Commenting on referenda is not something that we generally do at Anseo.net but the upcoming Marriage Equality Referendum, I believe goes beyond simply politics. (In fact, I promise not to mention anything about lowering the presidential age in future articles!) I have been watching, listening and taking part in the debates and analysis all over the media. While the media has to give equal time to both sides of a referendum, thankfully, I don’t. I say thankfully because I cannot think of any valid reason why anyone would vote against this referendum.
I’m writing this article from my own context. I’m not writing on behalf of my school or any organisation. However, I will probably touch on education and my job as a teacher. That’s my only disclaimer in this article.
Recently I have had two opportunities that are both related. I was asked to appear in a documentary about Homophobic Bullying and I was asked to speak at the launch of Carlow’s Yes Equality Campaign. The documentary, which can be viewed below discusses homophobic bullying and has a number of well-known commentators. I give the view from a primary school perspective.
In the various snippets that I appear, I speak about how homophobic bullying is rife in primary schools. From low level slagging to more serious behaviour, it is happening in almost every school in the country. It is astonishing how many young children use the word “gay” to describe something or someone they don’t like. I don’t think anyone could defend this behaviour and it’s good to note that the government have included policies specifically on homophobic bullying and transphobic bullying in the latest anti-bullying procedures. At least it’s a start.
The second item that came my way was that I was asked to be one of six speakers at Carlow’s Yes Equality Campaign. Other speakers included a psychologist who spoke about the mental health issues that LGBT young people live with, a couple who have a child and would like to be able to get married and a father who has five children, two of whom are gay. All of them spoke about why they were advocating a “yes” vote.
I am straight. I have no close family members who are gay. Even though I will have nothing whatsoever to gain from it, why is it that I feel so strongly about a yes vote in the referendum? Before writing my speech, I knew it felt like the right thing but I never really explored exactly why. My conclusion is somewhat based on the famous poem by Pastor Martin Niemöller starting:
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.”
I was born in 1978 into a minority. I was raised in a family of a minority faith in Ireland. I was lucky. Had I have been 40 years before that in Germany, I would have been living in a world where signs like this were common.
The thoughts of signs like this are reprehensible in 2015 but back then, mainstream Germany believed that Jews were not equal citizens, which was obviously brought to terrible extremes. Maybe it’s not the best analogy. However, the point is that at certain times in history, things were considered so completely normal that otherwise normal people would do things that are completely unacceptable in today’s eyes. Similarly, you’ll probably hear of stories in the UK where shops would have signs stating “No Irish.”
I checked out some other (and possibly better) analogies.
The above image is a postcard opposing women the right to vote in the early 20th century. The image is of an emasculated man left at home to clean clothes and look after the family. Again, the image is astounding in the 21st century. However, back then, this sort of campaign was deemed socially appropriate as women were not treated equally at the time.
One of the most common comparisons to the upcoming marriage equality is a comparison to the civil rights movement in 1950’s America whereby people questioned whether white and black people should have equal rights. It is disturbing how many of the current arguments against marriage equality mirror some of the arguments made against equal rights for black people back then.
One of the best quotes to sum up this is from Cynthia Nixon from Sex and the City fame.
“When women got the vote, they did not redefine voting. When African-Americans got the right to sit at a lunch counter alongside white people, they did not redefine eating out. They were simply invited to the table.”
Images like this one may be in bright colours but it is impossible for me to not conclude that they are spouting the same rhetoric against a minority.
The three main arguments that groups like this seem to be using, involve issues that just don’t make any sense and manage to not only discriminate against LGBT people but also to any family who do not conform to the traditional nuclear family: single parents, families with no children, families who have children through IVF or surrogacy or adoption; it goes on. The “They have enough already” argument is just baffling in its nonsense. I do wonder if these people in the photograph above realise that in 50 years time, people may be sitting in a room at a launch night for some other campaign against inequality and this photo will be shown to show how this country has moved on and how disgusting the thoughts of stopping two people who love each other from marrying are. A couple of days ago, a new group called “Teachers for No” reared its head claiming that schools would have to teach about issues that would be against their school’s ethos if the vote came through. Thankfully most people can see through the flaws. However, they get people talking. I’ve even dedicated a large paragraph to them!
I simply see the upcoming referendum as just one way of stopping this country from discriminating against a minority of its citizens. As a primary school teacher, I see discrimination happening every single day of the week to minority children going to the majority of schools in this country. I’ll have to wait for my day to vote against that. However, in this instance I am proud to be calling for equality for one minority. On May 22nd, we need every citizen who can vote to vote yes. I cannot bear the thought that apathy or complacency could cost our nation the right to take us another small step towards an equal country. This is not a “gay” issue. This is an issue for every person in Ireland. For me this is not about getting to 51% of the vote: the larger the majority, the bigger the message. Although, it’s a very sad fact that it won’t be 100%, we need the yes vote to be as close as possible to it.