Behind Ireland's vote to change meaning of marriage

The outcome of the referendum in Ireland to amend the constitution to permit “same-sex marriage” was disappointing, but not a surprise. The massive media coverage of the outcome in the press, on radio and TV in Australia, reflected the strength of the media campaign to change the law in this country.

The campaign in Ireland had the support of all the major political parties, the media, global celebrities and many international organisations, swamping the opposition.

 

The Catholic Church which traditionally has been the most powerful moral force in Ireland was largely side-lined – as a result of the damage to its reputation arising from the impact of sexual and physical abuse of children attending Catholic schools and institutions, which for many years had been covered up by the Irish hierarchy.

What was different about the Irish decision is that it was reached by referendum rather than by either legislative vote or judicial interpretation.

Media reports confirm that many of the churchgoers who voted for the change did so believing that they were acting with compassion for same-sex attracted couples, and that the change would have no effect on the institution of marriage.

Not inevitable

Australian MP, Tony Burke, who voted against same-sex marriage in 2012, said recently that Ireland's decision to vote for same-sex marriage should leave no politician in any doubt that the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Australia was inevitable.

“We need to get to the next stage of the conversation to explain why those who do not want the change will be unaffected by it,” he said.

However, research by a British sociologist, Dr Patricia Morgan, given in evidence to a UK House of Commons inquiry, shows that amending the law accelerated the erosion of marriage.

The focus of her paper was to evaluate the claims “that opening up marriage to same-sex couples will actually strengthen the institution... [and] that same-sex marriage will thus serve the common good as well as promoting equality.”

She found that the opposite was the case. For example, contrary to the mantra that “same-sex marriage” does not affect your marriage, she found that “opposite sex relationships have to conform to gay norms, rather than vice versa, since matters pertaining to complementary sexes cannot apply to those of the same sex.”

Sweden legalised “same-sex marriage” in 2009. With its onset came the claim that it would rescue marriage, but this has not materialised. Dr Morgan cited the country’s divorce rates, which have soared since 2005, during which period Sweden moved from civil partnerships to same-sex marriage.

Norway’s experience is much the same. The divorce rate per thousand inhabitants is 54.1 for Sweden and 54.8 for Norway. There is no evidence of any improvement in their figures following the legalisation of same-sex “marriage”.

Dr Morgan’s conclusions are devastating. She wrote, “Same sex marriage is both an effect and a cause of the evisceration of marriage – especially the separation between [marriage] and parenthood.

“As rising out-of-wedlock births and cohabitation rates – as well as legal changes – disassociate marriage from parenthood, same-sex marriage becomes conceivable.

“If marriage is only about couple relationships, and is not intrinsically connected to parenthood, why not give the [remnant] to homosexuals?

“As marriage is redefined to accommodate same-sex couples, this reinforces the irrelevance of marriage to parenthood. Elsewhere, same-sex marriage is an instigator for the casualisation of heterosexual unions and separation of marriage and parenthood.”

In this context, the Irish referendum merely confirms that Ireland has adopted the dominant secularist and individualist culture of much of the rest of Western Europe.

Ireland is one of only 19 other countries – most in Western Europe – which have redefined marriage.

However, the overwhelming majority of countries around the world, including every country in Asia, the countries of the South Pacific and almost all in Africa, still define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, intended for life. If Australia wants to be considered part of the Asia-Pacific region, it must recognise this reality.

The size of the vote in Ireland reflected the relatively small size of the country, with only about 3.5 million adult voters, of whom about 60 per cent cast a ballot.

In contrast, over recent years there have been 39 state referenda on marriage in the United States in which 84.5 million Americans have voted 61:39 for marriage defined as the union of a man and a woman.

The media also ignored the simultaneous election in Poland, where the candidate of the socially conservative Law and Justice Party won the Presidency on a policy of opposition to changing the country’s marriage laws, and building the nation’s economic independence. Poland is a country of nearly 40 million people.

Peter Westmore is publisher of News Weekly and national president of the National Civic Council