herald

Sunday 4 December 2016

As No campaign seeks to muddy the waters, Yes side are still clear favourites

marriage

Leo Varadkar
Leo Varadkar

Playing With Numbers is the Irish entry in this year's Eurovision Song Contest, which will hopefully carry Molly Sterling to victory on May 23.

Earlier that Saturday, Ireland's gay community hope to be celebrating some numbers of their own. Mrs Brown (aka Brendan O'Carroll) might have asked, "What's all the feckin' fuss?"

But in fact the same-sex marriage referendum has generated plenty of heat so far - and is likely to get even more intense before the votes are finally counted.

With just over two weeks to go, both sides are showing a few bruises.

Archbishop Eamon Martin, head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, has warned that his priests might stop carrying out the civil aspect of marriage ceremonies.

Some of the 'No' campaign's posters are being ripped down by a moronic anarchist group who do their cause no favours at all.

READ MORE: 'Niall Horan referendum' seems to be headed in just one direction - down

A leading garda union has called for a 'Yes' vote, prompting allegations that the police force is becoming politicised.

Government bigwigs such as Tanaiste Joan Burton are accusing their opponents of turning children into "weapons" in their campaigns.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar (inset), who was mostly praised after coming out as gay last January, has also received letters from people offering to pray for his soul. Despite all these controversies, one crucial fact remains the same. Opinion polls still show the 'Yes' side with a huge lead, usually around the 75-25 mark.

READ MORE: X Factor's Rylan - I'm offended by No side's family posters

Both camps say they expect that gap to dramatically shrink before polling day - but if that is going to happen, it needs to happen soon.

For supporters of same-sex marriage, it is a case of so far, so good. The umbrella group Yes Equality has run a slick campaign, backed by celebrities including Colin Farrell, Brian O'Driscoll and, er, the Rubberbandits.

By reaching out to more traditional voters with initiatives such as 'Ring Your Granny', they have avoided the trap of coming across as a bunch of arrogant, trendy, cappuccino-drinking metropolitan snobs.

Officially, of course, all campaigners are in favour of a civil and respectful contest.

In reality, it is already obvious that most of them don't like the opposition one little bit.

There was a priceless moment during last Friday's Late Late Show debate when a No supporter in the audience began speaking while a woman behind her could be seen mouthing "What?!" and shaking her head in disgust.

Because the 'No' side is so far behind, it has to take more risks. Its leading lights are betting all their chips on the issue of children's rights, constantly repeating the mantra of "Every child has the right to a mother and a father".

They also insist that same-sex marriage would lead to a surge in surrogacy and gay adoption, which is why so many of their posters show young women cuddling cute babies.

Unfortunately for these scaremongerers, the facts are not on their side.

surrogacy

Adoption rights for gay couples have been secured by the recent Children and Family Relationships Bill, which will still be law whether this referendum passes or not.

As for assisted human reproduction, Leo Varadkar is working on a separate bill that will ban commercial surrogacy as well as anonymous egg or sperm donations.

In short, the 'No' strategists are trying to muddy the waters with issues that have nothing to do with same-sex marriage at all.

Their cynical tactics could easily backfire - because by pushing the traditional nuclear family as an ideal they are insulting the many Irish citizens who grew up under different circumstances.

The 'Yes' side's biggest challenge is to carry on exposing these claims as red herrings.

They must try to keep the debate as simple as possible, presenting it as a straightforward opportunity to give gay citizens dignity and equality.

Above all they have to hold as many personal conversations as possible with older, rural voters who grew up believing that homosexuals were almost sinful and worse.

At this stage there is no real evidence that any of the No team's arguments are breaking through. Even so, they are not completely without hope.

They must be praying that a big chunk of Irish people secretly dislike the notion of gay marriage but are terrified to say so publicly, or to pollsters, for fear of being labelled homophobic.

In a country where homosexuality was illegal until 1993, it might seem a bit rich for 'No' campaigners to paint themselves as the victims of discrimination. Still, that is a clever tactic and the 'Yes' side must be wise to it.

Supporters of the referendum could also do with more endorsements from the likes of Gay Byrne and Mary McAleese, traditional figures who are effectively telling Middle Ireland that it's ok to vote Yes.

There is one other factor that should encourage the No side. A recent poll suggested that 46pc of voters think civil partnerships give same-sex couples full legal rights and there is no real need to go any further.

In other words, many people support marriage equality but don't see it as a particularly big deal - which means there is a real danger that they might not bother to actually show up on the day.

Once again, these misunderstandings need to be exposed. In reality, 'civil partners' are still very much second-class citizens as far as the law is currently concerned.

custody

For a start, they cannot enjoy a legally recognised relationship with their children - which can lead to all sorts of heartache in schools, hospitals and most obviously custody battles.

As for Enda Kenny, the big question is whether he will show up anywhere at all.

The Taoiseach has refused to take part in any media debates, which is fine as long as the polls stay the way they are.

If it starts to look like a tight race, however, then Enda will come under pressure from his own TDs to pull same-sex marriage out of the fire - just as his predecessor John Bruton pulled divorce out of the fire with a brilliant television performance in 1995.

Since that razor-close referendum 20 years ago, liberal Ireland has scored many clear successes over their conservative rivals.

There is still some way to go - but right now, with a fortnight left to run, they seem to be on course for one of the sweetest victories of all.

Related Content


Promoted articles

Entertainment News