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Unique not unequal

By Niall Crowley

Diarmuid Martin believes in a “culture of difference” equality. He is not saying that gay and lesbian people are deficient compared to others, he talks about a ‘uniqueness’

They’re all for equality, Diarmuid Martin, GLEN, the Iona Institute, Marriage Equality, even the Government. The “Yes” and “No” sides in the May referendum on same sex marriage seem united.

“Yes Equality”, the civil society group seeking a “Yes” vote, argue, that “voting yes will be saying yes to marriage, yes to equality and yes to strengthening Irish society”. The Government named the Bill to amend the Constitution, “The Thirty-Fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015”.

The Iona Institute was aggravated, but David Quinn is still for equality. “Those of us who will be voting no in May are not voting No to equality. Instead we’re voting to ensure that different situations are treated differently”. Diarmuid Martin is advocating a “No” vote but remains committed to equality. “An ethics of equality does not require uniformity. There can be an ethic of equality which is an ethic of recognising and respecting difference. A pluralist society can be creative in finding ways in which people of same sex orientation have their rights and their loving and caring relationships recognised and cherished in a culture of difference”.

Diarmuid Martin believes in a “culture of difference” equality. He says: “I am not saying that gay and lesbian people are unloving or that their love is somehow deficient compared to others, I am talking about a uniqueness in the male-female relationship”. David Quinn is more blunt about the consequences of a Yes vote: “We will be saying that families consisting of two married men or two married women are just as fundamental to society as a family consisting of a married man and woman”. Mother and Fathers Matter agree: “Men and women who marry will be denied proper recognition and celebration of the distinctiveness of their union and, even more importantly, any recognition of their role and responsibility in creating and nurturing children”.

“Culture of difference” equality is at ease with discrimination. It is redolent of pre-Civil Rights attitudes to ‘Negroes’ in the US: ‘separate but equal’ It has echoes of the “equality before the law” except in case of “differences of moral capacity and social function” that extraordinarily continues at the heart of the Constitution’s provisions on equality but which owes its origin in the thinking of the nineteen-thirties. Article 40.1 still provides that: “All citizens shall, as human persons, be held equal before the law. This shall not be held to mean that the State shall not in its enactments have due regard to differences of capacity, physical and moral, and of social function”. This thinking infuses The Evangelical Cross Denominational Response to the Same-Sex Marriage Referendum which complains: “Service providers such as caterers and photographers would be acting illegally if, on grounds of conscience, they were to decline services for same-sex weddings”. And Fathers and Mothers Matter worry that: “any business connected with marriage or weddings could find itself before the courts if it refuses to provide its goods or services for a same sex marriage”. “Freedom of conscience” becomes a cover for discrimination.

“Culture of difference” equality comes with some essentialist rendering of men and women. Mothers and Fathers Matter argues: “Men and women complement one another. Children benefit from the balance that mothers and fathers and bring to parenting”. The Evangelical Cross Denominational Response to the Same-Sex Marriage Referendum suggests: “This change would deny the importance our society places on the complementary role of mothers and fathers in raising children”. This smacks of the insidious results of stereotyping that serve to underpin the fact that women in couples do nearly three quarters of the unpaid work and more than half of the total work per day in a household.

Difference has practical implications. A failure to take account of such implications does lead to exclusion. The fact that gay and lesbian people form loving and sexual relationships with people of the same sex means they are different to heterosexual people.

The fact that marriage fails to take account of this difference means that lesbian and gay people are excluded from any status or benefit it might offer. Yes, says the “No” side! That is why you have Civil Partnership for lesbian and gay people.

“Culture of difference” equality cannot even deal with difference. Making adjustments to the general provision of rights so as to ensure access and inclusion has to be the first response to difference. Separate provision is only a last resort or it becomes segregation and discrimination.

Another constraint derives from this “culture of difference” equality here. Breda O’Brien says if gay people want to live a Christian way of life, like all unmarried couples, they should abstain from sex. “If you can live up to this very demanding thing, I think it will make you happy [to abstain]. It will be excruciatingly difficult, I think you will need huge support, huge help, lots of very strong, loving relationships”.

You are different but we are unique. We don’t want to do business with you. We will all retain our traditional roles. You can have civil partnership but you can’t have sex.

This “culture of difference” equality is not convincing. Best stick with “Yes Equality” if you want equality. •