Thursday, May 21, 2015

Why it’s a YES from me


So I’m not Gay – what’s it got to do with me?

The following has often been used to defend against political apathy, and it speaks to us as strongly today as it did to those who first read it over sixty years ago.

 

 

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Socialist.

 

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

 

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

 

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

 

Niemöller

 

I want to bring this up in relation to the upcoming referendum on the Irish Constitution regarding the addition of the words “without regard to gender” when we speak about “marriage”.  In recent opinion polls we are told that while the majority would vote Yes, this support is “soft”. Soft support is no support, and if we sleepwalk into believing that it has no effect on me so I won’t vote – it will not pass. If this was up to “only” those effected (in this case LGBT citizens) – I’d be fine with that…but we the majority, have the responsibility to either to defend them, or to continue to marginalise them.

 

The reasons I am voting Yes are quite simple, but not I believe simplistic. But first let me set out my own personal frame of reference. I am an active, practicing Roman Catholic. I am a married for almost 25 years, and we have two wonderful daughters. I am also an adopted person. Currently, this addendum to our constitution will not be of any benefit me personally and it will never change in any way shape or form, the privilege I enjoy in my own marriage.

 

What Article 41 says

When this debate first began, I will declare, my “natural” instinct was to vote Yes.  Over the course of the past weeks I have listened very carefully to voices on all sides of the campaign and carried out my own research and increased my own knowledge of the issue at stake. What first strikes you is when you actually read Article 41 of  the Constitution of Ireland, as I hope all voters will have done, is how narrowly we define the word “family”. The No side have said that because the government choose to place this addendum into this section, it is no longer about just marriage, but about “family”, and to a large extent they are correct in this. Here is what it ACTUALLY say about the family:

 

(I have left it intact, but I’ve not show the bits regarding civil divorce or the economic issue about a woman’s role in the home)

 

1 1° The State recognises the Family as the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society, and as a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law.

2° The State, therefore, guarantees to protect the Family in its constitution and authority, as the necessary basis of social order and as indispensable to the welfare of the Nation and the State.

3 1° The State pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of Marriage, on which the Family is founded, and to protect it against attack.

 

What struck me about this first is that the ONLY constitutionally protected family are a married couple. Nothing about children, nothing about families who choose not to be married but have children…they are NOT a family in our constitution. You do not have to have children to be married, and if you don’t get married and have children they are not a family under our constitution.

 

 

Adoption

Since the 1990s single people have been able to put themselves forward to adopt children in this state. This is irrespective of their own sexual orientation. There is no law now that says a child eligible for adoption must first and foremost be placed with a married heterosexual couple. The determination is based upon, what is in the best interest of that child in their unique circumstances. When people say that you are deliberately denying a child a mother or a father who is biologically not linked to them, that is TRUE. That is exactly what we do in adoption, that is what it is. A biological mother, and that mother alone, signs consent forms for adoption. That is denying the “rights” of the father is it not.  And both biological parents are not then linked to that child.

 

Surrogacy

The VAST majority of surrogacy that takes place is for heterosexual couple, not homosexual ones. That’s a simple fact of demographics…but none the less true. At present this area of AHR is the “wild west” in this country. There is no legislation dealing with it, and therefore, couples and singles, avail of it with no government intervention. It does not make any difference if you are married or not, if you want a child, and you have the resources, you can (within reason) do this now. So the chair of the Referendum Commission was asked then if a future government could legislate in this area and say ONLY Opposite Sex Married Couple could avail of this – the answer is no – unless…there is proof that that model was the only model in which you could raise a child. That to me seems a good thing – not allowing a government to randomly discriminate.

 

Procreation

There is no RIGHT to procreation by artificial means, if there was, all infertile married couple in this country could have demanded for years that they receive this service as a right. You do not need to have children to be married, or even be “open” to having children to be married. Otherwise we would not permit a 70 year old woman who had a hysterectomy in her 40s to marry, or a man who is infertile due to a physical issue. 

 

Religious Teaching in Schools

At the moment we have constitutional laws and legislation that protect our right to religious freedom. Due mainly to our state not providing education, faith based schools have been the dominant educators of primary and secondary level children. The ethos of the school will not change (unless of course the school changes it). The bigger change in recent years was the introduction of civil divorce. Whatever is currently taught in faith based schools on divorce…the same with be for same sex marriage. Faith schools are not forced to teach about artificial contraception (a sin in the Roman Catholic church for example) but many (if not most) choose to do so.

 

The Yes Side are being Nasty to the No Side (and vice versa)

There has been a lot of very passionate and emotional language and action during this debate. I don’t believe that EVERBODY who makes an informed decision to vote No is “homophobic”, no more than I think EVERYBODY who makes an informed decision to vote Yes is “anti-church”. Paddy Manning and Keith Mills get abuse on social media as gay men advocating a No vote. I and many other also get abuse because as an active practicing Roman Catholic I am advocating a Yes vote. It can be nasty…but in a sense..that’s what debating is about. These keyboard warriors who hurl abuse on either side don’t influence me…and if your only argument is to shout down – you may as well remain quiet.

 

 

Finally – I’m voting yes because I wish to take a Pro Marriage stance. I have been in this institution for almost 25 years. I didn’t need to ask the permission of the government or the wider community, to marry. I hate to think what that must feel like. Reading Ursula Hannigan’s stark and moving piece in a recent Irish Times article makes me terribly ashamed of how we have marginalised the LGBT community. How DARE we make any person feel like this. I am voting yes, not because I’ve been influenced by money in the campaign (personally I didn’t see any of it if it existed), but because of the real and personal stories those in the LGBT community had the courage and determination to share with us…they shouldn’t have had to defend their relationships as equal, but they had to…and we owe it to them to listen. They cannot do this alone, they can only do it if the majority of people gay or straight go out and VOTE!

 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Monday, June 17, 2013

Experiences Like This Do Not Occur Every Day!

Back in early March, I made one of those decisions that, quite frankly I will thank my lucky stars for the rest of my life that I made. In was the simple act of auditioning for Jim Nolan for the chance to work with him in a large scale amateur production of Tom Stoppard's "On The Razzle". That experience alone would have genuinely been enough, but I was stunned to have been offered a leading role in this high class farce. As I write this we are half way through our two week run (two weeks and a full week of technical rehearsals - unheard of in am-dram) and as exhausted as I am - I am deliriously happy at the work we have done, and the reaction of the audience and critics to it. I got to work on the radio ad, I got a two page interview in The Munster Express but most importantly, I got to work with an amazing cast and crew, on a stunning set designed by John O'Donougue. There is a wealth of local theatre heroes out there and I have been blow away by the talented people - especially young folk who are working on this who write/act/direct/light their own pieces! We started rehearsals for this in the first week of April - and the weeks have just flown by. Take a bow Garter Lane for producing this smashing in-house production and to the Arts Council and Waterford City Council for funding...especially to Jim Nolan for his faith in me. I have learnt more about theatre in the last nine week than I have in the previous 40+ years.

Friday, March 1, 2013

THE SOBER BISHOP


Over the past number of weeks RTE have been broadcasting a short series presented by Irish (American) comedian Des Bishop on the subject of Irish drinking culture. Like Des, I haven’t had a drink since my late teens, so I am one of those seemingly rare breed of Irish folk – the tea-totaller. Unlike Des, I was not an alcoholic. I began drinking socially when I was sixteen. I was never drunk, could certainly go out without drinking at all, and in the main, I drank beer. So why give up? I was a very lucky young man. I had a circle of very good friends (most of whom did drink-but not in a stagger city kind of way) who were honest, and supportive of our peer group. I was at a house party (nothing rowdy – listening to music, joking chatting) one evening and one of the guys at the party (who I didn’t know especially well) suggested to me that I didn’t “need” to drink. Alcohol had a strange effect on me. Unlike most of my friend who got a little louder and braver as the night went on, I would go quiet. I am naturally a loud, opinionated and dare I say, confident, person, and drink made me the opposite. It put a seed in my head – life free of alcohol was a possibility. A few months later, my late father started to teach me to drive. The very first thing he told me was “as soon as you put the key in the ignition, you have control of a lethal weapon – be responsible”. From that very minute I vowed not to drink alcohol. So I went down to my local church (again unusually for a man in his mid-40s in present day Ireland – I’m still an practicing catholic) an took the “pledge” – something I deliberately did NOT do at the time of my confirmation. I did this not for religious reasons, but to get the “pin”. Because in 1986 people would have had the “a sure you’ll have the one” conversation – but they would leave you alone if you wore the pin. And that’s what I did until I sailed for London the following year, where I didn’t have to explain to anyone that I didn’t drink (well not much anyway). In the past few years I have come across a group called the “No-Name Club” who organise youth events (15-18 year olds) with a complete intolerance to alcohol and drugs. These clubs offer an alternative to the belief that you can’t have a good time if you can remember it the next day…they are packed with intelligent, articulate, engaged, talented young people. That’s why I use the word “seemingly” at the beginning. The culture of excessive drinking is alive and well – but there is movement out there to show that there are alternatives.
Thanks Des for a very insightful series.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

(Not Quite) Empty Nest

Our eldest has flown the coup! That has got to be the quickest eighteen years and ten months EVER! But she has flow to pursue her burning ambition and for that I am eternally grateful! But she’s gone abroad, and that adds another dimension…she may never live here again. I don’t think that’s always a bad thing (having emigrated myself when I was nineteen), but it’s sad all the same. Our home is different too. Certainly quieter, but somehow incomplete. But this is what you do as parents. You set the game up, but you know that it is not a game that you will ever play, that’s for your child to do. You hope that you’ve set the game up in such a way that the odds of winning are stacked heavily in their favour, but you can never tell what the game will present them with. But boy – what an adventure this game is!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Celebrity 2012 Style

Firstly, well done London 2012, it’s never easy for a city to host the Olympics, and your citizens should be rightly proud of their contribution (both financially and emotionally) in bring it about. But as I look at these games (and not being a “sporty” type) I was struck by something that I’d like to share…we may have a new style of “celebrity”.
During the last season of “Britain’s Got Talent” there was a young man from Northern Ireland called Ashley Elliot who played a xylophone. Ashley was sixteen years of age, and was clearly a person who had put in years of practice, hours each week of dedicated time devoted to learning, improving and mastering his chosen instrument. But, in this age of “celebrity”, that sort of dedication doesn’t count for much. “Will it sell?” said Simon Cowell…and that is all he cares about. I like that art sells, I think it’s fantastic that artists get paid for what they produce, but art, sports, music and even business, is not JUST about the money. The young girl who trained the dog who eventually won deserves a huge amount of credit for her dedication to training that dog, and in the end they were worthy winners, but young Ashley’s efforts were deemed far less worthy than a man with a saucepan on his head repeating the word “exterminate!” (if you don’t know what I’m talking about – don’t waste a moment of your life looking for it on You Tube – you will beg God for those moments back on your death bed). Being stupid (I don’t mean “funny” – I mean “stupid”) is talented, being dedicated is not.
And so we come to these past few days. Of course, as an Irishman, I want to see Team Ireland doing well, but I think the Olympics goes beyond that. I was delighted to see Andy Murray win gold, to see Bolt do what Bolt does, to see a Belarus gymnast on a pummel horse with the strength of a weightlifter, the gracefulness of a ballet dancer and the mental agility of a chess grand master. But I’m also in awe of those who have very little chance of standing on the winners platform, who have reached a level in their chosen sport that the vast majority can only dream of. When they do not win – they are not losers – they are competitors. They inspire the young to try, and fill those of us who are older with regrets that we didn’t take opportunities when we were younger. For some countries they reward their medal winners financially, but I love the fact that TeamGB is rewarding them with a stamp in their honour! To see John Joe Nevin on the front of todays newspapers here and not Big Brother’s “Tony” (or whoever) and his affair with a “hostess” is refreshing. Let’s hope Annalise Murphy and Jessica Ennis, Katie Taylor and Mo Farah are inspiring not only future athletes, but future generations who will take up the xylophone rather than place a saucepan on their head.