Senator David Norris: “The Marriage Equality Referendum is just exactly that – about equality”

Senator David Norris has been an independent member of the Oireachtas since 1987. He is known for being a passionate gay and civil rights activist. He is almost solely responsible for the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland, which took place in 1993 after a fourteen-year-long campaign took him all the way to the European Court of Human Rights. Senator David Norris now writes, encouraging Irish citizens to vote yes in next month’s Marriage Equality Referendum:

The forthcoming Marriage Equality Referendum is just exactly that – about equality. That is why the “No” side dislike the description and are doing everything they can to muddy the waters. They have been clever in a rather nasty way about introducing an apparent concern for the welfare of children. This has nothing to do with the Equality Referendum. These issues will be dealt with in the Children and Family Relationships Bill well in advance of the Referendum.

However let’s look at it. The facts that the no campaign don’t take into account are that:

  1. Gay people can already adopt but incredibly they can only adopt as single people. This means that if the adopting parent dies the partner is left in limbo with regard to relationship to the children that they have helped to rear and to nourish. This situation is intolerable and must end. The Children and Family Relationships Bill will end this.
  2. More than one third of children born in this state are now born outside marriage therefore “to single mothers”. This is a huge number in comparison with those reared in gay families. If the “No” side are so perturbed about the fate of children not being reared by an orthodox “mummy and daddy” what do they propose to do about this large number of children? Take them from their undeserving parents and distribute them to orphanages and other institutions as happened in the past? I don’t think so.
LGBT Protests for Marriage Equality -
LGBT Protests for Marriage Equality – Image via

This reveals at the heart of the alleged concern a prejudice against gay people rearing children, even their own. All reputable studies show that there are no disadvantages to children being raised in the context of same-sex relationships and all the main psychiatric and psychological and psychotherapeutic organisations have resoundingly confirmed this. Under the new arrangements gay people will be allowed to apply to adopt as a couple. This does not confer any right to adopt, merely a right to apply and the adoption agencies will make a determination in the best interests of the child. This is as it should be.

Appeals to the Bible and tradition by the “no” side are specious. Marriage is not constant but is a continually changing socially established ritual. Marriage can indeed be a wonderful thing, but as the family courts testify not all marriages are by any means perfect and we have to live in the real world. If one goes back to the Old Testament, the marriage histories of many of the prophets and kings are appalling with multiple wives, incest, rape etc. [pullquote] “Marriage is not constant but is a continually changing socially established ritual. [/pullquote] Marriage only became a sacrament within the Christian churches in the middle of the 16th century and didn’t officially enter British law until the mid-18th century. Until the 1960s in America it was illegal for a white person to marry a black person. In Islam polygamous marriage is still officially endorsed. Even in this country there has been a history of difficulties in so called mixed marriages between Roman Catholics and Protestants and if an Orthodox Jew marries outside his or her religion the family declare them dead.

In the Anglican Church there have been a number of substantial changes to the Marriage Service. The horrible phrase repeated by bride to groom and vice versa “I thee worship with my body” has been scrapped, as has also the promise of the woman to obey her husband. Parties now write parts of the service themselves and quite right too.

[pullquote] “I can’t imagine too many people going down on one knee and saying, ‘Would you like to have my children?’ [/pullquote] The capacity to have children has been cited as the main imperative for marriage. Really? I can’t imagine too many people going down on one knee and saying, “Would you like to have my children?” There are quite a few people who for one reason or another are unable to have children and more again who are unwilling to do so and they are legally married. House breakers, child abusers and alcoholics can marry, but gay people can’t.

Anyone who wants to really check on the suppressed history of gay marriage within Christian civilisation could do no better than to consult the magisterial work of the Harvard scholar Professor John Boswell and bear in mind that what we are talking about here is civil marriage and does not concern the church at all, but is a matter for the conscience and beliefs of individual citizens. Moreover, I would have thought that those who are advocates of marriage would welcome the alliance of gay people wishing to support this institution. What we are talking about in fact is not a redefinition of marriage but an extension of marriage to people who were previously excluded. Marriage etymologically simply means the joining together of two people.

Waving the flag for marriage equality -
Waving the flag for marriage equality. Image via

[pullquote] “It is hardly respectful debate when one of my colleagues on the ‘no’ side stated on RTÉ Radio a year or two ago that gay men wanted children as ‘fashion accessories’. [/pullquote]

I have been interested in the number of gay men who have gained publicity for themselves by their opposition to gay marriage. I rang Gay News and got them to do a survey. The initial findings from a figure of 1,200 respondents were that 94% of gay people supported gay marriage enthusiastically, 2% didn’t know and 4% were against. This raises the question of where they are digging these people up and why. I hear a great deal from the other side about respectful debate. It is hardly respectful debate when one of my colleagues on the “no” side stated on RTÉ Radio a year or two ago that gay men wanted children as “fashion accessories”. They have also sought to restrict the debate by their attack on the legitimate use of the word homophobic. This was spearheaded by the self-styled Iona Institute and its fellow travellers. The Iona Institute is in fact a company registered as Lolek Limited and I am very puzzled that such a clear politically campaigning organisation should have been allowed to register as a charity. They have refused to register or have proper dealings with the Standards in Public Office organisation and I think a large question mark hangs over them, their constitution, their membership and their source of funding.

There are also practical reasons for voting yes. Business organisations like Google and IBM, as well as many other multinational corporations, have a deliberate policy of locating in areas where there is considerable acceptance of gay people. This is a hard headed decision. It is simply good for business as they have learnt. Furthermore, the trend is for more and more countries to adopt gay marriage and one wonders about the wisdom of Ireland being left out of this trend.

Finally there is the extraordinary argument that individual marriages are in some way diminished by extending the privilege to gay people. I wouldn’t have thought that marriage was such a flimsy and vulnerable institution and I feel sorry for those who feel threatened. I very much doubt that the day after the successful passing of the Referendum people will feel “less married” because equal rights have been given to others. I turn instead to the great commanding figure of the 19th century, Daniel O’Connell, who meeting similar mean minded opposition to Catholic Emancipation pointed out that human dignity and freedom were not a finite cake diminished by each slice, but rather they are a resource that actually increases the sense of dignity and freedom for all the more they are distributed among the community.

So – register and vote, and make sure you vote yes.