AS YOUNG Leftie feminists studying politics and sociology in the far-off Eighties, we were all convinced that marriage was a failed bourgeois institution which had run its course and would soon bite the dust of history.
Liberated women wouldn't stand for it anymore, and that
recently discovered subspecies, the New Man, wouldn't dream of asking
any woman he cared about to subsume herself into his oppressive
Of course, it didn't quite work out that way. Rather than becoming
unfashionable, marriage is more popular than ever. Look at Kate
Winslett, who did it last week for the third time.
Kate's only 37, so
she still has plenty of time to catch up with Zsa Zsa Gabor (nine
weddings), and why not?
People like getting married so much these days that they do it all the
time. Even gay people, who could once have been relied upon not to fall
for those icky, socially-constructed delusions, ended up being as sold
on the whole marriage shtick as the rest, especially when marriage was
reconstituted, according to the liberal vocabulary, as a "right".
There's nothing more guaranteed to make a being want something than to
tell them that they can't have it.
Marriage has become, in the process, not a serious commitment, but more
of a social occasion to mark certain points in a person's life. Like a
party, but with more paperwork.
And people seem to want marriage so much
that even those bitterly hostile to the church's role in every other
part of their lives seem to demand the stamp of approval from men in
cassocks when it comes to tying the knot.
It's hard to understand why that should be so, but at least they're
consistent. According to the latest Millward Brown poll for the Sunday
Independent, 64 per cent of people in Ireland are in favour of the
Government legislating to recognise same-sex marriage, with only 23 per
Heterosexuals aren't selfishly trying to keep the
institution to themselves. Getting hitched is such fun they want
everyone to have the chance of doing it too, regardless of sexual
Support for gay marriage crosses all social, geographical and political
Opposition is slightly higher in Munster and some parts of
Leinster outside Dublin than it is in other provinces, and there's a
statistically significant difference between men and women on the issue,
with 59 per cent of men and 70 per cent of women being in favour of the
But support for the move remains solidly in the mid-60s across
the country and across party political opinion. The only big difference
is between the over-65s (of whom only 36 per cent are in favour and 44
per cent against) and the under-24s (of whom 79 per cent are in favour
and only 11 per cent against).
Whatever about the issue, it shows that those who intend to campaign against gay marriage have a fight on their hands.
Of course, polls can change. At the start of the recent children's
referendum campaign, figures suggested the number who intended voting
against it was so negligible as to be practically in the margin of
error. By the time the polls closed, 42 per cent of voters had been
persuaded to say No.
But while proponents of that particular
constitutional amendment also tried to caricature their opponents as
Catholic rednecks who didn't care about children's rights, campaigners
on the No side were able to reach beyond the cliches and reconfigure the
debate as a dialogue about the proper role and manifold failings of the
Abortion lends itself to this sort of broader debate too. It's
hard to see how that could be replicated in any campaign against gay
Even those who are sympathetic to arguments about the breakdown of the
family and its negative effect on children's well-being and general
social cohesion – and the evidence for that is pretty much irrefutable
at this stage – struggle to see how this could be made worse by allowing
gay couples to marry, or even where the connection is between the two.
Family dysfunction and its social consequences are primarily the fault
and responsibility of straight people. Asking gay people to accept that
they can't get married because that would symbolically change the nature
of marriage itself, and thereby trigger unintended negative
consequences, is like sending them out to fight on a battlefield which
straight couples have already deserted.
Mum and Dad are the ones who
already treat marriage lightly, and seem increasingly to regard divorce
and separation as mere occupational hazards along the way; they're the
ones putting their own children second.
If the liberal agenda has triumphed on the issue of gay marriage, as
this poll seems to suggest it has, then maybe it has done so because
most straight people recognise they would be behaving hypocritically to
deny to gay people the same freedoms that they already possess and,
indeed, misuse. Especially when there has been such a sea change in the
definition of marriage.
Opponents of gay marriage want to put children at the heart of what
marriage means, and to stand up for the important differences between
the role and nature of women and mothers on the one hand and men and
fathers on the other hand.
That remains a fight worth having, but most
of us seem unconvinced that this is organically connected to the issue
of gay people getting married at all. Surely many who support gay
marriage also recognise that differences between male and female are
real and do matter?
Still, the 23 per cent of respondents in this poll who are against State
recognition of same-sex marriage, and the 13 per cent of Don't Knows,
remains a significant constituency, which should be allowed to make its
case without the usual insults and slanders generally tossed at those
who defend traditional values.
It is not necessarily homophobic to be
opposed to same-sex marriage, any more than it is misogynistic to oppose
The debate should be interesting, if nothing else.