Last week’s general election here in the UK was pretty exciting stuff. But if, as I did this past weekend for a beautiful wedding, you spend any time in Ireland you will discover a similar appetite for a potent plebiscite. On 22 May the Irish nation will vote on whether or not to change the country’s constitution to extend civil-marriage rights to same-sex couples, potentially the first country in the world to make the change in this way. Now there’s no way to guarantee the kind of perfect wedding day I witnessed any more than there is to guarantee a sunny day in Cork, but the right of all citizens to embark on that journey should be so.
Some advocates of a “yes” vote have been rebuked by opponents over their intention to cast a ballot as a reparation, a token of penitence for the previous ill treatment of gay people and others. Those “others” include many children who have fallen foul of the wrongs wrought wrong-headedly by the Roman Catholic Church in the supposed name of family values both literal and ecclesiastical.
The rights of children, parents and the very nature of family are front and centre in this campaign. One tired trope echoed quite brazenly and manipulatively by certain “no” vote proponents is that which places procreation at the heart of marriage. This is manifestly a troubling notion. What about straight couples unable to conceive, old people or couples who choose not to have children? They are all entitled to marital rights.
Some columnists in the country are bandying around language of stunning insensitivity: you can read about “unnatural” family units; there’s discussion of the lack of a “genetic basis” of parental relationships. It’s scary stuff for a country that despite some internal rifts has generally shown a brave and progressive face to the world in recent times.
Some critics in Ireland have described rather contemptuously the idea that society and lawmakers there have been influenced by the social and political goings-on this side of the Irish Sea. Some of these voices ask witheringly why Irish eyes should be drawn to formal same-sex marriage rights in the UK given that we lack a written constitution. Well, check the fine print of your own. The proclamation of the Irish Republic nearly a century ago enshrines “equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens”. There are no provisos there.
The world will be watching on 22 May. Let’s hope that the liberal voice of a great people is heard and that all couples can enjoy the kind of day I was fortunate enough to attend last weekend. For those of a less romantic and rather more sceptical bent about the vote or even the institution of marriage, consider the old Kinky Friedman quote: “You should support gay marriage, as gay people have the right to be as miserable as anyone else”.
Tom Edwards is Monocle 24’s executive producer.