Counting chickens: why the same-sex marriage referendum could fail

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By Tomás M. Creamer

I have long strived to stay out of the same-sex marriage debate – mainly because I know people on both sides of the fence, and the heavily polarised nature of the issue really doesn’t appeal to me.

However, this article is simply directed mainly on those in favour of the proposal, of which there are many in university, and in the media where I probably would have to work in, if I was ever lucky enough. Many would probably see the headline figures of those in favour of the motion, and assume that it would be fine to simply dismiss those against the proposal, and consider them homophobes. And I’m here to tell you this – if you play with fire, don’t be surprised if you get burned.

As revealed by a recent Red C poll in the Sunday Business Post, even though 81% of people – excluding don’t knows – say that they would support same-sex marriage, deeper analysis of the data shows that many of these “Yes” voters could well be closeted “No” voters.

Really, when you think about it, this should be no surprise – after all, it’s simply not “cool” to come out against same-sex marriage in many social circles, no more than was the opposite ten or twenty years ago. Besides the Iona Institute and other odd voices, much of the media is heavily in favour of the proposal.

38% of voters express reservations about adoption by same-sex couples – and while the Government are planning to introduce a bill to allow for this before the referendum, I don’t think it’s going to make a big difference.

I mean, if you are of the opinion that same-sex couples shouldn’t adopt children, you are hardly going to think: “Oh, wait, it’s already legalised – OK, in that case, I’ll copper-fasten it by supporting same-sex marriage”. Logically, it may seem odd – but social issue referendums are a lot more about emotion than logic, as the history of such referendums show.

The divorce referenda are a good case study. The first one, in the 80s, was heavily defeated at the ballot box.

Even when it was re-ran in 1995, where a large majority of people expressed support in opinion polls, but in the end, it was so close that, even 20 years later, Irish Times writers thank the bad weather in the west of the country on polling day for the success of the referendum, by discouraging turnout in the staunchly conservative rural west.

Of course, many argue that Irish society has become a lot more secular since then – however, the legalisation of same-sex marriage is indisputably a much more liberal ideal than, say, legalising divorce, of which Ireland was one of the last countries in the world to allow by the mid-90’s.

46% of people in the aforementioned Red C poll expressed some reservations about same-sex marriage – and considering how highly screwed support for the measure is among the demographics least likely to turn out to vote (i.e. young people), that should be a cause of concern by those who want to see the measure passed.

And this means that the best way to secure such a vote would not be to brand the “No” speakers on Claire Byrne Live as homophobes, or telling such voters “Don’t be a bollocks!”, as a journalist for the Irish Times recently said on a podcast. It may be good for rallying those already in favour, but such proposals are rarely won by preaching to the converted.

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