Saturday, May 23, 2015

Oyreland leads the way, laddies

It's heartening to see that Ireland may well become the first country in the world to legitimize gay marriage via popular vote. Americans could learn from this.

Irish voters turned out in droves to cast ballots in a gay marriage referendum Friday, with the high turnout likely to favor the “yes” side seeking equality just two decades after the country decriminalized homosexuality.

With the once mighty Catholic Church’s influence ravaged by child abuse scandals, opinion polls indicated the proposal would pass by as much as 2-to-1, making Ireland the first country to adopt same-sex marriage via a popular vote.


Gay marriage is backed by all political parties, championed by big employers and endorsed by celebrities, all hoping it will mark a transformation in a country that was long regarded as one of the most socially conservative in Western Europe.

Good for you, Ireland.

There's so much resistance, in America, to the idea of gays and lesbians marrying, and it's bizarre that this is so: per an old stat from Andrew Sullivan, homosexuals account for perhaps 3 to 5 percent of any given population, i.e., at most one out of twenty. What huge, disruptive, disastrous social change is going to occur if one person out of twenty is finally allowed to do what the other nineteen can already do?*

I realize, of course, that this is a messy issue. There's a religious dimension that overlaps only partially with the political and moral dimensions. Many contend that government should be out of the marriage business completely, which is a nice thought, but when there are practical issues like inheritance and hospital-visitation rights to consider, the law is inevitably going to have something to say. One could try to limit the term "marriage" to apply only to that ceremony which is performed in a religious context, but people who have gotten married outside the religious context (at a courthouse, say, in a civil ceremony) might have dissenting opinions about that. The lesson I take from Ireland, though, is that, little by little, gay marriage is gaining acceptance, whether you view it as a legal matter, a moral matter, or a religious matter. As Reverend Donald Sensing noted long ago, the battle against gay marriage has, essentially, already been lost: there's little left but for the tidal momentum to carry gay marriage forward to full fruition. And I think we'll all discover that, once fruition is achieved, not much about our culture and society will have changed.

*I know social conservatives who argue that gays have a disproportionate influence on the culture because they're overrepresented in the media. I'd agree that gays are indeed overrepresented, but I don't think that's at all relevant to the deeper question of how legitimizing gay marriage will deeply affect the culture. The private fear of many such conservatives is an irrational one: that people can somehow be persuaded to "go gay," as if homosexuality were simultaneously a choice and a communicable disease. We've been over that particular argument too many times for me to rehash it here.



Charles said...

Saw this on the news this morning.

My thoughts are pretty simple: The institution of marriage is a secular one, not tied to any specific religion. It was around long before Christianity came along, at least.

I came to this realization when I got married. We went to the district office and then the US embassy to get our marriage licenses filed. I remember the staffer at the embassy handing us a stamped document and saying, "Congratulations! You're married!" I was a little confused at first. "Really?" I asked. "Just like that?" The staffer replied: "Yup. Just like that. You are now legally husband and wife."

That the issue is a little more complicated than that was made clear to me by my newly-minted wife's reaction to my suggestion that we go get a hotel room. But the fact remains that marriage is and always has been a secular institution, no matter what religions significance it might also have for certain segments of the population.

Kevin Kim said...


Thanks for the comment.

I think marriage is plausibly secular today, at least among some people, mainly because we actually have, these days, a concept of the secular. It's not so obvious to me that, in ancient times, people had a notion of secularity that corresponds to modern notions of that term. "Before Christianity" doesn't mean "before religion," obviously, so religion has theoretically been a factor in marriage since the beginning. A historian of religions like Mircea Eliade would likely say that ancient peoples divided the world into its sacred and profane aspects, but it's a tough question as to whether "the profane," an ancient concept, equates to "the secular," a fairly modern concept.*

My own guess—not having done my anthropological homework—is that formalized marriage started off as some sort of ritual (to wit: a public, ceremonial proclamation of life-commitment, followed by the life-commitment itself, i.e., all marriages begin as ritual before becoming a way of life, hence the two senses of marriage as both "wedding ceremony" and "married life") long before it ever became something as heavy and significant as an institution. As such, as a ritual, it probably belonged more to the realm of the sacred than to the profane. Rituals often overlap with notions of the holy, if we take "holy" to mean something like "set apart" or "particularly special and worthy of deep respect." We reserve rituals for special occasions; marriage is a special occasion, therefore etc., etc.

[Digression: going back even further, I'd guess that human marriage, at its primordial outset, was little different from animal pair-bonding—the male looks at the female and, through just a glance or through his posture, wordlessly declares, "Yo. Me. You. Forevs." And so they bond.]

That said, while I'm not sure I'd agree that marriage has always been a fundamentally secular institution, historically speaking, I can see such an argument being made for modern marriage—which is, I think, the argument you yourself may have made when you used your own (modern) marriage as an example. (A modern example certainly doesn't support the idea that marriage has been secular since its beginning, but it's good evidence that there's an association between marriage and secularity now.)

My two cents, for what they're worth. (Two cents, apparently.)

***** ***** ***** *****

*We could take this even further and say that, in ancient times, it's unclear as to what might have counted as religion, per se, given that the term religio wasn't really in wide use until the Roman Empire—and the Romans used the word in a very different way from how we use it today.

John from Daejeon said...

Kevin, I guess you're going back about 80,000 years for that first pairing up as before that it seems that females of our earlier selves were most likely communal property to ensure survival of the fittest of our evolving species.

Charles said...


Yes, good points. To clarify, what I meant was that marriage has been a secular institution for as long as we've had the concept of secularity. By which (to clarify further) I suppose what I mean is that no single religious group really has the authority to determine what marriage should be for everyone. Perhaps in my zeal my original comment was a bit too sweeping.

Kevin Kim said...

John from Daejeon,

Things were weird in the old days, but women might have had more advantages than originally thought.


"no single religious group really has the authority to determine what marriage should be for everyone"

Sounds like a winner!