Not the Church, not the State. We ALL must decide our own fate
There is a battle going on in the West for the hearts and minds of the citizenry, a battle with real implications but one that at its heart is nothing more than a deliberately obfuscating smokescreen manufactured by a calculating and callous political machine.
The past two elections in the US were dominated by issues not of economic or strategic import, rather the battlefield was the human body. In 2008 the issue of Gay Marriage was used as a clarion call to drag conservative mid-westerners to the polls to "preserve the sanctity of marriage", and to defend it against the onslaught of the forces of Satan and all his socialist minions, oh, and if you don't mind while you're in the polling booth will you press the button for our guy for President, thank you very much. This time round the dog-whistle call to the oppressed white majority was women's health, not the health of the ones who suffered "legitimate rape" (for the angry sky father and the immaculate female body he crafted have ways of protecting them), oh no, just those durty, durty tramps demanding that the government pay for their Tramp Pills. Luckily for tramps and gays in love everywhere, the Koch brothers and their deep-pocketed allies failed because the drone-loving good guys raised more money than they did.
Hooray for Capitalism!
In the UK these last few weeks we have seen the headlines dominated by a cerfuffle in the Church of England (the established Church, whose ermine-clad leaders sit in the House of Lords) wherein the bishops and the clergy thought having women bishops would be a jolly good idea, because, well, 51% of the UK population are female so, you know, maybe having a better (ie any) gender balance in the halls of the angry sky father would help stem the haemorrhaging numbers of church-goers. Alas the House of Laity, those stalwarts of the congregations selected to represent the ordinary church-goer, decided that women were not such a good thing after all and so scuppered the vote against the wishes of the hierarchy, the little people sticking it triumphantly to the Man. Or, in this case, the Woman.
Hooray for Democracy!
While Call-Me-Dave Cameron, everybody's best buddy and accidental Leader of the UK, was disappointed with this result and suggested a rerun of the vote (proving the Tories aren't such an anti-European party after all, for as we've all learned from the EU when the vote goes against you, simply ignore it and run it again next year, and agin, and again, until the people get it right), he has now moved on to that next pillar of compassionate Conservatism, gay marriage. However in a shocking turn of events, unlike his chums across the pond Call-Me-Dave does not believe that writing down the name of the love that dare not speak its name on a scrap of paper will summon the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, or the giant Tramp of Babylon on her many-headed trampy beast, demanding giant government Tramp Pills. Sadly Call-Me-Dave's party is not so progressive and have threatened a mass revolt if his plans to legislate for gay marriage come to pass (120 of the 303 Tory MPs stand ready to defend the values of those 120 people that still live in Middle England of the 1950s), proving that if there's one thing a Tory hates as much as Europe and wind-farms it's the sight of two people in love.
Hooray for Big Society!
Now it is worth at this point stating for the record that while I support gay marriage, I think that its advocates have got things backwards. The campaign here should not be to open up religious ceremonies to same-sex couples, it should be to eliminate the State sanction of all religious ceremonies. Marriage (if it needs to exist at all) should exist as two completely separate concepts, the first being a legal entity existing for tax, inheritance and similar purposes and recognised by the State, and the second being whatever mumbo-jumbo voodoo ceremony your particular shade of angry sky father demands you submit to before you start populating the world with new supplicants for his glory, and never the twain should meet.
Currently in Ireland if you are part of the dominant Christian traditions, the State abdicates part of its responsibility in authorising legal handfasting to the men and occasional women of the dominant angry sky fathers. But if you happen to be part of the 10% or so of the population who describe themselves as Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Jedi, atheist or "other" (which is even worst than atheist), then the State has no truck with your angry sky father and so after your mumbo-jumbo voodoo "marriage" you then have to trot along to your local registry office and have the State wave its magic wand of legitimacy over you before you can avail of your Constitutional right to relegate one, or both, of the female members of your union to the home.
Hooray for Article 41 of the Constitution!
In a truly equal society the State should confer no legitimacy on any single religious tradition over and above the others, and keep all at a suitable arm's length. The legal institution of marriage should only exist as a strictly civil institution, applied for like one applies for a TV licence, you just walk in, hand over your money and hey presto, let the oppression, sorry, "protection" of the women (or designated female role within a same-sex male couple) begin. Whatever voodoo and hoodoo that you do so well in your House of the Angry Sky Father would then be between you and your associated cultists, but do try and keep the noise down, this is a residential area after all.
While Senator Katherine Zappone and her partner continue to try and have the Irish State (of whom she is now an appointed legislator) recognise the validity of their Canadian marriage, the State has shunted the issue of gay-marriage down the branch-line of Civil Partnerships and hopes that the low passenger volume on that particular train will relieve them from ever having to expend any of their precious drinking time in the Dáil Members' Bar on it.
But the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar in recent weeks has proven that the forces of social conservatism remain strong in Ireland, both outside of and within the Government. The Red C Poll released on December 3rd indicated that 85% of all voters wanted to see legislation to bring the X-Case ruling into effect, that abortion must be allowed when the life of the mother is at risk. 82% of voters would go further, and call for abortion to be allowed in cases of rape. While only 36% called for abortion-on-demand, that number is growing.
However the reluctance by the Government to react, the strong anti-choice positions taken by both backbenchers and ministers (such as Lucinda Creighton), the defeat of Clare Daly's Private Members' Bill to legislate for the X Case (with Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and the supposedly pro-choice Labour Party all voting against), and the alleged anti-choice bias the state broadcaster has displayed when covering both pro-choice and anti-choice rallies all show the increasing prominence this issue is taking on the national stage, and how estranged the Government position is from the will of the people.
The challenge here is for the issue to be approached in such a way that it is not used, as it has been in the US and increasingly in the UK, as a way for the forces of ultra-capitalism to rally social conservatives to their banner while masking the greatest threat to the mental and physical well being of every citizen, regardless of gender, sexual orientation or religious belief, the ever increasing levels of socio-economic inequality.
In the US Midwest and South, poor white voters who are exploited and economically devastated by the oligarchs of neo-liberalism, rally to the flags of those oligarchs who channel voters' despair away from their financial woes and into manufactured social issues. Instead of voting in their best economic interests they vote instead for those who stand to gain most from their oppression simply because those oligarchs have diverted rage away from themselves and towards already marginalised groups, creating an artificial Other within an already fractured society. The Two Minutes Hate is real, broadcast on endless loop on Fox News.
Increasingly the battle being waged in Western political spheres is not simply an economic one, for sadly in most countries the differences between those mainstream parties nominally on the Left or Right is minimal. As far as Democrats or Republicans, Conservatives or New Labour or Fianna Fail/Fine Gael and Labour here are concerned the war is over and Capitalism has won. The only question to be answered is what form that Capitalism will take. They all agree on 99% of economic policies, and thus increasingly the only differences they can offer to the electorate are on dog-whistle social issues.
The electorate is being presented with an illusionary choice between those who believe in minimal legislation for business and maximum legislation for people, and those who believe in some legislation for business and less legislation for people. The fundamental inequalities at the heart of our current system are never questioned, because artificial battles over issues that no government should ever be involved with in the first place are being manufactured to provide an outlet for the wrath and ire generated by these inequalities.
Make no mistake, gay marriage is not just a "gay" issue and the reproductive rights and health of women are not just "women's" issues, these are both human rights issues and should be supported and campaigned on by all who believe in social justice and equality. All citizens must be treated equally under the law and a legal status existing between two citizens by choice must be made available to all citizens who seek it. Moreover legislation must be introduced immediately to act on the X-Case, and we must go further still to ensure that not a single other woman dies because "Ireland is a Catholic Country". The fact that both situations have been allowed to persist because a successive of conservative governments have been unwilling to risk the wrath of our religious establishment is a national shame that hangs over us all.
But beyond these important areas are the wider implications of the socio-economic injustices that face us all, the inescapable byproducts of the political and economic system that we have allowed to be imposed upon us. Tackling these individual issues is pointless unless we also seek to change these wider structures that oppress us all for the benefit of a tiny minority of ruling elites.
If the system remains unchanged then victory in the battle for sexual equality or reproductive health will only mean that a new oppression will be introduced by the ruling oligarchs to drive a wedge between the citizenry.
For true equality we must fight both the symptoms and the cause.
And that is a fight we can win.
|Never Again. Remembering Savita Halappanavar at the Dáil|
Kildare Street, Dublin, 29th November, 2012