A referendum on same-sex marriage will be held in Ireland on Friday, which means Ireland could become the first country in the world to pass marriage equality by a national vote. For an officially Catholic nation that’s quite something. The Catholic Church isn’t keen on same-sex marriage, to say the least, and so constitutes the bulk of the opposition to it. If the Catholic Church still has anything it has influence over hearts and minds, and so even though polls suggest the yes camp are quite far ahead I suspect the result will be much closer than predicted.
I’ve not been keeping close tabs on it, I must admit, but it seems to me that much of the debate, discussion and campaigning has been rooted in moral arguments. I don’t mean the nonsensical ‘God says same-sex relationships are immoral’ kind of religious moral argument, but potentially valid arguments or concerns around the effects that being raised without a father or a mother might have on the well-being of children. This piece in the Irish Times from a ‘children’s rights activist’, who was raised by a lesbian mother and her same-sex partner, which argues against the virtue of same-sex parenting, is an example of the kind of argument I’m referring to.
Debate, discussion, study and research on the potential short and long-term effects that the absence of a mother or father in childhood has on the well-being and development of children is valid and healthy, but the same-sex marriage referendum is first and foremost an issue of individual liberty; more specifically the universal enforcement of property rights.
Marriage, fundamentally, is an enforceable contract between two individuals. In a society of property rights and contract law, which Ireland as much as anywhere is, the sexual orientation of the two individuals entering into such a contract should not determine its validity. The only thing that should determine that, like any contract, is whether it meets the usual requirements for validity and legal recognition – e.g. oral and/or written acceptance.
If valid marriage contracts between two people of the same-sex are considered invalid and not given legal recognition, but marriage contracts between a man and a woman are, then property rights are being arbitrarily violated by the very agency that supposedly exists to perform the function of protecting and enforcing everyone’s property rights equally – the State. This is a classic example of a special interest group (in this case the oldest in human history) perverting and inverting the functioning of the State such that instead of enforcing people’s rights it removes them in some particular aspect of their lives.
Everyone who believes that the State should not restrict people’s freedoms to enter into contracts at the behest of one group of people who want to force everyone else to act according to their own beliefs should vote ‘yes’, even if they have doubts over the virtue of same-sex parenting.
There probably is a debate to be had on the virtue of same-sex parenting, and science may play its part in that, but the State must not be involved because that inevitably leads to a re-shrinking of individual liberty.