Generating traditional values: on the Marriage Referendum

Aengus UNAengus Carroll is a PhD candidate in international human rights law at UCC and author of State Sponsored Homophobia: A World Survey of Laws: criminalisation, protection and recognition of same-sex love, 2015, launched by the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights in Geneva on 13 May 2015.

Generating traditional values: Tradition is a powerful political force in all cultures around the world. Indeed many would identify that culture itself is largely defined by the traditions of a place. Increasingly, the demands of implementing human rights law in national settings conflict with states’ traditions regarding issues of female genital mutilation, child brides, women driving cars and the imprisonment, or execution of gays and lesbians, as examples.

ILGALegislation in every country in the world discriminates against LGBT people in penal or civil codes to some degree: 76 criminalise, 10 have the death penalty, and only eight have constitutional bans on discrimination based on sexual orientation. They generally discriminate by exclusions from, or non-inclusions in, legal protections provided to others. Enacting law, or indeed codifying the constitution, that differentiates a class of people based on a particular characteristic is discrimination whether in Ireland, Uganda or Russia. It just is. And the more the public discusses the issues, the more clearly that fact is realized.

Claiming that treating difference differently is not inequality when there are direct and known burdens being carried by the excluded class of person is a false paradigm worthy of Brave New World. Lately, in the print edition of the Irish Times of 16 May 2013 but curiously not headlined as such online, Breda O’Brien’s offering was “New Thought Police Push Dogmatism and Intolerance”. In it she expressed dismay about how the Irish National Teacher’s Organisation “intend to normalize same sex marriage” to children “as young as four”.  Her observation about normalizing, reveals her true position that same sex relations are not normal, and we should not teach kids it is.

This is exactly the logic that has informed laws in Russia, Nigeria, Lithuania and Algeria of the last two years about the ‘propaganda of homosexuality to minors’ resulting in the repression on privacy, freedom of expression, association and other core human rights. These attitudes share themes: fear of a gay-friendly education, and fear of the commodification of reproductive technologies. Since earlier this year, 220 million US citizens now live under equal marriage laws. Children across 37 states are being taught that its okay to be gay, that some people have same sex parents and others don’t. This has been the case in Massachusetts since 2004 where there are a lot of respectful young people around.

The No campaign state there is no human right to same sex marriage (while accepting that there is an equivalent right to different sex marriage). What the European Court of Human Rights actually said is that it was not prepared to compel States to recognize marriage regardless of ‘sex’ at this time. The wriggle room the Court affords to states to figure out weighty social issues, known as the margin of appreciation, tends to run out. This happened in the transgender legal recognition case in Goodwin in 2002 after 20 years of ‘grace’ and prior cases at the Court. The Court did not say that marriage between people of the same sex is not a human right – that is blatant misinformation by the No campaign – the Court just has not affirmed it is. Yet.

Tradition is something that has always evolved, and this is how it is ‘owned’ and passed on by the generations. Marriage, as so many have pointed out already, has changed utterly since women were the vehicles for property and progeny (much like livestock). As Professor Lee Badgett (who writes about the economic cost of homophobia globally) in her extensive research found, in today’s world attitudes to marriage are primarily about human companionship. This then means it is less about the gendered historical, marital roles on which traditional marriage is predicated. Where there are children, the privilege vested to parenthood is given legal shape by a society that supports all familial forms equally.

It beggars belief to accept that this somehow means it’s all about selfish adults with their commodified children modeled as accessories, who put themselves and not their children first. The No posters that elevate a mother’s love as ‘irreplaceable’ sneakily mislead: the person who brings you up and holds you close and gives you the love and protection that all babies and children flourish within is irreplaceable, and these bonds need to be supported, with whoever that is.

The inference being made by the No campaign is that same sex partners are intrinsically ‘unnatural’ in their familial construction, because they may need assistance in the reproductive process. Just extend that to other people that need medical assistance and you see its rather twisted logic. This line of argument posits that rights claims are actually the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ in a new liberalized human reproduction industry. In effect, this position actually attacks the core and intrinsic identity of gays and lesbians. If followed through it in fact seems to suggest a mal-intent on behalf of same sex partners, and it may be very interesting after the referendum is over to examine the nature of such speech. It might be that the cautionary tendencies of many mild ‘Don’t Know’ voters are being triggered by fear stoked all in the name of tradition.

 

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