Bruce Arnold

Critic of Public Affairs, writing about art, theatre, music and politics

Wasted Words of False Love

Why is it that a campaign in the name of love should be so tainted by expressions of hate? Advocates appeal, powerfully, to our emotions and sympathy but they deny the role of reason and the rules of public debate. Many of those who campaign to change the Constitution—backed by many millions of dollars of funding—appear to believe that they can achieve their aim by emotional blackmail and browbeating.

I find it necessary to affirm, over and again, that “it’s okay to be rational”. Denying one’s opponents the right to disagree, tearing down their posters and smothering expressions of dissent, are all indices of fascism. Yet they are justified by “liberals”. Their slogan? “Let’s treat everyone equally.”
Worse has happened. To begin with the Government got the wording wrong, I pointed it out and they had to change it. They started out with an “Equality Referendum”. Judge Cross changed that to the more honest title, “Marriage Referendum”. I have shown in repeated statements that a very strange definition of marriage will eventually emerge. Ireland has been told that “Same-Sex Marriage” is a Human Right. No nation’s constitution, no international human rights convention has accepted this. A growing number of Irish men and women openly disagree with what the noisy “Yes Side” are telling them about how they should vote.

The opinion polls suggest, nevertheless, that these advocates have largely managed to quell public dissent and to induce unprecedented expressions of partisanship from the Gardaí and publicly funded agencies.

It remains to be seen whether the people will still feel free in the privacy of the ballot box to think for themselves.

What I write below I believe to be the truth about what the country now faces. It seems to me that the inherent irrationality—or “grotesque nonsense” as Prof. John A. Murphy put it (Irish Times, May 13, 2023)—of the issue itself is at the heart of the problem. This is evident even in the oxymoronic campaign title—“Marriage Equality”.

To quote Prof. Murphy again “The two categories, heterosexual and homosexual, simply cannot be accommodated in the same term, ‘marriage’, without redefining that word to a meaningless level.” In order to allow two men to get “married”, you must empty the words of their ordinary meaning and reduce them to an expression covering any form of adult relationship. The Referendum Commission has confirmed, for example, that the new law would allow any two adult friends to get married, whatever their sexual interest or otherwise in one another. Why then limit this new status to just two adults? Why exclude brothers or sisters? Are some friendships to be more equal than others?

Again, why should the Constitution profess an overriding interest in solemnising a friendship between two men—which we are repeatedly assured has nothing whatsoever to do with children and confers no rights to surrogacy—at the cost of abandoning the special protection of the male-female relationship on which the Family is really based, the rights of children assured and the inter-generational continuity of the family and society secured?

It was George Bernard Shaw who said “The moment we want to believe something, we suddenly see all the arguments for it, and become blind to the arguments against it.” This debate has been bedevilled by emotional and even hysterical demands for an empty “equality” for some, with no consideration given to the consequences for others, least of all for children.

This is a very badly designed constitutional amendment. It would introduce such irrational chaos into the Constitution that its legal effects and consequences would be left entirely to the Courts to sort out. But the whole point of making such provisions in the Constitution is that it is the people (not the Courts or the Oireachtas) who decide these points of principle.

Does any thinking person actually consider that the family, which is “the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society and a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law”, should be defined in the Constitution as a gender-blind and inherently sterile friendship of two adults, or that such unions should be described as “the necessary basis of social order and as indispensable to the welfare of the Nation and the State”?

If there is no longer any reason to suppose that a “family” will include a woman, why doesn’t the amendment reflect this by the deletion of Article 41.2.1°, which “recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved”? If the constitutional common good still requires a woman in the family, where is the equality for a “family” comprising two men? Are lesbians more equal than gays? Will this affect adoption decisions?

If founding a family no longer implies the possibility of giving birth to children, how can this gender-blind unit still be defined in Article 42.1 as “the primary and natural educator of the child”? Again, how can the Constitution assert “the inalienable right and duty of parents to provide, according to their means, for the religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social education of their children” when the legal status and meaning of “parent” is to become a privilege (often fictitious) conferred by the State and not by the facts of nature?

The underlying momentum behind these legal absurdities may be found in a gender ideology which holds that whether you are male or female is a matter of your own choice. Differences of biological sex are seen as mere accidents which can be manipulated with the help of modern science. “People understand gender to be a natural expression of the biological sex they were born with. It’s not. We’re all born androgynous. The previous paradigm of gender has been disproven.” (Emer O’Toole, Irish Times, 30 March 2023).

This radical ideology is also evident in Head 10 of the draft General Scheme of Marriage Bill 2024, which provides that a change of gender on the part of one of the spouses, without the consent of the other, would have no effect on the validity of their marriage. Elimination of all gender difference in social and legal structures is a major priority for this politically and economically powerful movement.

Does it not strike anyone else that there is an element of mockery involved in making this radical change “In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred” (Preamble to the Constitution)? Is this the ideological irrationality we want to enshrine in our Constitution?

Perhaps wiser counsel will prevail. “I wonder, for example, if the so-called gender theory is not also an expression of a frustration and of a resignation, which aims to cancel the sexual difference because it no longer knows how to address it. Yes, we risk taking a step backward. The removal of the difference, in fact, is the problem, not the solution.” Pope Francis (April 15th, 2024)

These Constitutional absurdities will lead, sooner or later, to major practical difficulties following the adoption of this benighted amendment. Of immediate concern would be the legal status of any marriages solemnised after May 23rd.

The present marriage declaration—which will not be amended for some time—requires the parties to understand and accept one another as “husband” and “wife”. On the legal advice of barrister Benedict O’Floinn, I understand that the amended Constitution would categorically prohibit any such gender-based distinction and that, once the amendment has been signed into law by the President, no legislation could operate, for a day or a week, contrary to that prohibition. It would no longer be possible for the Chief Registrar to validly approve or permit any gender-specific marriage declaration or ceremony.
O’Floinn mentioned a clear precedent for a constitutional amendment having a direct effect prior to the introduction of legislation. In January 1997, prior to the entry into force of the Family Law (Divorce) Act, 1996, the High Court granted a petition for divorce on the authority of the new Article 41.3.2° of the Constitution. If the Chief Registrar does not act to prohibit potentially invalid marriages after May 23rd, he may later be found to be complicit in and liable for the financial and other consequences. A challenge to the validity of such marriages could arise, for example, in nullity, separation or divorce proceedings.
The knock-on difficulties for joint solemnisation of religious and civil marriage—such as is the practice in over 70% of marriages celebrated in Ireland—cannot be rectified by legislation. The new gender-blind constitutional declaration would be essentially different to the gender-specific declarations on which most religious marriage ceremonies are based. Note that it is not a question of whether the Churches will or will not agree to solemnise marriages on behalf of the State. It is not really their call.

The disqualification of religious marriage ceremonies by the enactment of the Referendum would mean that few if any of the 5696 religious solemnisers currently on the public register would still be entitled to solemnise marriage for civil effects. That would leave just 117 civil registrars nominated by the HSE to deal with the entire country. As an immediate consequence in the coming months there would be doubt, confusion and long delays for many intending couples, their families and friends in solemnising marriages for civil purposes.

I join with Professor John A. Murphy in declaring that “because I reject this grotesque nonsense, I will be voting No.”