Look Me In The Eyes And Tell Me Why I Can’t Marry

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lyons and mullen

Labour TD John Lyons (left), who is gay, Independent Senator Ronan Mullen, who is not, took part in an ‘opening debate’ [chaired by Ciara McDonagh  on Newstalk today] ahead of next Spring’s same sex marriage referendum.

We join the debate after Mr Lyons’ pro same-sex submission.

Ciara McCDonagh: “Senator Ronan Mullen has joined us. Ronan, is it fair to say you are against marriage equality and why?”

Ronan Mullen: “That’s where we have to start, getting the language right so that we have a respectful debate. There are hundreds of thousands of people Ciara in this country who see that marriage equality is itself a loaded term, who see that this is a debate about whether we should keep the current definition of marriage or whether we should change it. Equality is a great thing, but, you know the mere use of the word equality can take us into situations that don’t work at all, so for example you take for example you know under age persons who are completely equal in dignity and right to protection of law and in every respect for example a crime against a child is actually worse than a crime against an adult in most people’s eyes but for example there isn’t absolute equality in terms of voting rights in that situation because an issue of maturity arises in that situation.”

McDonagh:  “But that’s slightly different, you’re talking about equality of adults…”

Mullen: “Of course it’s slightly different and this is where we have to get our issues clear and this is where journalists like yourself will, will really have to engage with the hard questions for both sides on a day to day basis. I have to say coming off a European election campaign this isn’t the burning issue for Irish society. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t deal with it, but I suppose on a day to day basis this isn’t the issue I’m dealing with with people whose kids have been forced to emigrate, who cant earn a decent living…”

McDonagh: “Well, that’s fair enough but the Taoiseach has announced it is going to happen in spring so we’re going to have to debate it now, the onus is on the politicians and the media to air all these arguments, so what we want to know is why you’re not in favour of marriage equality.”

Mullen: “No I want you to stop using marriage equality because that’s a biased term.”

 McDonagh: “Well why would you be opposed to this referendum?”

Mullen: “Would you ask me why do I support the current definition of marriage, are you happy with that formulation?”

McDonagh: “If the referendum gives people in same sex relationships the right to get married why are you against that, can you sum it up?”

Mullen: “Simply because I favour the current definition of marriage, it’s not the biggest issue for me, it’s easy for me to say yes to what everybody wants. I just have to say in all honesty and having looked at the issues as they come up from time to time that I believe that current definition of marriage has a particular social role, the role that is around the protection of children and that is why I am from the start inviting the media to ensure the highest debate. You have to realise that there are hundreds of thousands if not more decent people in our country…”

McDonagh: “There are millions of decent people.”

Mullen: “If you don’t turn it into a debating argument with me we will get more answers. The point I was trying to make, I haven’t finished the sentence, is that there are at least hundreds of thousands of decent people who have loved ones who may be in same sex relationships, for example, but who don’t feel they have to change their stance on whether marriage should be allowed or not.”

 McDonagh: “But we have to give them the option of deciding it.”

Mullen: “The people? Yes, those people, and I think many of those people will take the view that the definition of marriage works for a particular social reason, that the meaning of marriage itself has to do with the relationship between men and women because that is a socially preferred context for the upbringing of children. With great respect for other situations, that something we want to protect.”

McCDonagh: “So you’re talking about people in same-sex relationships, gay and lesbian people being parents, that sort of thing? And possibly you’re raising concerns about that children in that situation? What evidence do you have that there’s any negative effect on those children?”

Mullen: “No you’re putting words in my mouth, you probably are putting words in my mouth because if you look what the current Constitution currently says there is a reason why marriage has been defined in a particular way and the definition of marriage, it seems to me what our Constitution says is that the State pledges to guard with special care the definition of marriage on which the family is founded there is this idea that the family is somehow founded on marriage.”

McDonagh: “Ok, but Ronan, because we don’t have a lot of time here, do you have any evidence that same-sex marriage will have an impact on the family?”

Mullen: “The first impact that same sex marriage would have, or redefining marriage..”

McDonagh: “But on the family?”

Mullen: “Just let me finish. Let me finish the point please.”

McDonagh: “Just asking the question.”

Mullen: “What I have noticed already is that you haven’t been cross-examining John in the same way, and I’m trying to take the media on a journey here, it’s a journey…”

McDonagh: “John and I had a few minutes before you got here.”

Mullen: “And did you grill him?”

McDonagh: “Yes. Did you hear it?”

Mullen: “No, but..”

McDonagh: “We’re very short on time Ronan.”

Mullen: “No I’m going to answer your first question. The definition of marriage works because the international supported evidence is that the, the preferred context, with great respect for other situations is the two biological parents. That’s what the data says. I think we lose this if we go changing the definition of marriage that may, frankly, deprive a child of their rights starting off. We can’t go talking about children’s rights after they’re born if we don’t care about the circumstances in which they’re brought into the world.”

McDonagh: “Right. Ronan, one more question. John is sitting across the table from you. He currently doesn’t have the opportunity to marry the person he loves. Can you tell me why, and why that should be the case.”

Mullen: “Well…”

Lyons: “You can try and look at me, Ronan, when you answer it. I’m a human being, I’m a human being here.”

Mullen: “Don’t demonise me, John. I smile at you and address you every day of the week in Leinster house, and what I’m not going to let happen during this debate, no matter whom I debate it with, good people like you John and Ciara and anybody else, ‘m going to insist on professionalism on all sides and I’m also going to insist that nobody’s demonised. The suggestion that I can’t look you in the eye and smile at me is a lie, John, because I’ve always treated you with the utmost courtesy.You’ve come to my door canvassing a vote and Ive always treated you with the utmost courtesy. So please don’t try to send out a message or paint…”

Lyons: “I most certainly wouldn’t Ronan. I think you know me better than that.”

Mullen: “No I don’t you see, and I’m trying to set down the ground rules for this debate to make sure it has to be respectful. I’m a tough nut, you see, and I’m not doing this for myself, I’m doing this to make sure decent people aren’t frightened out of this debate because they’re being made to look like bad people….”

McDonagh: “That’s something I raised with John before you came in and I’m going to ask you it as well. The tone of this debate, we have about nine months, what are we going to do to make sure that it doesn’t descend into accusations of homophobia?”

Mullen: “Well that’s out of the question now because we know that that’s libellous, presumably we’ve learned from what happened in RTE…”

Lyons: “I think we’ll have quite a decent and respectful debate on this and it will be honest and frank and robust I presume, and people should be challenged on their views.”

Mullen: “Exactly, it’s all about playing the ball not the man or woman isn’t it. Honour one another’s right to have a particular philosophical, moral, social, view. I see the view I have as coming from the protection of children, about the presumption that children should be ideally brought into the world in a father mother biological situation. Other people will disagree with that but’s a fair argument.”

Lyons: “The debate in fairness from Ronan’s perspective has been moving away from what the Taoiseach has said already. The referendum itself will be on one point and on one point only and it will be exceptionally clear and none of the other things you’ve brought into it Ronan are going to be part of the debate. Will Irish society, will Irish society, will Irish people afford the right to civil marriage to people of same sex?”

Mullen: “Your emphasis on civil is good because this isn’t a religious matter.”

McDonagh: “Ronan, excuse me , we don’t know wording of this referendum at the moment. For now we have absolutely run out of time John Lyons, Labour TD for Dublin North West, Independent Senator Ronan Mullen, thank you both very much…”

Listen here

Thanks Paddy McDonnell

(Photocall ireland)

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