Over the past month, media of all hues has been awash with commentary on the upcoming Marriage Referendum. By and large, it’s been a one sided debate. Most commentators I have seen are firmly pro-marriage equality. They are facing off against a much smaller No campaign dominated, in the main, by oddballs.
The rhetoric of the No campaigners is dominated by conservative religious doctrines and anti-gay fear mongering that would seem more at home in the 1970’s. With their talk of cancer rates, marrying your granny and allowing homosexuals to marry (so long as it’s the opposite sex) the only good they are doing is to expose themselves as bigots. They do no justice to their cause. Ironically, they may even be recruiting sergeants to the Yes camp – forcing people who would not ordinarily vote to cast their ballots.
In my opinion, the crank commentators are not the problem. I expect that the referendum outcome will be a solid Yes, however I also suspect that somewhere between 25% and 35% of the population will vote No – a depressingly high statistic given the paucity of charisma and rational arguments from the anti-amendment side.
No, the real battle is not against the extremists. The group the Yes campaign need to pay most attention to is the unaffected, the smug and the unconcerned.
Put it this way: there are still a lot of people in Ireland who are not knowingly familiar with LGBT people. Where they have gay friends, they may not be aware they are gay. To them, homosexual issues have no real relevance to their lives. Their views on homosexuality will, of course, depend on the person, but in many cases I suspect it may be informed by nothing more than lazy prejudices – that two men kissing is ‘yucky’, or that homosexual sex is gross, or we didn’t have any of that when we were growing up, or something of that ilk. And that’s about as much thought as they will have put into these issues. Because of the lives they lead and the friendship networks they have, marriage equality is a non-issue.
I suspect this is quite a large cohort of people. They will go to the polls and vote No, not because the Catholic bishops told them to, or because the Iona Institute had some fantastically compelling arguments, but because they would prefer their world to stay the same.
The real battle is against the smug. It will be a difficult job to change many of these mindsets in the run up to the vote, but appealing towards greater acceptance of different walks of life will help. A positive approach that promotes tolerance and common justice may be more persuasive than constantly chasing the extremists around the pages of social media.