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Posts Tagged ‘marriage equality’

Gays and Republicans

30 August, 2012 Leave a comment

The Republican Party Platform remains as virulent as ever, if not stronger still, in its opposition to allowing gay or lesbian couples to marry. To give context, I have quoted these sections in full at the end of this piece.

The platform attacks the judiciary and the president for their actions, and affirms the party’s commitment to an amendment to the US Constitution which would define marriage as between a man and a woman, thereby overturning laws in six states which currently allow equal marriage. It also refers to social experimentation, a reference to the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, allowing gay soldiers to serve openly. These sections were effectively written by Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. The most the disappointed Log Cabin Republicans could secure was the line, “We embrace the principle that all Americans should be treated with respect and dignity”, which means little in the context of the previous passage.

Kris Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State and an advisor to Gov. Mitt Romney on immigration, defended these sections by comparing it to government regulation of behaviour like drugs and polygamy.

This is not just a party which is not yet on board, whose leaders are still evolving, where members have different points of view. It is one whose default position is organised opposition at every level to difference of opinion on the question. Gov. Mitt Romney, who in 1994 claimed to better than Ted Kennedy on gay rights, signed the pledge to support such a Federal Marriage Amendment from the National Organization for Marriage

And yet, in New York, New Hampshire and Washington, equal marriage exists in these states because of the support of certain Republican legislators. The party is not absolute either in its position. The Respect for Marriage Act, has one Republican sponsor, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida. And there are two groups of gay members of the Republican Party, the Log Cabin Republicans, founded in 1977, and GOProud, founded in 2009.

The Log Cabins put a much greater emphasis on equality for LGBT people than GOProud do. The former lists “Protecting LGBT families” and “Freedom to Marry”, where GOProud make no direct reference in their headline points in their ‘What We Believe’. The Log Cabins refused to endorse President George H. W. Bush in 1992 or President George W. Bush in 2004. They have yet to make an endorsement this year. They played a part in the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, suing the US in a federal lawsuit.

GOProud could crudely be described as Tea Party response to the Log Cabins. They proven themselves much more likely to emphasise issues other than rights for gay people in their endorsements. In the primary for the California Senate in 2010, they endorsed Carly Fiorina, who had supported Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage in the state, as against Tom Campbell, who had penned a piece calling for a No vote in that ballot, and who was promoted by the libertarian magazine Reason, so no fan of big government. They have already endorsed Mitt Romney.

I think the Republican Party is definitely better for having the Log Cabin Republicans within it. They serve as a touching point for the still small but growing number of prominent Republicans who are speaking out for equality, such as Vice President Dick Cheney, now out former RNC Chair Ken Mehlman, Colin Powell, Bush Solicitor-General Ted Olson, Mayor of San Diego Jerry Sanders. With the new group, Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry, they took out ads leading up to this week’s Republican National Convention, and they are adding to the conversation within the Republican Party. I’m not so sure I could say the same of the GOProud, who effectively send the message that while questions of marriage are worth talking about, taxes will always trump protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people.

Republicans in favour of equality are definitely worth supporting. American Unity was formed earlier this year by a Republican donor with a gay son, and is funding candidates it believes worthy of support.

Because I would like to support the Republican Party (from afar in my case, of course). But I can’t. It is an unreasonable compact to ask someone to make, to support a party that will denigrate their fundamental personal relationships, prey on unfounded concerns, because they will improve people’s financial lives. It is a compact that some rich an well connected gay people can live with; whether equal marriage is five or fifteen years away for them, they don’t suffer or feel the social and economic consequences of so many gay people because of this legal inequality. And I don’t say this even as one who thinks a party’s position on gay rights should be the determining factor in whether to vote for or join a party, or I would not be in Fine Gael.

As with the Democratic Party, the Republican Party is and always has been a coalition. Within the Republican Party, these are crudely characterised as being between the fiscal hawks, religious conservatives and military hawks. What this misses is how the party targets the fears of poorer voters on social issues through a process of misdirection. Where the Republicans stand on gay rights resonates most with me because I’m gay. But there is more that is wrong with them. Take for example their very poor track record on immigration, as seen in recent laws in Arizona and Alabama. Rather than focus on the benefit of immigrants brining diverse skills and ideas to a community, they spin a protectionist story that has not helped these states economically. This year’s platform endorses these measures, a stark contrast from their 1960 platform when Richard Nixon ran for the first time, which for an increase in immigration.

The Republicans could have been a party that would make a strong moral and efficacious argument for the market and individual liberty. There are elected representatives and activists who do hold firm to these values. There are many with a view miles apart. But perhaps worse are those who assume a veil of prejudice because it is politically convenient.

Not that there is no hope with the Republican Party. On the question of equality for gay people, it does take a long view. Former Congressman Jim Kolbe, who was outed as gay while in office, believes that this is the last time the Republican platform will take these anti-gay positions. He could be right. If either Maine or Washington vote in favour of equal marriage at the polls in November, they will become the first state to do so by popular vote. That will change things, making it clear that there are votes to be lost. Perhaps a candidate like Gov. Mitch Daniels could take a stance similar to that of Barack Obama in 2008, when he stated that he was against same-sex marriage, but would vote No to Proposition 8 in California. But it’s a lot to expect.

Read more…

Letter to the Editor: A referendum on marriage

I had a letter published in today’s Irish Times:

A chara, – Maolsheachlann Ó Ceallaigh writes (July 20th) that there’s surely a reason that most marriages throughout history have been between a man and a woman. There is. Most people are heterosexual. That this is true of the majority of people is not a good enough reason to deny what will always be a small minority of couples a chance to make the same commitment to each other.

In any of the 11 countries and six US states that now allow all couples to marry, naturally marriages between a man and a woman remain the norm, and are unaffected in their marriages by the change. How could allowing more people commit to each other send anything but a positive message about the value of marriage?

Allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry will enhance their comfort and security, it will make gay children and teenagers growing up in Ireland feel more included in society; it will provide constitutional support as well to children being raised by gay couples, and it will give peace of mind to the parents and wider family of gay people. With all this, anyone opposed should really feel obliged to provide more than a semantic objection. – Is mise,

WILLIAM QUILL,

Westfield Park,

Bray, Co Wicklow.

Great News: President Barack Obama openly supports equal marriage for gay couples

It is great news that President Barack Obama again holds the position he held in 1996, saying, “It is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married” (with video here). Having publicly opposed equality in the intervening years, it is a major statement that he joins Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton on the side of equality. Whether or not this was prompted by Vice President Joe Biden’s comments on Sunday, he is stating what most presume he believed, but it makes a difference that he sees it politically possible to do so.

 

With national opinion polls showing majorities in favour of equal marriage, there was no reason left for him to pretend not be on the right side of history on this question. Most imagined that a year or two into his second term, that he would announce that his position had finally evolved to support equality for gay and lesbian families. But he could reasonably have been accused of political cowardice; this way, he enters his second term clear on this policy.

Chris Cilizza in the Washington Post has analysed the political implications, predicting that there will be some downside for him on this. I’d broadly disagree. I think most Americans for whom opposition to equality in marriage is a salient issue would already be voting against Obama. He has made a commitment to equality for gay people part of his first term, from not defending the Defense of Marriage Act to his part in the end of Don’t Act Don’t Tell in the military. Some may point to polls against equality in swing states; what matters though, is for how many wing voters in these states is this a swing issue. Ultimately, no one should have been in any fundamental doubt about where he was on the spectrum.

For politically cynical among the Democrats, this will help his funding, bring out some voters, and stop others from who voted for him in 2008 casting votes instead for the Libertarian, Green or Justice Party candidates. But it will also force Mitt Romney to talk about this issue, which he really doesn’t want to do, but has signed a National Organization for Marriage pledge to support a Federal Marriage Amendment, banning same-sex marriage in all 50 states. I think the advantage in this regard would have been greater still had Obama announced this during the primaries, while Rick Santorum would have been there do highlight the religious fundamentalist wing of the Republican Party. On the whole, I think the political implications of this are marginal, though Obama may lose North Carolina.

Someone remarked to me yesterday evening that Obama in 2008 will presumably be the last time a Democratic candidate for president to be publicly opposed to allowing gay couples to marry. Could we see 2016 as the equivalent election for Republicans? Given the strong trend which is only gathering momentum, it wouldn’t surprise me, though I would certainly say so in the case of 2020.

Again, back to Barack Obama last night, this is indeed great news. This is not just about the electoral cycle. It is about every gay person in the United States, particularly those in difficult situations because of their sexuality, who knows that the president is a clear ally, finally the fierce advocate he promised he would be. And this will change minds. There are people till yesterday who could say to themselves that domestic/civil unions/partnerships must be all right, as it was the position of even Barack Obama. Now they will have to think again. This will change culture, which is just as important as changes in the law, the one complementing the other. The United States is a good few steps away now from achieving proper equality for all its gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender citizens. But with POTUS on board, it has moved a major step in that direction.

Vote on gay marriage at the Fine Gael Ard Fheis

31 March, 2012 7 comments

I was delighted of course that today the Fine Gael Ard Fheis supported the motion, “That this Ard Fheis calls on the Government to ensure that the Constitutional Convention prioritises an analysis of the proposals for same-sex marriage in Ireland”, proposed by Mark O’Meara for Portmarnock/Baldoyle Branch and Gen. Richard Mulcahy YFG, supported by DCU YFG. Unfortunately, as I was helping the management of the Executive elections, I was not myself at the debate, but I know that there is real enthusiasm in parts of the party on this, particularly in Young Fine Gael.

This question has progressed remarkably quickly in recent years here in and many other countries, and I am quite optimistic that this pace will continue. It is firmly now in the mainstream of politics. It could be the clearest and simplest reform of the Constitutional Convention. I think we have good reason then to hope for equality between all couples within this term of government, after a campaign with all-party support, which I do believe can be convincingly won. It will need a good, strong, confident campaign, and I’m looking forward to it.

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.

Obama should support equal marriage in his State of the Union address

24 January, 2012 2 comments

This is not 2004. In that year, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled in favour of allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, the first US state to allow this. It was only a year after Lawrence v. Texas, in which the US Supreme Court overturned sodomy laws in 14 states. In that year’s presidential election, the Republican incumbent George W. Bush proposed a Federal Marriage Amendment to amend the US Constitution to define marriage as between a man and and a woman, prohibiting states from enacting laws to contrary effect. It would have been the second Amendment to restrict the freedoms of US citizens, the first being the 18th Amendment in 1919, introducing prohibition (repealed in 1933). President Bush’s Democratic opponent, John Kerry, a Senator from Massachusetts, supported civil unions, while opposing both equal marriage and any proposal to define marriage at a federal level. Referendums to amend state constitutions to define marriage as only between a man and a woman appeared on the ballot in a number of states in November 2004, driving up conservative turnout, and contributing to the vote of Bush against Kerry, in what was a close election.

But a lot has changed in those eight years on the issue of gay marriage. Then it seemed destined to be a nice feature of certain liberal enclaves, whether in the US or in Europe. Now it seems an inevitability, only a matter of time across most of the developed world. Last year, public tracking polling by Gallup showed for the first time that a majority of Americans supported legal gay marriage, with 53% in favour and 45% against. The figures in 2004 were 55% in favour, and 42% against. The figures in 2004 were 42% in favour and 55% against, and they remained steady till last year. An annual tracking poll should be reliable, but in case it looks too sudden to be credible, it was corroborated by similar figures from the Washington Post (53%) and CNN (51%).

Read more…

Young Fine Gael votes in support of allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry

10 July, 2011 6 comments

This time last year, at the Young Fine Gael Summer School, I proposed the motion, “This Summer School supports allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry”. It was defeated, two votes short of a majority. Yesterday, now as YFG Director of Policy, I proposed the same motion, and it passed overwhelmingly with, I think, two votes against. This is what I said in the two minutes I had to speak,

Those of you at summer school last year, or I’ve talked to since or last night on this, know this is important to me.

For me, this is fundamentally about the hope I might settle down one day into happily married life, hopefully in a lifelong relationship. The same reasons anyone wants to marry.

Studies on this, and just plain common sense, will tell you those who are married in committed relationships live longer, healthier and happier lives. Of course having a constant, loving companion can be such a comfort in life, there for each other, for better for worse, in sickness and in health.

In voting in favour, you simply acknowledge the care and love a couple show each other should be recognised in a way they believe best reflects their commitment.

We’re now ten years since gay couples in a growing number of places around the world first had the opportunity to marry. How could allowing more people commit to each other send anything but a positive message about the value of marriage?

As to children, don’t forget there are currently children in Ireland being raised by gay couples; it would give them too added security and protection if their parents could marry, such as in a situation if anything was to happen to their birth parent, where under current law their other parent would currently be treated as a stranger.

There is civil partnership. But these beneficial effects have so much a firmer backing with the authority and tradition of marriage. Further, justice requires conditions of people’s lives determined by government be provided equally for all.

This has proved successful in other countries; it will enhance the comfort and security of gay couples, it will make gay children and teenagers growing up in Ireland feel more included in society; it will provide Constitutional support as well to children being raised by gay couples, and it will give peace of mind to the parents and wider family of gay people. With all this, I really think there is no social benefit in preventing me and others from marrying.

Thank you.

It was followed by an excellent speech from Maeve Howe, chair of Dublin South-East YFG, who stressed that this is a human rights issue, not an LGBT issue, and then by an informed discussion from the floor. It was also supported earlier in the day in an address from local TD Seán Kyne, who picked the motion out as one we should support.

There were other motions this weekend which I was proud of, which I will summarize tomorrow. There have been some great moments since I became active in the party in autumn 2009. But the support the motion received yesterday, such a reversal in twelve months, was one of the most satisfying for me at a very personal level, and something I was proud to play a part in.


Here below is a list of all motions in the general policy section of Summer School: Read more…

Inane slogans from LGBT Noise

I noticed a poster on the DART today for a planned March for Marriage by LGBT Noise on 14 August. On the one hand, it’s good to see organizations investing energy into reminding people that civil partnership falls short of equality. On the other, I was amazed at the lack of political nuance by the group in the slogans it chose to place on the poster.

According to a well-publicized poll in The Irish Times last year, 67 per cent of people feel gay couples should be allowed to marry. Despite this high number, it shouldn’t be taken for granted that such a measure would pass if it has to go to a referendum as the same poll showed a figure of only 46 per cent in favour of gay couples being given the right to adopt children. Those campaigning against would undoubtedly focus on this aspect, as happened in California in 2008 and in Maine in 2009.

So that figure of 67 is soft by at least 20 per cent. Political messaging should be geared then towards convincing those on the middle rather than rallying those who are already on side. Yet LGBT Noise decided to veer towards sensationalist slogans. Of the four on the ad, only one is a convincing message:

  • Break traditions, not hearts
    Not the idea as I see it. Better surely to talk of allowing gay couples take part in a tradition, rather than breaking it?
  • There’s nothing civil about inequality
    Cool
  • Jesus had 2 Dads and He turned out fine
    Where to start with this one? Complete and wilful misunderstanding of the Biblical account, and who is going to be won over with this level of flippancy about the Bible?
  • Can’t even get married in Vegas!
    This debate is in Ireland, not Nevada. And with the less than holy connotations Vegas brings to mind, this works because?

I have criticised LGBT Noise before for tying themselves with a trade union march. Of course, an organization is free to do as they wish, but as one of the few organized primarily on this issue, they have at least some responsibility to present a case that will win over those who are uncertain where they should stand on the issue.

Redefining marriage

11 April, 2011 2 comments

I will pay Richard Waghorne credit for taking the time to respond to so many of the responses, my own included, to his column in the Irish Daily Mail on Tuesday against same-sex marriage (though as a pointer for his relatively new blog, it is blogging etiquette to link back to articles quoted).

There is a recurring theme in his responses which I would like to respond further to. He takes any admission of a benefit of marriage to children as a concession that it has no further primary purpose, and that any other purpose to marriage can only undermine the benefit to children.

I would put the case that with this it is in fact Richard who is attempting to redefine marriage by presenting a far narrower definition than we are commonly accustomed to thinking of. Outside of this particular debate, it is not asserted that marriage exists solely for the benefit of children. Had that been the case, one could imagine a scenario where none of the legal recognition for marriage kicked in until the birth of a couple’s first child.

Richard addressed the question of infertile couples (in rebuttal 3). One of his arguments was that it would be intrusive, suggesting that if there were an non-intrusive way of determining fertility, there would be less of an issue in denying such couples the right to marry. Read more…

Why marriage equality DOES matter for children

5 April, 2011 3 comments

With a front-page banner headline like “I’m gay but I’m against same sex marriages”, on the day of the first civil partnerships in Ireland (congratulations to the couples!), Richard Waghorne was bound to attract some attention for himself. While the case is one I have argued against before here, his article is as good an opportunity as any to highlight what I believe are some mistaken assumptions.

First off, his point that it should be irrelevant to a debate of this nature whether one is gay.

I am not a big believer in people making arguments on the back of who or what they happen to be. When I last made the case in these pages against gay marriage, about a year ago, I didn’t feel the need to mention that I am gay myself. Arguments stand on their own two feet, or don’t, but not on the strength of who happens to be making them.

It is wrong to think that life experiences are irrelevant to a social issue of this sort. For most gay people, myself included, it is a grievance to a greater or lesser extent, that we cannot hope to get married in this country; how is it an irrelevant fact that this is at least tempered by those such as Richard Waghorne who do not take it as such? This is not a theoretical issue, it matters because of the people involved. Imagine a situation where no gay person wanted to marry, but the idea was proposed. It would surely then be relevant for Richard to mention his sexuality. Why less so now?

Richard proceeds to argue that as marriage is recognized because of the protection it provides for children, it is selfish of gay couples to look for it.

The support and status that marriage entails is not a societal bonus for falling in love and agreeing to make a relationship lasting. That is not, of course, to say that love and romance are not an important part of marriage. But they are not the reason it has special status. If romance were the reason for supporting marriage, there would be no grounds for differentiating which relationships should be included and which should not. But that is not and never has been the nature of marriage.

Marriage is vital as a framework within which children can be brought up by a man and woman. Not all marriages, of course, involve child-raising. And there are also, for that matter, same-sex couples already raising children. But the reality is that marriages tend towards child-raising and same-sex partnerships do not.

The substance of my criticisms are two-fold, and covered by his side comment acknowledging the exceptions to his general rule.

While raising children is an important reason to recognize marriage, it is not the only one. We also recognize the importance personal bonds are to people. The obvious example is of an elderly couple, who are past child-bearing age, and who have no desire to adopt. No one begrudges them the right to marry. We feel instinctively that by making the commitment to be with each other in all circumstances, they will be the better for it. They have that emotional security of the other’s bond that they will be there for each other. There are benefits not just to the couple, but to society at large, to people not being isolated.

Indeed, the marital vows themselves emphasize only this part of marriage:

…. will you take …. to be your husband?
Will you love him, comfort him,
honour and care for him,
and, forsaking all others,
be faithful to him as long as you both shall live?

It seems wilful denial then to consign this aspect of the commitment to a side issue.

On the question then of children, it is certainly relevant to the discussion that there are same-sex couples raising children. This can happen because of adoption, artificial insemination or a child from a previous relationship. And it will happen, parental instincts exist among all to some degree, regardless of sexuality. At present in Irish law, only one of the parents can be officially recognized as such, and the other treated in law as a stranger. This would change as of right if gay couples could marry.

Even were the Civil Partnership Act amended to acknowledge this and take account for these situations, the children would undoubtedly be better off if their parents could marry. Conservatives like Richard Waghorne are quick to trumpet the benefits of marriage in general, that it increases stability in the home, which is good for children. On the whole, I would agree with them. But this should not become any less true for children raised by gay couples. Does Richard believe a couple raising a child is no less likely to dissolve their relationship if they are in a civil partnership than if they were married? I find it difficult to see how he can consistently hold this view.

The reality is that the distinction is part of a legacy of centuries-old discrimination against gay people. Had we continued from classical times to the present with no discrimination, different terminology might not be an issue. Given the possibility of questions, it would mean so much more to such children that they could respond to any question from curious friends by simply saying, “My parents are married”.

So I differ with Richard’s premise, that marriage is near exclusively about children, and hold that even if it were, children would be better off with marriage equality. I also find it odd that ten years after the first gay couples married in the Netherlands, he feels no need to back his claims with evidence of harm from there or other countries and territories. I’ll finish in questioning his overall critique, that gay couples would fundamentally change the institution of marriage, by quoting John Corvino from last month,

So why do conservatives think that this tiny minority will undermine the norms of the vast majority, rather than vice versa?

It’s hard to escape the answer: because that view fits their preconceived objections better, evidence and common sense be damned.

Edit: Do read as well an excellent response from Conor Prendergast, signed “Proud son of two loving mums”.

Great speech on being raised by lesbian parents

Iowa is one of five US states where gay and lesbian couples can marry, since a ruling of the Iowa State Supreme Court in 2009. As in most of these, it is still not firmly settled law, and is for the moment under revision.

Below is a speech by Zach Wahls, a 19-year-old University of Iowa student speaking about his family during a public forum on House Joint Resolution 6 in the Iowa House of Representatives, which seeks to end recognition of marriage. In the words of Tom G. Palmer on Facebook, “A truly remarkable speech. The young man who gives it would have been a success in the Roman Senate, or the British Parliament, or the U.S. Senate. His moms must be very proud.” Those opposed to marriage equality must be able to present an identifiable harm strong enough to counter the benefits it brings to gay couples and their families. It’s not good enough to say that it is good policy to support male/female marriage as if that is diminished by also supporting gay marriage.

As an aside, Tom Palmer, from whom I got this link, and is gay himself, is one of the libertarian scholars I most admire because of how he puts his beliefs into practice. As well being a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, he spends much of his time travelling to developing countries, creating links between those seeking greater freedom. A reminder that what little grievances we grudge in western countries, real liberalism should have an international outlook, where individuals’ daily security and survival are at stake.

His blog and Twitter feed are worth following for those who like links on the free market and cats.

Fine Gael and gay rights

24 February, 2011 6 comments

I am occasionally questioned by those outside the party why I support Fine Gael given its relative conservative position on some issues, particularly on the question of allowing gay couples to get married. It is a reasonable question but it assumes parties are monolithic and static in policy terms.

People can fail to appreciate that Fine Gael has long managed to maintain within it different points of view. While the strengths of different wings ebb and flow, the party does contain a strong diversity of opinion. In the 1960s we had the strong conservatism of Gerard Sweetman, the moderate fiscal conservatism of James Dillon and the social democracy of Declan Costello. Throughout Garret FitzGerald’s leadership, liberals and conservatives worked together, with clearly defined differences in many Dublin constituencies.

So while I strongly disagree with the views expressed by Lucinda Creighton over the weekend when she stated that she did not support gay marriage because she believed the purpose of marriage was for children, I do not feel disheartened. The party was right to state that this was her personal point of view, not something she was saying in her capacity as junior spokesperson on equality. While the party has not supported marriage equality, it hasn’t opposed it either. There has been no attempt, for example, to make any commitment as official Fine Gael policy to oppose equality in this matter. There is no agenda, as some have tried to imagine, to reverse civil partnership rights; the Fine Gael manifesto commits the party to completing the elements of the civil partnership process stalled by the dissolution of the Dáil.

I feel there are some, particularly online, who like to target Fine Gael for comments such as those by Lucinda while ignoring the opposite point of view from members of the party. I saw no reference in the criticisms in the last few days to the speech by Charlie Flanagan on the first day of the debate on the Civil Partnership Bill in December 2009. Speaking as Justice Spokesperson, giving the first response from the party, he talked of the advances in a liberal society, brought a human element to the debate, and expressed a wish that civil partnership would be a step towards equality. I have extracted portions of this speech here before, but crucially Flanagan expressed his view, “While many welcome [the civil partnership bill], 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.”

This was his own personal opinion here again, just as it was Lucinda’s on the weekend, yet few jumped to equate his words with Fine Gael policy. Even within Lucinda’s own constituency, there is diversity within the party on this question. Eoghan Murphy, also standing for Fine Gael in Dublin South-East, affirmed in answer to an online query that he believes gay couples should be allowed to marry.

In 2004, Sen. Sheila Terry and Alan Shatter published a comprehensive policy on civil partnerships. Realistically, a change in the law to end the current discrimination will require the support of a broad-based party like Fine Gael. The day Charlie Flanagan made the above speech, I was in the public gallery, and heard a member of the Labour Party there sneer that whatever Flanagan might think, that wasn’t party policy. But to get real movement on an issue like this, it has got to the stage where it needs to be pressed from within.

I do not think it is good enough that gay people like myself can not aspire to get married, while I could in a fair few other European countries. I believe this change would make gay children growing up feel they would be accepted, normalize their relationships and reduce bullying. Gay couples would truly become part of each others’ families, as in-laws, integrating them into the familiar structures we all relate to. Children raised by gay couples would have greater security. And the couple would have the comfort and dignity of a happily married life. Fine Gael matches most closely my political outlook in broad terms, and it makes most sense for me then to make this case from within the party.

Labour’s proposed referendum on marriage

15 February, 2011 1 comment

Included in the Labour Party manifesto is a commitment to a referendum to allow same-sex marriage (or to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry, as I would rather phrase it). I welcome support from any party for such a change and I would put what time and resources I could into campaigning for a Yes vote in the case of such a referendum. But I think it is possibly counter-productive of Labour to  presume that the best way of achieving this is to a commitment to a referendum.

Yes, the High Court ruled against Katharine Zappone and Ann Louise Gilligan, a couple who were married in Canada and who have been seeking since 2006 to have their marriage recognized here. But as the Supreme Court has yet to judge on this, we don’t have a definitive ruling that it would be unconstitutional to allow this. Representing the couple were Gerard Hogan, a Progressive Democrat, and Ivana Bacik of Labour (some parallel perhaps to the political divergence between Olson and Boies in California, who had represented Bush and Gore in 2000).

For Labour to call for a referendum now means that they accept that the proposal would contravene either the wording in Article 41.1.2° “The State, therefore, guarantees to protect the Family in its constitution and authority, as the necessary basis of social order and as indispensable to the welfare of the Nation and the State” or in Article 41.3.1° “The State pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of Marriage, on which the Family is founded, and to protect it against attack”. Labour are proposing what would probably be an unseemly amendment with an explicit exception. What would be better would be to try convince people that rather being an attack on the institution, allowing gay couples to marry would strengthen Marriage, by promoting it as the end of stable relationships for all, and for the protection of those children being raised by gay parents.

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Perry v. Schwarzenegger – Gay marriage rights on trial

Today in California, one of the most significant debate on whether gay and lesbian couples should have equal rights to marriage is coming to a conclusion. This is the federal case of Perry v. Schwarzenegger, which is at the stage of closing statements from both teams, which is hoping to overturn Proposition 8, which passed an amendment to the Californian constitution banning gays and lesbians from marrying under the Californian Constitution. This was passed on 4 November 2008, the same date Barack Obama was elected president.

When I first heard of the case last summer was being taken at a federal level, I was a little wary. I felt that given this would eventually be appealed to the Supreme Court, and that given the delicate balance of the Supreme Court, it was likely that Anthony Kennedy, considered the swing voter, would ensure at least 5-4 against the plaintiffs, and set back the case of marriage equality for a decade or so. Many of the groups who had campaigned against Prop 8 felt similarly.

Now, after the close of hearings,  I’m more optimistic about the benefits of the case. It made news because it brought to together the conservative Ted Olson and the liberal David Boies, who had been on opposing sides in Bush v. Gore in 2000, jointly representing the plaintiffs, two couples who had failed to get married during the period where it was possible for them in 2008. They were backed by the newly formed American Foundation for Equal Rights, which had on its board John Podesta, former Clinton White Chief of Staff and President of the Center for American Progress, and Robert Levy, President of the Cato Institute, one of the leading libertarian think-tanks.

Considering the proceedings of the court to date, I would not be surprised if the case was ruled in the plaintiffs’ favour, given the weak evidence and reliance on research from anti-gay activists like George Rekers who were over-compensating for their own repressed homosexuality. But even if it were to fail, and to fail again on appeal to the Ninth Circuit, good will come from the nature of the evidence presented.

If it does fail, it will probably not be opposition’s case that allowing any couple to marry would undermine the state’s interest in encouraging marriage for the benefit of children, or that the institution of marriage in society would in some way be weakened. If it fails, it will most likely be because of a judgement that as the people believed there was a rational basis for denying marriage rights, the court is not in a position to overrule them.

The benefits of the case, whatever the outcome, is threefold. On the one hand, it has provided the most thorough setting in which the arguments of both sides have been scrutinized, and the fault lines and weaknesses highlighted. Whatever the next forum for this debate, it now must take place at a more informed level. Secondly, the symbolic effect of the legal team and its backers matters. The right of gay couples to marry is being seen less and less as a matter of left against right, of liberals against conservatives. For Levy and Podesta to co-author an op-ed in the “Marriage equality for all couples”, will make more American start to question their preconceptions on the issue. As would Ted Olson article in Newsweek earlier this years, “The conservative case for gay marriage”. Finally, the lives of the four plaintiffs will seem familiar in their ordinariness to many: Kris Perry and Sandy Stier together ten years and raising four boys, Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo nine years, all in very conventional careers.

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Brenda Power and gay parents

26 April, 2010 1 comment

I will give credit to Brenda Power for agreeing to give an interview to Gay Community News, having invoked anger from many gay people with here opinion piece in The Sunday Times last year, “You can’t trample over the wedding cake and eat it”. However, I find fundamental flaws in some of her arguments against allowing gay people become parents.

For example, she says that, “if there is an unhappiness in your life that you are trying to fill by acquiring a child, then you should really think about your motivations”. The interviewer rightly picks her up on this, that for no more than anyone else, gay people want to raise families because it is a natural human desire, rather than to fill a void in their lives.

Something which I think the interviewer let pass, and needs to addressed in this argument, is the idea that a child should have a mother and a father so that they have two role models. There is no clear reason given why these two role models should be of opposite sex. Growing up, role models are important for children for their character formation, but not ultimately for their ideas of sexual and gender identity. Any two people will have different characteristics and traits, to give the children they are raising guidance and example. The values children learn from their parents, from personal integrity to respect for others are not exclusively male or female.

Of course, Sigmund Freud considered gender identity to be a product of the relationships we have with our parents, but in this much he has mostly been discredited. That the children of single parents generally grow up perfectly balanced indicate that the lack of a mother or of a father do not per se affect child development. This is not deny that children in single-parent families might find themselves with more problems, but this is not a rule, and there is no reason to think that this is because of the lack of a particular sex in one of their parents, rather than the time their parents can devote to them. That perfectly many stable heterosexual couples have gay or transgendered children should further lead us to question the idea that having a mother and a father is important for children as role models.

In a recent article “Sins of Admission” in Commonweal, a American lesbian writes of her experience, as a Roman Catholic, where her local parish priest that there would be no question but that she could send the two children she had adopted with her partner to the parish school. She writes of how she had read of the plight of orphans, and how her motives in seeking to adopt them are considered suspect because of her sexuality.

This will sound hopelessly lefty, but the truth of the matter is that at the age of thirty-three I sat one Sunday morning reading the New York Times in a coffee shop a block away from the Newman Center where I had just been to Mass. The Magazine cover piece was “What Will Become of Africa’s AIDS Orphans?” Alone at my table, I murmured, “I could take one.” I read the piece through until the end and had the feeling that I was living the first day of the rest of my life. My partner and I had dated and maintained separate households for four years, but were set to begin our committed life together in a few months, and we had talked enough about adoption for me to know that she was open to it. We fished out the Times article from my files nearly two years later, contacted the agency mentioned in the piece, and — after much soul-searching and research and home studies and whatnot — we eventually welcomed two small boys to our family.

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