An atmosphere of hostility was proclaimed by some last Monday evening (the 1st of October) at the Philosophical Society debate on the legalisation of marriage for same-sex couples. With a large LGBT presence, overwhelmingly in favour of the motion and cries of “bigot” ringing throughout the room, the claim is perhaps unsurprising for anyone considering support of the opposition. For UCC Philosophical Society, however, the debate was the perfect kind of controversial one to get the year started.
Speakers from both sides boasted impressive credentials, although it seemed for a time that the proposition was content to merely ride the tidal wave of support coming from the packed audience. Some of the arguments on that side seemed too obvious to warrant statement, although perhaps that is merely the nature of the debate itself. Certainly most of the audience would have agreed that the answer to the question posed was an obvious one.
Max Krzyzanowski of LGBT Noise called on the opposition to provide some evidence of harms caused to citizens, and children in particular, in those countries where same-sex marriage is already legal. That kind of evidence, however, was something that the opposition could not, or would not, provide. “There are 169 rights denied to couples in civil partnerships compared to married couples,” Mr Krzyzanowski informed the spectators, and asked for those rights to be granted universally.
First in the firing line for the opposition was Mr Andrew McCarthy of SPUC (Society for the Protection for Unborn Children), who spoke about devaluing the institution of marriage: if marriage were extended to same-sex couples, it would also have to be extended to include polygamists and incestuous couples, relationships which would then have to be regulated by the state.
Senator Katherine Zappone was the only speaker to remain calm throughout the entire debate. She talked about “denial of entry into an institution that has significant social and legal status” and, in response to Mr McCarthy’s concerns about the institution of marriage, reminded him that marriage is not and never was a static institution – once upon a time girls as young as ten were forced to marry and marital rape was not considered a real problem.
The final speaker, Mr Brendan O’Neill, editor of Spiked Online, was perhaps the most controversial. He criticised the LGBT movement’s “intolerance of dissent” and accused them of advertising their political elitism by comparing themselves to the unenlightened mob. He spoke of moral pressure to conform on this issue and that the original gay movement did not want equality, but liberation from the “rotten, oppressive institution of marriage”. This entry into conformity, Mr O’Neill said was “not a good thing”.
Later the floor was opened for audience members to address the house, although it would be difficult to say that any of their comments significantly added to the debate. Instead, hollow cries of “bigot” and “homophobe” were tossed around and those in opposition were attacked on what they had to say.
With the curtains now closed on this debate, the controversy is set to continue: join the Philosophical Society for their next debate, “Is Abortion A Feminist Issue?” next Monday October 8th at 7pm in Boole 1.