In all of the liveblogging, Mullen-filibustering and overdramatic speeches, the Civil Partnership Bill has been passed by the Seanad and, I am assuming, now becomes law once sent to the Park for signing. It’s a great thing, this Bill. It allows for state recognition of large groups of people and their relationships. It is a day to be celebrated because any day that love becomes legal is a good day. And it’s not just good news for lesbians and gay men either. People who currently prefer love of the heterosexual variety like me are brought within this legislation’s purview. It now means that if I split from my girlfriend and we fight over the property we are indentured into, we get the right to apply to the courts to decide who should pay what. (Among other things of course, but I’m over-simplifying.) But therein lies the problem: the legislation’s purview.
And this is why I (sharp intake of breath) find myself in partial agreement with David Quinn in his column for today’s racist (that’s you Ian O’Doherty) Irish Independent. In the last few weeks, we have heard lots of David on the radio, seen lots of him on television and a little bit less of him online. He’s been staunchly defending the indefensible position that a sexual relationship between a man and a woman is ‘more special’ than one between people of the same sex. David talks about first principles as if they ever existed. And, fair dues to him, he didn’t even mention God once. He knows that he loses the secular game if he brings God into it. So, he instead he corners the talk about family values and promoting marriage (you know, the good kind?). All harmless enough stuff really.
I happen to disagree with David’s ‘defence’ of heterosexual marriage, at least as defined in his combative radio interviews in recent weeks. Superficially you only have to look at how many people will get married this year to realise that Those Gays ™ are not turning ‘our’ precious off-spring, even ones I do not have. Marriage has never been more popular and does not need defending because (listen now) it is not under attack. Show me where marriage is under attack and where these attacks fundamentally alter people’s loving relationships and I’ll show you a regular society. However, I kind of agree with David’s analysis and here’s why.
He criticises those who deem changes in law like the Civil Partnership legislation as mature decisions. He is right, it is condescending. Regularising other forms of relationships in law is just that, it regularises for legal purposes, so that the State’s reach is made longer. Why does the state have to legalise any form of human relationship? Secularisation processes do this most precisely: it takes the previously-understood domain of the private and makes them public goods. It forces some behaviours into the ‘light’ of public scrutiny. Secularisation is as much about where we can and cannot park on the street as it is about who gets to wear what on their heads.
I don’t go along with any of this conscience clause nonsense but David ends up with this:
But the price we’re paying is a very badly judged piece of legislation…a de facto declaration that belief in traditional marriage amounts to a form of prejudice that must be placed beyond the Pale.
And the last phrase, beyond the Pale, is precisely where David and I can agree but for very different reasons. Some things are brought inside the Pale by legislation but others remain outside it like, for example, the regulation of unfettered currency speculation or the punishment of bankers who impoverish people and their communities. Like Suzy, I think it is best if we observe the rigour of some of the parliamentary system as we have it currently trained to do instead of setting up false dichotomies between those who believe in the fairness and righteousness of the modern metropole and the backwardness and modernity-hating of the people who hold back ‘progress’. The latter group are clearly all culchies, have “their dinner in the middle of the day” and bless themselves past a church. The Civil Parntership bill is a great development but don’t think that it brings us any closer to being a ‘mature’ democracy. As David says, that’s just condescending.