Bickering with the No side will not benefit the Yes vote

Waters John

In the last two weeks leading up to the equal marriage referendum, we have to stop letting the No side dictate the terms of the debate, says David Wilkins.


After watching the Late Late Show debate, and subsequently the Prime Time debate, I’ve started to feel a little uneasy about this referendum and the possible outcome of the vote on May 22nd. And I’ll tell you why. There’s a wonderful quote from Mark Twain that’s popped up on my Twitter feed a couple of times in the last week, and it’s worth sharing as we face into the last couple of weeks of this campaign. It says:

“Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.”

The No camp did themselves no favours in either debate, it must be said. On the Late Late Show, Keith Mills hands in the air quotes “Other mother” to a young woman with two mums in the audience was simply appalling. It was crass, rude, insensitive and demeaning. Paddy Manning’s apoplectic out burst was car crash material, and the single mother on the No platform arguing that straight marriage is the best way to rear children, while not doing so herself was confusing to say the least. On the Prime Time debate the meanderings of David Quinn from the Iona Institute, and the rantings of John Waters from First Families First must’ve left many viewers wondering what these two were trying to communicate. John Waters did deliver arguably the weirdest quote of the campaign to date; “Equal does not mean the same”. (I checked. It does.)

It suddenly dawned on me with growing dread, that in both cases the No side had set, and were allowed control the agenda. The invigilators seemed powerless, or maybe RTE is still nervous after ‘Pantigate’, but on both occasions the debate ended up being a bickering match based around children’s rights, and a child’s place within the family. Which is exactly what the No side wanted to happen. In both debates, it stopped being about civil rights for gay people, and was almost exclusively about ‘children’s rights’.

The growing dread I feel is simply this: While a significant majority are still polling in favour of Marriage Equality, a significant percentage also harbour concerns on what this will mean for children. Based on the two debates so far, I would have to be worried that the No side, while making no actual, verifiable argument to support their cause, have done enough to sow doubt in the minds of some undecideds to make them vote for the status quo. Previous referendums have shown, where there is enough uncertainty on the issue at hand, the electorate will vote not to change the constitution.

I have been heavily active in online debate with the No side for the last couple of weeks. My follower numbers have risen, trolls have begun to get personal and my Klout score has reached mid-50’s. If you’re a geek, you’ll understand why I began to take a little pride in what I was doing for the Yes campaign. I was engaging with No supporters on a daily basis and experiencing nothing but adversarial responses. I was engaging with Yes supporters and experiencing nothing but congratulatory responses. Regarding the TV debates, when my partner Alan and I were watching the Late Late Show debate, we both became extremely angry by what the No side were saying. One half of a lesbian couple I know was messaging me online that her wife was trying to get her to calm down. I suspect LGBT singles and couples across the country were screaming obscenities at the TV screen worthy of United supporters on match day.

But we must stop. I must stop. It has suddenly struck me, we’ve been debating with the wrong people for weeks. There is absolutely no point in engaging one on one with the likes of Keith Mills, David Quinn, Paddy Manning, John Waters, Evert and Kate Bopp, Breda O’Brien and their ilk. None. It is a wasteful effort in futility. The No side is immutable. A personal epiphany from God herself will not get them to change their minds. Save your breath and start talking to those who you can influence. Our parents and grandparents; our siblings; our nephews and nieces; our uncles, aunts, cousins and neighbours; our friends and work colleagues; our customers and our service providers. We are all connected deeply to a society who is showing us they are willing and able to change, and embrace equality for all.

Bickering in the media with the No side is a fruitless exercise. They’ll drag us down to their level and beat us with their experience.



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