Thursday 18 January 2018

Terry Prone: If churchgoers are walking out, the same sex marriage debate's heating up

The same sex marriage debate is heating up
The same sex marriage debate is heating up

The Yes side in the same-sex marriage debate have launched their campaign, and very clever it is too.

A pride parade it isn't. Instead, it has videos of respectable older people - like a couple married for nigh-on 50 years - telling the camera that they're voting Yes and explaining why they're doing so.

Nobody could pick a fight with such a couple. The very fact that they're not confident in front of the camera makes them even more vulnerable, and therefore more invulnerable.

Any older person railing against tinkering with the definition of marriage would have to wonder whether they should be getting het up about it when people of their own age or older, who are clearly committed to a long-term and happy marriage, are so comfortable with it.



The No side, in terms of individuals prepared to put their face and name to a call to reject the proposition, are smaller and have been out and about for longer.

The battle lines are drawn and the debate is heating up, although debate might not be the right word.

In a referendum where two opposing, visceral, self-defining sides meet, rational, intellectual argument is not going to happen that often, if at all. TV and radio programmes are going to witness, for the next few weeks, exchanges of prejudices accompanied by cries for civilised discussion.

The Catholic Church hierarchy, looking down the barrels of the period between now and polling day, have sensibly stated their case and then indicated that they won't be campaigning on the issue.

You may disagree with them, but they have a duty to state the position of their organisation as they see it.

The Yes side find the No side so outrageous that whenever someone like Breda O'Brien gently articulates her viewpoint, they fume and sneer as if she were Malificent, while they themselves were tapping into the virtuous core of Irish thinking. Therein lies the greatest threat to their case.

Yes campaigners might like to believe they have right on their side, so obviously rendering any campaigning by the No side insulting and irrelevant at the same time.

That may be the rock they perish on. The fact is that a large silent body of people is out there, ready to vote No.

Those people go largely unrecorded in opinion polls because, in opinion polls, you have to tell a researcher, face to face or on the phone, that you espouse an unpopular viewpoint.

When you drop your folded-over voting sheet into the ballot box, however, nobody other than you knows how you have voted.

The Yes side, right now, are greatly endangered by the problem afflicting an enthusiastic woman voter who, more than 50 years ago, told Adlai Stevenson in the States that he was home as presidential candidate, because her friends were going to vote for him. "That's not enough, madam," he said gently. "I need a majority."

At this point, the Yes side have all their friends and a sense that all right-thinking voters are on their side.

In addition, they have a conviction that, as a mature nation, we must give an affirmative in this litmus test of our liberalism.

In the background is a vague worry that rural Ireland may be lying in wait with a No vote.


Interestingly, it was in one of those counties with an obstinate pattern of unexpected voting patterns that one of the lines in the sand of this issue was drawn yesterday, when a Carmelite priest preaching at a remembrance mass indicated the Church's position.

At that point, Fr John Britto was on the right side of the line. Then he took a giant step to the wrong side by attacking Donegal footballer Eamon McGee for being in the Yes camp.

More than a dozen parishioners promptly rose to their feed and walked from the church, including relatives of the woman being remembered.

No individual should be attacked, directly or indirectly, for what they believe, between now and polling day. This one is about shaping the future of Ireland, not about taking a pop at a footballer from the altar. Or calling someone a bigot for believing what their church calls on them to believe.

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