Freedom of speech is protected by Article 40.6.1 of the Irish constitution. This means that Irish citizens have the right to express freely their “convictions and opinions.”
In the context of the forthcoming referendum on Marriage Equality numerous opinions have been expressed with great conviction.
Personally I place greater value on informed opinion over uninformed opinion. I place greater value on opinion that has been formulated through careful consideration of the evidence than to opinion that ignores facts or empirical evidence. I also value opinions that recognise complexity and consider context over ethnocentric and naïve opinion.
However, Article 40.6.1 does not distinguish between informed and uninformed opinion.
As a consequence people are free to express the opinion that marriage has always been between a man and a woman even though this opinion ignores a history of same-sex conjugal unions across millennia and cultures in Africa, Asia, Native America and Europe. They are free to express this opinion even though it denies the fact that same-sex marriage was recognised in Egyptian and Mesopotamian cultures and same-sex marriages took place in Greek and early Roman culture and in Western Europe until the end of middle ages. It fails to recognise that it was a Christian Emperor who outlawed same-sex marriage and executed those who were in same sex unions. The opinion that same-sex marriage is an oxymoron fails to recognise that the exclusion of same-sex couples from the institution of marriage is a preserve of the modern period and is heavily influenced by western culture.
People are entitled to express the opinion that marriage is and always has been about procreation while ignoring the reality of childless marriages and the historical evidence that marriage traditionally was a property agreement about politics, money and power.
People can express the opinion that marriage is about complementarity of the sexes even though this opinion ignores the complexity of the marital relationship and reduces the contribution of each party to the biology of their reproductive organs.
People are free to express the opinion that the union between a man and a woman is the natural union on which society is founded despite its inherent implication that any other type of union is unnatural.
People are free to express opinions about surrogacy in the context of same-sex marriage even though surrogacy is an entirely distinct issue that primarily affects different sex couples.
People are entitled to express the opinion that children fare better in families that have a mother and a father despite decades of empirical research that clearly shows that it is the quality of relationships that matters most to the well-being of families, not the number, gender, sexual orientation or genetic relatedness of the parents, or whether the child was conceived with the assistance of reproductive technology.
It is clear from the foregoing that people are free to express opinions that construct otherness based on sexual orientation in order to perpetuate inequality.
It is clear that people are free to hold opinions on what marriage means to them even if this opinion ignores evidence and reality.
However when voting in a referendum we have a duty to consider the rights of our fellow Irish citizens irrespective of our personal opinions.
On May 22nd we will be voting on whether to amend the Constitution by inserting a new section stating:
“Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”
The Irish constitution states that all Irish citizens shall be held equal before the law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that “all people are born free and equal in dignity and rights”.
We must make our decision in the Marriage Referendum at the level of the human being and at the level of the Irish citizen.
We must view each human being and each Irish citizen as equal and each of us must ask ourselves:
If I vote no will I deprive one Irish Citizen of a right that is afforded to another Irish Citizen? If I vote no will I be discriminating against my fellow citizens on the grounds of gender or sexual orientation? is my objection purely on the basis of their sexual orientation?
Am I voting No solely on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity?
There is no objective justification to deny access to civil marriage to same sex couples.
If our justification is grounded only in opinion then we must remember that while we are entitled to hold and express that opinion we are not entitled to discriminate against someone on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Therefore, in the absence of an objective justification we must vote Yes irrespective of personal opinion.
On May 22nd we are not voting on a personal opinion of what marriage is or isn’t we are voting on civil marriage which brings with it protections and benefits under the Irish Constitution.
The Irish constitution affords special status to the family which is clearly defined in our constitution as a married couple with or without children.
Article 40.1 of our constitution mandates equality for all Irish Citizens. On May 22nd we are voting to amend the constitution to address an inequality by extending the right to civil marriage to all Irish citizens. This vote does not require us to change our opinion nor will it prevent anyone from voicing unfounded opinions but it does require that we vote based on the constitutional entitlement of all Irish citizens to equal treatment before the law.
A version of this blog post was published in the Irish Times 11 May 2015
This blog post is long-listed for the Blog Awards Ireland 2015 ‘Best Blog Post’ Category