30 April 2015

Equality Street

Equality, two for fifty. Get yer Equality here. Last of the Equality, now.
Equality Pop-up, Stephen's Green Shopping Centre, Dublin, 30th April, 2015
There is a new shop in the Stephen's Green Shopping Centre selling equality, and not just any old equality, but the finest quality equality.  I know the Stephen's Green Centre is more synonymous with, as the Trinity College strategic review would put it, "value brands", but this equality shop really is selling the good stuff, strictly top-shelf.

I dropped in today and had a good imaginary chat with the very friendly Equality-monger, and in my head that chat went a little like this:

Equality-Monger: "Good day sir, could I interest you in some of my finest quality equality?"

Unkie Dave: "Why thank you, but as a straight white middle-class male I believe I already have all the equality. All of it."

Equality-Monger: "Of course sir, right you are. Then might sir care to purchase some equality for a neighbour, a friend perhaps?"

Unkie Dave: "Ah, but if your equality can only be enjoyed by those who can afford it, how then can it be genuine equality?"

Equality-Monger: "Look, do you want a badge or not?"

And so purchase a badge I did.

While that conversation may have been entirely imaginary, the Equality pop-up isn't. It exists, of course, to highlight the upcoming Marriage Equality Referendum on May 22nd, where the good citizens of this blessed land will be asked to amend the Constitution with the wording, "Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex", or after much too-ing and fro-ing, the Irish equivalent  “Féadfaidh beirt, gan beann ar a ngnéas, conradh pósta a dhéanamh de réir dlí.”, revised after the original may or may not have allowed Gaelic speakers to marry their tractors.

This puts me in the uncomfortable position of, for once, advocating a Yes vote in a Referendum. I'm not sure if I even know how to tick the box beside the Y-word. Muscle memory may yet defeat me. The irony of my position is that I am actually vehemently against the State sanctioning of private relationships between people - I believe the State should have no role in legitimizing a personal relationship, what two (or more) people want to do with each other is their business, and no-one else's, and the attempted control of people's relationships and private lives by the State through legislation and a preferential tax code is a huge bugbear of mine.

However the issue of State sanctioning of private relationships is of secondary importance in this Referendum, for the core issue is one of Equality. If one part of the citizenry enjoys certain rights enshrined in the Constitution, then all citizens should enjoy those rights. It doesn't matter if it is marriage, voting or hot air ballooning (which may not be in the current Constitution, but I'm pretty sure it was in the 1922 Free State one), either everyone is equal or no-one is equal.

Watching the No Campaign these last few weeks, it is obvious that this idea of equality for all, or none, is anathema to them. The whole basis of their argument is that by giving someone else rights that they currently enjoy exclusively, it somehow diminishes those rights, that rights are only something worthwhile as long as other people don't have them. Rights are like buying a Range Rover, only fun if you can drive it around in front of all the proles and rub their noses in it. No doubt the Iona version of Cribs starts off with someone on Aislebury Road opening the door shouting, "Look at my marriage, be-atches, yo, check out the rims!", or something similar.

Rather quickly the No Campaign realised that this Rich-Kids-Of-Instagram approach wasn't going to win them too many votes, so they reached into their back pocket and pulled out their well-worn trump card, "Oh won't somebody please think of the children?", and posters appeared throughout the land with a depth and breadth and speed almost certainly unconnected to the current near-historically low exchange rate of the Dollar-to-Euro, warning voters that Same-Sex marriage will lead to all manner of horrors as an avalanche of baby factories emerge to cope with the market-driven demand for progeny from the biologically-homogenous hordes with disposable income that the redefinition of marriage will open the floodgates too

"Children deserve a Mother and a Father" say the posters, despite evidence that suggests the exact opposite. A recent study suggests that in fact children of same-sex couples enjoy more quality time with their parents than those of different sex couples, mainly because heterosexual dads are pretty terrible at being parents. The study concludes: 
"our study finds that women and men in same-sex relationships and women in different-sex relationships do not differ in the amount of time they spend in child-focused activities (about 100 minutes a day). We did find one difference, however, as men in different-sex relationships spend only half as much child-focused time as the other three types of parents. Averaging across mothers and fathers, we determined that children with same-sex parents received an hour more of child-focused parent time a day (3.5 hours) than children in different-sex families (2.5 hours)."
So if the No Campaign were genuinely thinking of the children, their posters should read "a child deserves two dads, two mums, or just a single very hard working mum". 

That last bit certainly worked for me, by the way.

The other problem with the No Campaign (aside from basing their entire poster strategy on The Lego Movie Batman song) is that their position stems from belief, from the argument that their beliefs should be held in higher regard than actual rights. Their position is based on their Christian faith and that to grant someone the same human rights as they have goes against their Christian faith, which is an attack on their own rights as Christians. I would argue that everyone has the right to believe whatever they want, but those beliefs are a consequence of that right, not the right itself. Beliefs do not equal rights, they are subordinate and subservient too them. You may argue that your right to believe something is equal to my right to marry (which I'm not sure I would agree with), but the product of your belief is certainly not equal to my right to marry.

There's an interesting podcast of a recent lecture by Kimberley Brownlee on the nature of civil disobedience, where she highlights how the State is often more forgiving of conscientious objectors who refuse to carry out individual acts on the basis of their own religious beliefs than those who take to the streets and actively resist what they consider to be unjust laws from a more secular and rights-based standpoint. The religious objector says a law goes against their beliefs, the secularist says the law is wrong in absolute terms. The State will more readily accept an objector's "moral right" to passively resist when it stems from religious conviction than when a secularist resists against an unjust law, mainly because the religious objector isn't seeking to challenge the State's blanket authority, merely to force the State to excuse that individual from its authority for that issue alone on the grounds of their belief. The secularist is challenging the State's authority on a universal level, not a personal one, and that is where the danger lies for the State.

This is why the Government has been happy to put the issue of marriage equality to the people, to deal with it via referendum and not legislation. A referendum allows the the traditional conservative Catholic voter base of Fine Gael to act against marriage equality on the basis of their personal belief without challenging the authority of the Party and the Government when they vote against it. Their actions become moral resistance and not civil disobedience, and well worth contrasting with the way the Establishment frames the actions and voices of water protesters. Through the mechanism of the Referendum the Government and its State broadcaster hold sacrosanct the concept of equal time (to the second) being given to those who oppose the Government's own position on religiously held grounds, while outside the fig-leaf of Referendum mechanics, those who oppose the Government on civil grounds are labeled "extremists" and tactics for dealing with them are the subject of police job interviews.

Thus while I have many friends in same-sex relationships that are married, not married, have children and don't have children, voting Yes for me is not just about them and their happiness (though that is a significant part), it's about the wider issue of what sort of a society do I want to live in. Do I want to live in one that treats all its citizens equally, or one that continues to enshrine discrimination in its Constitution? The Marriage Equality Referendum won't fix all of our ills, the treatment of women within the Constitution in general and the 8th Amendment in particular are two pretty egregious examples still to be resolved, but it's a pretty good way-station on the road to a truly just society.

I'm Unkie Dave. I'm a white heterosexual middle-class man with all the equality, who doesn't even agree with State-sanctioned marriage, and I'm still voting Yes.

What's your excuse?

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