Why Marriage Equality is Going to Win, Ultimately

I am not Irish; I was born here (well, in the United States--New York City, to be exact).  I have never lived in Ireland, and so I am not really equipped to analyze and parse all of the reasons that the people of Ireland overwhelmingly voted to change their constitution to allow same sex couples to get married.  For that kind of analysis, you should look to Irish sources--the Irish Times has had typically excellent coverage.

I have a feeling, though, that I know the reason.  While I am not Irish, the vast majority of my family originates from Ireland.  There is some German blood on my paternal grandfather's side (Hinler--not to be confused with notorious Nazi mass murder Himmler, as my father is quick to point out), and my maternal grandfather was born in England, originally of Welsh descent (Jones).  Otherwise, it is all Irish--Boyle, McDonald, McGonigle.  So, while I am not Irish, I think can see the echoes of the traits common to the people of Ireland in my own family, and even in myself.  Perhaps I am projecting what is not really there.  But I think not.

To understand the heart of why Ireland voted the way it did, I think you need only to watch two television ads that ran during the campaign.  These two ads are probably two of the top five political ads I have ever seen.
The great Spencer Hall, who tipped me off to this ad, expressed on Twitter his shock at the lack of emotion shown by the people in the ad, especially the father at the end.  I guess it must be the Irish thing, because I thought that was one of the most emotional ads I have ever seen.  The Irish are not generally an outwardly emotional people.  We tend to bury our feelings and suffer in silence (or try to drink feelings away).  But the emotions are there, and in my experience they are there in particularly when it comes to your blood.

That father voted Yes because he loved his son.  Nothing else--no old prejudices, no pronouncements from bishops--is going to change that.  The moment gay issues stopped being about "those people over there" and started being about the people that you already know, the people that you already love, was the moment the ultimate result became inevitable.

There are people for whom those kinds of considerations give way to the more abstract concerns about "the sanctity of marriage" and such.  But all of that is part of the water.  And, as I have heard countless times in my family, blood is always thicker than water.

The genius of this ad is that it presents in a very simple and accessible way a question of basic fairness.  I don't have to get everyone's permission to marry; why should gay folks have to?  You can talk about more elevated concepts like freedoms or rights, and those things resonate with some people.  But most everyone has an intuitive, core notion of fairness.  And you have to work very, very hard to come up with an explanation why it is in fact "fair" to keep loving gay couples from getting married if they want to do so.  It just is.

And this is why the anti-gay marriage folks have lost.  They tried to make the debate either about elevated, abstract concerns like the nature of marriage as an institution, or else they tried to drive down the debate into disgust and prejudice.  Campaigns like the one in Ireland sailed between those two poles, and framed the question in terms of two basic things everyone can relate to--"voting against gay marriage will harm the people you love" and "voting for gay marriage is the fair thing to do."  No convoluted natural law argument can stand up to the power of those ideas. And, as Ireland has demonstrated, people are ultimately better than their prejudices, if seen through the long view.

So, that's why I think the referendum passed in Ireland.  Not because the Irish people sought to reject Catholicism/Christianity or to advocate for "secularism," whatever that means.  I think they voted that way because they didn't want to hurt the people they loved, and/or because they thought it was the fair thing to do.  And those two ideas have enormous power.


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