Despite the uproar caused by Lucinda Creighton’s tweeting, gay marriage will not be seen in Ireland any time soon, writes Philippa White
Lucinda Creighton recently became a candidate in an important race. No, not the general election – that is old news – but the race to win the Golden Tweet. The Golden Tweet is a figurine given to people who have the most online responses to a post on Twitter, within a certain timeframe.
After having ‘tweeted’ that she is in favour of civil partnership for homosexuals, but is opposed to gay marriage, Creighton has not only also notched up favourable odds for the win on Paddy Power but has also been blasted with an endless array of criticism from the public and other politicians.
Without delving into the details of the backlash Creighton has encountered in the real and virtual worlds since her comment on Twitter, the incident has still produced much food for thought. It has brought to the fore an interesting question that will undoubtedly become more pertinent in the coming years: is Ireland ready for gay marriage?
Although Fine Gael was swift to distance itself from Creighton’s comments, it has publicly stated that the party has no plans to legalise gay marriage. Fianna Fáil holds a similar position. The Green Party, Labour and Sinn Féin on the other hand, all incorporated the issue of gay marriage into their manifestoes, even promising referenda to legalise it if necessary. Regardless of who forms the 31st Dáil, it will have no bearing on the Civil Partnership Act, which came into effect in January.
This provides same-sex couples with similar rights to those of married heterosexual couples in the areas of tax, pensions, property and so on. It also makes legal provisions for the event of cohabiting homosexual couples separating. An area that remains unchanged is the right for the couple to adopt a child. However, putting this issue aside, what is the difference between civil partnership and marriage?
The answer is very little and yet a great deal. From a practical point of view, homosexual couples cannot marry in a venue that is not authorised by the State’s Registration Process (private places, churches, in the open air etc.). From a legal point of view however, the new law affords homosexual couples most of the rights and obligations bestowed upon married heterosexual couples. Alas, the number of people who see life from a legal point of view is small.
The word ‘marriage’ conjures in one’s mind an idea that is deeper, more meaningful and naturally, more romantic than new legal rights and benefits. There is nothing romantic or special about entering into a legal contract, which is – in the eyes of the State, Church and Law – all that a civil partnership is.
However, the argument for same-sex marriage is about more than just semantics. Marriage is a defining moment in one’s life. It is the most profound act of commitment in a loving relationship and a vital step in our pursuit of happiness and meaning in life. Therefore, to deny a certain group in society this opportunity to find meaning not only in their long-term relationships but also in their life seems unjust.
So why would anyone in our enlightened society be against gay marriage? Firstly, cultural aspects must be considered. Thirty years ago, Ireland had a very different social landscape. The majority of the population identified with Catholicism, which placed marriage as one of the seven holy sacraments, occurring solely between man and woman and for the purpose of procreation. Marriage was a religious conviction that had persisted for generations and was inbuilt into the mindset of the masses. As Creighton has shown in the last week, some convictions do not fade easily.
If the new government were to make gay marriage legal in Ireland, then the Constitution would need to be changed. The most likely way this would occur would be by means of a referendum, giving each citizen a chance to vote on the matter. Seeing that Fine Gael has openly stated that legalising gay marriage is not a priority, such a referendum is unlikely to occur in the immediate future.
As it stands, only ten countries in the world have legal gay marriage. In the past month, the French Constitutional Court has upheld a ban on gay marriage, whilst Californians overturned Proposition 8 last year, making gay marriage illegal once again in the state. Although civil partnerships are becoming increasingly common in the western world, it must be recognised that Ireland has come a long way for an island nation that still criminalised homosexuality less than 20 years ago.
Thus whether you believe that the illegality of gay marriage is unjust or correct does not seem all too relevant at this present time. A referendum does not look likely and the outcome for such a referendum, were it to take place this year or next, would be difficult to predict. This writer, however, does have good money riding on Lucinda Creighton for the Golden Tweet…