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“Some things I cannot change, but till I try, I’ll never know.”

22 February, 2012 4 comments

It was only in November 2008, the morning after the US presidential election, that it properly and more clearly than before struck me that I was gay. Though I had engaged in low-level lobbying within the Progressive Democrats approaching the 2007 election on the lack of progress on a promised civil unions bill, it was partly on secular grounds because of my objection to the consultation between Michael McDowell, as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, with Roman Catholic bishops in drafting legislation relating to gay people, and partly on the urging of my then girlfriend. And it was only after Proposition 8 in California was defeated that I paid much attention to it.

It was a few days later, on 8 November, I regretfully spoke and voted in favour of a motion to disband the Progressive Democrats, something that seemed a possibility from the results of the 2007 election on.

So in looking for a new party, I was more conscious than before of parties’ attitudes to gay rights. The release of Milk early 2009 was a reminder of the value of political activism and how being honest and open can change assumptions and perception, being the story of Harvey Milk, who was one of the first openly gay people elected to public office, and who helped defeat Proposition 6, which would have barred gay teachers.

Yet I joined Fine Gael because it is the party closest to me on the role of the state in spending and economic governance. This did not mean that my deeply held liberal principles were set aside. I remembered what the late Dr Garret FitzGerald said, “You don’t join a political party because you agree with them. That always struck me as a rather static view. You join a party because you can change it. It’s a more dynamic view of politics.” And he did change assumptions not just within Fine Gael, but in the country as a whole, and remains a political inspiration for me.

In December 2009, I went to Leinster House on the first day of the debate on the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Bill. The first response was from Charlie Flanagan, who as Fine Gael Spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Law Reform gave an outstanding speech, the best of the evening, in which he stepped beyond party policy, “while many welcome it, others believe it does not go far enough. To those people I would say that change is incremental and I hope that full equality is not far away”, and went on to remind us what secularism has done for society

It was then with a measure of hope that in July 2010, I proposed a motion at Young Fine Gael Summer School (where motions are consultative) with Trinity YFG to support allowing gay couples to marry. But this was very narrowly defeated, with a mere two votes in it. Of course I was disheartened, but I realized that I hadn’t given the time to something that to me seemed so obvious. And a rephrasing of what Milk said in the clip above formulated in my mind: a young gay centre-right political activist who all of a sudden realizes that they are gay; there are two options, move to Labour, or stay in Fine Gael and fight.

So I stayed on, was elected to the National Executive in November, and appointed Director of Policy. Many friends of mine outside the party found my involvement difficult to understand. I did feel that too often people did accentuate the negative, and assume a focus on social matters far greater than existed. The election result of last year was a time of hope and political renewal.

At the Summer School in July 2011, I proposed the same motion for Dublin South-East again at summer school, with Meadhbh. That time it got near universal support. It almost made me glad two people who would have voted for it the year before had turned up late.

Then this Saturday, on my last full day on the National Executive, a motion at Young Fine Gael Conference (where motions are binding as policy), proposed by Úna and Noel for DCU YFG, calling on the government to bring forward legislation allowing gay couples to adopt, was similarly passed with near universal support.

I am proud to have been an active part of the organization during this rapid change on this issue of personal importance to me. I was taken aback and very appreciative of the response to my comment on Facebook on this.

Indeed, the shift in public opinion here and in other countries in the last few short years has been remarkable. This has been both reflected and advanced by popular culture, and cheesy though it may seem, it was the words of this song, as performed by Chris Colfer, as Kurt in Glee, that went through my head before Summer School last year, “Some things I cannot change, but till I try, I’ll never know.”:

Gender quotas for 2014

17 February, 2012 Leave a comment

Tomorrow morning, Young Fine Gael will debate a motion on gender quotas, which I will be speaking in favour of,

YFG calls on the Minster for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to impose the 30% gender quota as outlined in the Electoral (Amendment) Political Funding Bill 2011 on the 2014 Local and European Elections.

Quotas would not be proposed in the ideal world, as they do set a restriction on the process of election for TDs. It is a blunt instrument that does not address the wider reasons that there is such a low proportion of women in the Dáil. These include provision of childcare and sitting hours, as well as the wider political culture which Minister Lucinda Creighton recently described as “toxic”. But it will be very likely be the thing to kickstart the changes required that would not happen otherwise.

The question for us should not be why there are fewer women than men in elected politics in Ireland; the same is true in all but two countries worldwide, Rwanda and Andorra. The question is why there are proportionally fewer than in most other EU countries, where we rank 23rd of 27 countries, with Cyprus, Romania, Hungary and Malta behind us. Quotas recognize a need to address an historic imbalance, and are used in different forms in 100 countries worldwide.

Wherever one stands on the issue, quotas are now the law, and will be in place for the next general election, due by February 2016. Parties will lose half of their allocation of state funding if either male or female candidates comprise less than 30% of their total candidates. The quota is at the point of ballot access, not of election. This will improve the current situation where those who would like the option of voting for a woman of their own party is greatly diminished: in 2011, in four constituencies there were no women candidates; the three main political parties fielded at least one male candidate each in 36 constituencies (84% of all constituencies) while the same three fielded at least one female candidate each in just two constituencies (5%), Dún Laoghaire and Longford–Westmeath.

Parties are going to have to adjust to the new system and work out how to ensure a balance across the country. Most candidates for the Dáil come through the county council system. While I would hope that being compelled to think of ways to bring new people into the system might encourage parties to look at a broader range of entry routes, looking to local business, policy expertise and community involvement, most will continue to come from local government. In order to facilitate a smoother selection process ahead of the general election, and to emphasise the importance of offering a choice of women candidates across the electoral system, it only makes sense to amend the legislation to bring the change forward to the 2014 local and European elections.

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Romney and Paul, 2008 and 2012

8 February, 2012 Leave a comment

I was wrong in my assumption that states that voted for Mitt Romney in 2008 would be likely to vote for him again this year. At the outset of the primary and caucus season, I had thought that with wins in all states bar South Carolina, the race could finish up even before Super Tuesday on 6 March. However, his positioning in the race relative to the other candidates is different; where in 2008, he was a conservative to the right of perceived moderate frontrunner John McCain, this year he is the one perceived as the moderate frontrunner. So it eventually emerged that Romney had lost very narrowly in Iowa to socially conservative former Senator Rick Santorum, and lost night lost in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado, putting the current score at 4–3–1, to Santorum–Romney–Gingrich.

So between the two candidates who also contested in 2008, here’s how they compared:

State Paul Romney
2008 2012 +/− 2008 2012 +/−
Iowa 9.9% 21.4% +11.5% 25.2% 24.5% −0.7%
New Hampshire 7.8% 22.9% +15.1% 31.6% 39.3% +7.7%
South Carolina 3.6% 13.0% +9.4% 15.3% 27.9% +12.6%
Florida 3.2% 7.0% +3.8% 31.0% 46.4% +15.4%
Nevada 13.7% 18.7% +5% 51.1% 50.0% −1.1%
Colorado 8.4% 11.8% +3.4% 60.1% 34.9% −25.2%
Minnesota 15.7% 27.2% +11.5% 41.4% 16.9% −24.5%
Missouri 4.5% 12.2% +7.7% 29.3% 25.3% −4%

There is at best then quite an imperfect correlation between these candidates’ support between the two years. Perhaps the biggest difference for Romney is the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, modelled in part on the health care plan implemented by Mitt Romney while Governor of Massachusetts.

The victories yesterday did not allocate convention delegates, but were yet an indicator of Mitt Romney’s waning fortune in his position as frontrunner. He’s still most likely to be the nominee, but it will take longer to establish this than I presumed at the start of the year.

Are the victories by Rick Santorum an indication that cultural issues are playing a bigger role in Republican voters’ minds? Some recent events may shift their minds to such issue, between the Ninth Circuit ruling invalidating Proposition 8 in California (which I obviously welcome), and the mandate requiring all employers, including religious organizations, to provide contraceptive services (which I would be less enthusiastic about). While these issues may make Romney feel required to have a clearly conservative running mate, but I can’t see it gaining the party many votes this year.

Unusual ruling on marriage in California

8 February, 2012 1 comment

Discrimination in marriage in California has been ruled unconstitutional yet again. In June 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled in favour of equal marriage. This was overturned by an amendment to the California Supreme Court, Proposition 8, passed November 2008. Those couples had married in that period could stay married, but no further gay couples could marry. The ruling on the high-profile case, Perry v. Schwarzenegger (now Perry v. Brown), in August 2010 in the US Federal District of Northern California overturned Prop 8, as violating both the equal treatment and due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. It was immediately appealed, and its effect stayed pending the ruling on the appeal in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeal was announced today, confirming that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.

So once again all couples can wed in California (constitutionally at least, I’m not sure if the decision has been given a stay on appeal). But on what grounds? The three court judge ruled by 2–1 that because Proposition 8 left gay couples with all the equivalent rights and responsibilities of marriage through domestic partnership, but without the word marriage, there was no rational basis presented by the proponents for the distinction (summary here, full ruling, which I’ve yet to even scan through here).

The decision appeals to the logic of Romer v. Evans, a 1996 ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States, authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, which overturned an amendment to the Colorado constitution forbidding anti-discrimination laws protecting gay and lesbian citizens. As Justice Kennedy is seen as the swing vote, this is seen to make it likely to upheld again if it comes before the Supreme Court.

But whatever of the political reality of it, there’s a strange logic that follows. If Proposition 8 had deprived gay couples of any aspect of marriage other than the name, of if California had not had decent domestic partnership, then the case for equality would have failed today in California. To give an analogy, let’s say these isles were US States. It would rule a ban on equal marriage in the United Kingdom as unconstitutional, but one in Ireland as constitutional. That’s because in the United Kingdom civil partnership is practically identical in legal terms to marriage, so there’s no reason not to grant the name, whereas here in Ireland there are several differences between the two. So is there an incentive for those who want to maintain a distinction in the words to leave out some token measure of rights that pertain to marriage too?

We’ll see what effect this has on the election. Republican front-runner Mitt Romney has already criticised the decision of “Today, unelected judges cast [who] aside the will of the people of California who voted to protect traditional marriage”. Will he be forced into making this a campaign issue? I really doubt there’s much political capital for him there if he does. And for President Barack Obama, the ruling is neatly in line with his stated view in 2008, that while not in favour of a general right of gay couples to marry, he did oppose Proposition 8 in California.

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