Speaking in Perth, Ireland’s President Michael D Higgins called on Australia to keep the “quality of the debate” around same-sex marriage high, indicating that voters need to consider the “impact on people’s lives as they live their lives”.
Australia is in the midst of a postal vote to gauge the nation’s support for introducing same-sex marriage legislation, the result of which will be known on November 15.
Higgins said that Ireland “gained enormously” by engaging in a mature debate around same-sex marriage.
When asked if religious freedoms had been infringed upon following Ireland’s 2015 referendum, Higgins replied: “We’re getting on with our lives, but also we are welcoming more and more people with different backgrounds into Ireland and they’re all making a very positive contribution.
“What’s important is that the quality of the discourse and the debate be one that is fair and even. I think in the Irish case … the debate had those characteristics and I think the emphasis was about equality.”
Higgins also said that social media usage was not always predicated on the “necessary courtesies of discourse” and critiqued the perceived anonymity such platforms provide.
“One of the difficulties is that one can say anything and never take responsibility for the consequences of one’s words,” said Higgins.
“That creates a real challenge. It means that those who are consuming social media have to bring a critical capacity to bear on it that is entirely different from the old structures.”
Ireland’s Tiernan Brady, who is the executive director of Australia’s Yes Equality campaign said that the southern continent’s debate has proven to be more cutting on social media than Ireland’s, reports The Irish Times.
But Brady said that in Australia the Yes side have tried to remain “relentlessly positive” and respectful of the opponents to same-sex marriage.
With Australia’s plebiscite on same-sex marriage underway and postal votes being cast until November 7, the debate around same-sex marriage in Australia continues on.
While Higgins believes that the result of Ireland’s “fair” debate around same-sex marriage allowed Ireland to gain enormously, others would view it less favourably.
Proponents of marriage equality, including Yes Equality’s Dr Grainne Healy, have argued that the public debate had a significant negative impact on the mental wellbeing of LGBT+ people, with 71% of respondents feeling negative often or always.
Healy also decried the abusive comments which some Yes campaigners received leading up to the referendum, indicating that some campaigners needed counselling to deal with the traumatic experiences.
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