe in human rights is to believe in the equality of our fellow human beings
What if the referendum returns a ‘No’ vote? This would mean that we, as a country, would be doing exactly what the Tánaiste highlights in that quote – we would be denying equality and claiming LGBT people to be less than. The decision to afford the human and civil rights that we deserve as human beings, on the basis of someone else’s opinion and prejudice, is grossly offensive and problematic.
Gilmore concludes his speech, on a hopeful, inspirational note – “Ireland will be here to help you; ready to dream and ready to take responsibility”. Taking responsibility, would not be to have a referendum on same-sex marriage.