We all knew it was coming. The Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference came out against equal marriage last week and, to be fair, it was such an inevitability that I was sure I wouldn’t care once it did. One of the biggest contradictions in my own life as someone without a personal religion is that I would continue to care about the conduct and views of the leaders of a church I have never been a member of. Why? Because I and nearly everyone I know was born into a society where, on some level, the opinion of these men still matters. The opinions and pronouncements of bishops like these has shaped our past and our present in a hundred thousand tiny ways, and quite a few bigger ones, creating the country in which we live.
Let’s be clear about what kind of country that is. It’s not all bad, far from it, and I like to think that in a lot of ways it’s getting better. But no amount of saying, “Ah sure, didn’t we get there in the end”, will ever change the fact that this is a country where it was illegal to be gay until 1993. A country where it was impossible to get a divorce until 1996. Where 49.7% of the public voted for the proposition that there were no circumstances, no matter how irreparably broken or abusive the relationship, in which a marriage should ever be dissolved. Ours is a country of Magdalene laundries, of forced adoption schemes, of industrial schools and the endemic, systematic cover-up of every imaginable form of child abuse.
And these clowns, these absolute vacuums of moral credibility, these men for whom the blanket exclusion of women from their ranks is not only justifiable, but an essential aspect of their imagined authority – from somewhere they find the temerity and the gall to throw around a phrase like “grave injustice”.
And then there’s the children. Let us all take a moment and really try to come up with an organisation that should feel less entitled than the Irish Catholic hierarchy to invoke the rights of children in service of their political agenda. Never mind about the sweeping insult, staggering in the scope of its thoughtlessness, to every person on this island raised by a single mother or father, a relative or relatives, a non-heterosexual couple, or parents in a marriage or partnership from another tradition, religious or secular. Because that’s what it is to come out with something as flabbergastingly ignorant as claiming the “upbringing of children is uniquely possible” through Catholic Church-endorsed marital relationships.
Time and again as we approach the marriage equality referendum, we are faced with the fundamental awkwardness at the heart of any plebiscite on civil rights: that the minority and their allies must go out and ask the majority to grant them acceptance. In the service of this goal, and with the prospect of victory still overshadowed by the possibility of defeat, it has been suggested by some that the LGBT community should resist using terms like “homophobia” for fear of alienating a well-meaning majority understandably suspicious about altering the status quo.
And yes, I believe very strongly that to win a referendum, any referendum, you have to be willing and eager to answer any question, address any concern, and respect any argument. However, the right to call something or someone out as homophobic, or backward, or lacking the moral credibility necessary to engage in the debate with good faith and the benefit of the doubt from your opponents – that matters too.
For so long as oppression exists, in this or any form, there will be those culpable by their silence, the ordinary majority of people who simply got on with their lives and naturally didn’t do everything they could to stand up for those left out in the cold. That’s just the way it is, and every one of them who becomes a convert to the cause of greater equality, no matter how late, should be welcomed with open arms and warm applause.
But then there are those who actively take the side of oppression. Those who, rather than being caught up in or ignorant of the way things are, have a genuine vested interest in maintaining the status quo no matter who it leaves out or keeps down. These people may one day have a change of heart, and I sincerely hope for their own sakes they do, eventually, realise their mistake and alter their points of view.
But until then, when they no longer stand up and mask a hatred of diversity as defence of tradition, when they no longer brush aside the hideous failings of their past whilst doing their best to undermine a better future, when they no longer take a stance that says to people: some of you different, but you’re also worse – until then we should never, ever, ever be made to fear calling them out for what they are. Because I have to ask: if opposing civil marriage equality under the guise of morality isn’t homophobic, then what the hell is?
Jack Eustace is the current chair of Labour Youth.