As Ireland prepares to vote on extending marriage rights to same-sex couples May 22, anti-equality forces are recycling the tired and discredited argument that children would be harmed if same-sex couples are allowed to marry.
In a nationally televised debate Monday featuring representatives from four groups, two anti-equality, two pro-equality, those opposed to equal marriage echoed the hollow fears of early antigay American crusader Anita Bryant, whose infamous "Save Our Children" campaign painted all gay people as sexual predators.
“Marriage is ... the foundation on which the family is structured, so if you change the definition of marriage — which you are doing in a very fundamental way by taking it from a gender-based instruction to a genderless institution — you are going to obviously profoundly change the constitutional understanding of parenting and family,” said Margaret Hickey of Mothers and Fathers Matter during Monday's debate.
The ballot question before Irish citizens asks whether the following text should be added to the section of the Irish constitution regarding marriage: “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”
Advocates of a "Yes" vote have accused groups like Hickey's of intentionally muddling the issue and attempting to confuse voters with claims that somehow marriage equality would hurt children — a tactic that has been used to oppress LGBT people for decades.
In the debate, moderated by UTV anchor Alison Comyn, Stand Up for Marriage chairman Barry Jones joined Hickey on the side of a "No" vote, while, Joe Noonan of Yes Equality and Catherine Clancy from the Labour Party’s LGBT group made the case for a "Yes" vote.
“Civil partnership is something that is understood by family lawyers,” Noonan said. “Marriage is understood by everybody, and everybody should be entitled to marry subject to the law, and that is what we are voting on.”
Noonan noted that the measure asks to add a simple, easily understood sentence to the constitution, and that it will improve the lives of a number of people twice as large as the population of one of Ireland's most famous towns.
“This referendum is a one-liner, and all you are being asked is do you agree that same-sex couples can marry,” he said. “In Ireland alone we have 220,000 gay or lesbian citizens — the population of Cork is 120,000 people — so that is near double the population of Cork city. What we are saying, is on May 22 to go out and give those 220,000 people, if they wish, the right to marry, the same as you or me and anybody else, and to have that recognition for their relationship.”
A UTV report about the debate also quoted an out athlete who supports marriage equality.
“I just think that we had the decriminalization of homosexuality some years ago, and I think this referendum is another stepping stone on that long road to equality, because it is not about wanting to be treated as less than or more than anyone else. It is about wanting to be treated equally,” said Conor Cusack, a former champion in the Irish sport of hurling who came out along with his brother Donal Og, who is also a famous athlete in Ireland.
Watch the debate here.