Oh no! He might be right.

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.

4 thoughts on “Oh no! He might be right.

  1. ” Why does the state have to legalise any form of human relationship?”

    Good point. And as soon as there is an end to legally-recognised marriages in my country, I’ll stop demanding the equal right to be in a legal union with my partner.

    But somehow I doubt that will happen in my lifetime.

  2. Naomi, if that’s your position, then please, think of others besides yourself. The problem I have with the gay marriage lobby is that they want to extend the unjust legal marriage system to only one more group, retaining discrimination against other atypical relationships.

    Why should siblings be denied the right to marry? What about polygamy? Why should parents not be allowed the right to marry?

    Given that we do not test whether or not a marriage is a romantic, loving or even sexual relationship, why not just extend it to any two people in a dependent relationship?

  3. Naomi: I know what you mean. Frustration all around. But you know: I’m being all academic and such like. You know, detached and objective.

    Niall: there is no gay marriage lobby. Stop being relativistic for the sake of countering an argument for relativism.

  4. Niall: In that case, dismantle the marriage system first. Then we’ll talk about which relationships are legitimate. (And I have never said, in my calls for equality in marriage, that I only wanted it extended to a single group. I would be delighted if other groups campaigned for equality in marriage. As, for example, some polyamorous groups are.)

    Eoin: Ah, but I don’t believe that academic research/the academic standpoint is ever truly objective. The very concept of objectivity in research has been challenged by feminist researchers and others, especially emancipatory disability researchers! But I do see your point. And I, too, am somewhat bemused by the very existence of legal marriage. Religious blessing type ceremonies could happen without the involvement of the state, if that’s what some individuals wanted. My partner and I considered making the legal arrangements of a civil partnership without having one – but it isn’t legally possible yet. It really should be.

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