SSM referendum: birth of an Irish Manif Pour Tous?

Senator Ronán Mullen

Senator Ronán Mullen

The following statement was made by Senator Ronán Mullen, a leader of the campaign against amending the Irish referendum to allow same-sex marriage, following the decisive vote in favour of the amendment by 61 per cent to 38 per cent. It suggests reasons why the campaign lost, while suggesting that it has galvanised a new movement in Ireland that could in future grow.

Firstly I would like to extend my best wishes to everyone in the Yes campaign.

Our country has divided two-to-one on the proposal to change the meaning of marriage in our society. What we are not divided about is how we feel about gay people. Every human being has equal dignity and deserves equal respect. We are all committed to that.

The No campaign was concerned about the profound effects of redefining marriage, and in particular about the consequences for some children who would be less likely to experience the love of a mother and father in their lives in the event of a Yes vote. That concern was real and it remains justified.

I recognise that a clear majority of Irish people were not swayed by our concerns. But that does not mean that Yes voters do not share those concerns. I believe people chose yesterday to send a message of affirmation and equal respect to gay people. That was their priority. And I respect that.

I am very proud of the way the No side communicated its argument in public. Our message only began to get traction within the last few weeks when the media were obliged to give balanced coverage. We were trying to communicate an important social value against the background of a five-year media campaign to redefine marriage. While we did well in the current affairs debate, we had neither the financial resources, nor the cultural support in the media and Irish establishment, to reach hundreds of thousands of other people for whom this referendum was only ever about how we feel about gay people.

It is an indisputable fact that the media coverage until the formal start of the campaign was entirely one-sided. It is even more worrying that a crazy amount of overseas money from one American foundation poured into groups on the Yes side in recent years. For the sake of our democracy we need to have a public reflection on how this happened, and its implications for law and policy in Ireland.

Now that marriage is to have a changed meaning in our society, we need to have a conversation about how a certain large minority is to be accommodated. That large minority is the group of people who believe in a different version of marriage to that which is now formally backed by the State. It will be important that we are all generous with each other, and that there is space and freedom for us to communicate our values – including in schools funded by the State.

We on the No side have a fine new movement here now, with many committed young people and courageous public speakers. We have a new cause too that has been neglected by the Irish political and media establishment and the children’s rights lobbies – the right of a child to be brought into the world, to know and be raised, by their mother and father wherever that’s possible. We are going to be busy taking this message to the Irish public – and we are confident that it will gain momentum in the coming years.

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