Here are some secular reasons to vote No in the upcoming referendum on same-sex marriage.
Whatever one personally thinks of marriage, just like religion, it should be consigned to the private sphere: I). on philosophical grounds; and ii). because State support for marriage directly contributes to inequality of the treatment of families, and directly discriminates against unmarried parents and their children - regardless of whether the parents are 'straight' or same-sex.
I am not alone in thinking that all marriage is an unnecessary fetish which is the legacy of religious ritual. Where private ceremonies are concerned, it is none of my business; and if invited, I can go along for the party and wish the couple well (within our closed circle of wedding-invitees, or a personal announcement in Social Media etc.). However, as a citizen, the State’s involvement in marriage is my business; and I object on two grounds:
Firstly, State involvement with marriage custom is as archaic as mentions of god in the Constitution or Statute books of any State. If there were to be a referendum on extending the definition of ‘god’ in the Constitution to include all deities, I, as an atheist, would be conscience-bound to vote No, because no god has any place in a Constitution. Concomitantly, when an extension of the legitimisation of marriage is proposed, I am also duty-bound to vote No – because I am against State involvement in marriage.
Despite my personal opinion on marriage, I cannot, and do not, have objections to what people wish to do in their own private ceremonies; or in their campaigns within respective cultural or religious groups to achieve equality within those contexts (including equal access to religious rites). But the State has no business in legislating for, or interfering in, the intimate relationships of consenting adults.
The second reason, is that, because the State’s involvement with marriage is intrinsically bound up with its definitions and redefinitions of the family, it is necessarily directly discriminatory against unmarried families. The following examples are based on the traditional unmarried vs. married family models, for illustrative purposes; but if the referendum is carried, the institutionalised discriminatory divide will merely be maintained across all family types (straight and gay parents alike).
a). Current state involvement with marriage is discriminatory against unmarried fathers, because even after the new family legislation, they do not have automatic rights of guardianship, joint custody, or even access to their children. Conversely, children do not have automatic rights of access to their unmarried fathers. This state of affairs is absurd, and deeply sexist (i.e., discriminatory on grounds of gender).
Marriage, of course, guarantees automatic rights of guardianship, joint custody, and access, to both married partners (whether or not both of them happen to be the biological parents).
Whether or not the referendum is passed, a complete stranger can come along and marry the ‘primary’ parent, and regardless of the wishes of the excluded parent (who may be the biological parent), have all of those automatic rights; and the children have no say.
b). unmarried primary parents are expected to do impossible time-juggling with the back-to-work pressure from when the youngest child turns seven.
c). The State discourages unmarried fathers from having an active family life – thus perpetuating the stereotype of the feckless unmarried father. There should be no difference between how a married or unmarried family is treated.
d). currently, parents need to be married for children to have automatic rights of inheritance.
The welfare of children must be looked to outside of the institution of marriage, because to do otherwise would be to discriminate against the 33% of children born outside wedlock in this country. If Britain and France are ahead of us in social trends, we can expect even more children outside of marriage (UK 48%, and France 52%). We need to work with this social fact, and not against it by bestowing benefits on those who marry.
This country has a legacy of putting unmarried families at a disadvantage – a shameful legacy which should be reversed immediately and completely. This referendum, if not a red herring, is reinforcing this legacy, as well as legitimising and strengthening a discriminatory, unhealthy, and decaying institution.
In sum, the State should treat all children and families equally, and stop discriminating against them on the grounds of marriage. Like religion, any marriage is a personal and private matter which does not belong in a modern or postmodern, secular Civic Sphere. The proposal masks the real inequalities in an increasing number of families, resulting from the State’s heavy support for an archaic fetish; and encouraging such irrational support should be seen in times to come, as a retrograde statement by the Irish electorate.