Us, them and 'we'

The marriage referendum, scheduled for May 22, is now less than 4 weeks away.

I want here to dwell on a particular No side poster (from Mothers and Fathers Matter). It states "We already have civil partnerships; don't redefine marriage".

I am intrigued, in particular, by the 'we'. Who are this 'we'? What does this mean?

Are 'we' everybody?
If the 'we is 'we' as  in 'the public' at large, in fact 'we' don't all have civil partnerships. Only unrelated couples of the same-sex may enter into civil partnership. There is no requirement, admittedly, that the couple be gay. Yet, barring unusual circumstances,* it is very unlikely that many straight people have partaken of civil partnership, not least because it forecloses the possibility of a marriage to an opposite-sex partner.

Are 'we' heterosexual?
If the 'we' means (as it often means) heterosexual couples and heterosexuals generally, then the 'we' don't have civil partnerships in any meaningful sense; opposite-sex couples cannot enter into civil partnership. Some opposite-sex couples actually might like to have a civil partnership, though there is no widespread clamour to extend civil partnership to opposite-sex couples. In a consultation carried out in England and Wales, the UK Government found there was comparatively little demand for civil partnerships for opposite-sex couples.

20,680 opposite-sex couples married in Ireland in 2013. One cannot imagine many brides or grooms regretting marrying on the basis that they really would have preferred a civil partnership.

Are 'we' the LGBT community?
It is unlikely that the 'we' here is intended to mean the LGBT community. Some of those campaigning for a No vote may feasibly be gay. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that the poster is aimed at LGBT people at large (the majority of the electorate is heterosexual). By the same token, it does not appear to be the case that the poster is claiming to speak on behalf of the LGBT community at large; such a claim would be easily refuted. Some in the LGBT community were lukewarm to put it mildly about the introduction of civil partnership, arguing that it copperfastened second-class citizenship; others conditionally welcomed and campaigned for it, but only as a stepping stone to marriage.

'Us and them'
It might indeed have been more accurate to say 'they' have civil partnerships though, politically, this would have been unpalatable.  Indeed, the 'we' here is clever; it ostensibly avoids an 'othering' process that would have been regarded as divisive. It implies a common, collective endeavour; 'we' collectively, as a society have civil partnerships.

Did the 'we' ever want civil partnership?
While some No campaigners may well favour civil partnership, it is hardly the case that those who are now calling for a no vote were in the vanguard of the campaign for civil partnership.   It is possible that some No campaigners may well support and may well have supported civil partnership. Nonetheless, at least some of those who now argue for a no vote certainly did not actively support or campaign for the introduction of civil partnership. Some actively opposed it. Cóir published a position paper arguing against it. A prominent no campaigner and Director of the Iona Institute claimed that we would 'pay a heavy price for same-sex unions.' Anti civil partnership campaigners protested outside Leinster House both before and after the 2010 Act was passed. The Head of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland threatened to sue if civil partnership were introduced.

Conservative senators opposed the bill section by section in the Seanad.

In 2011 the Campaign for Conscience commenced proceedings claiming that all of the sections of the Civil Partnership Act, bar those relating to cohabitants, were unconstitutional.  They based their claim on the proposition that civil partnership offended God's law, citing references to God in the Preamble and in Article 6 of the Constitution. The case was rejected (though I have never been able to locate a formal written judgment).

One may thus read the poster as saying 'isn't civil partnership good enough for them?' Yet, based on the efforts made to scupper CP, another plausible reading is that the poster may imply that civil partnership actually was 'too good for them to begin with'.

The question to ask here is - would currently married couples be happy to exchange their marriage for a civil partnership?  Would it be 'good enough' for them?

[*Jill Kirby relates an account by Tim Bracken of the situation of a woman with a terminal illness. She entered into civil partnership with her female friend, the intention being that the latter could inherit the former's estate tax free. This equally could happen with marriage, of course; had the friend been male, they could have married for the same purpose.  (Outside the context of immigration, and provided both parties give a free consent, the law regards motive for marrying as irrelevant to its validity).]


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