You do know the Irish same-sex marriage referendum got ugly, don’t you?

Have you heard the argument that Australians shouldn’t fear having a plebiscite on same-sex marriage because Ireland conducted a similar vote and their debate was peaceful and respectful?

But is that true?

A recent correspondent of mine, Richard Carson, an Irishman who ran a project that attempted to bring evangelical leaders and LGBT Christians into dialogue during their referendum, begs to differ.

Here’s Richard’s reflections on the same sex marriage referendum in Ireland. He begins by asserting the campaign was awful:

“The reason the campaign was awful (and why many Irish activists are currently in Australia advocating against a plebiscite) was not so much to do with a lack of civility as it was to do with a complete failure to acknowledge an intention-impact gap in what was being communicated. Pretty much every attempt to communicate on the referendum by Christians centred on talking about rather than with the LGBTI community. The concept that LGBTI Christians would be part of the New Testament ‘one-anothering’ that might engender a healthy debate never entered the radar of leaders. The idea that pasting posters on lamp-posts on your way to work each day that question whether you are an appropriate presence to children rarely struck Christian leaders as being out of place. Facebook shares were one of the biggest culprits as seemingly intelligent articles were posted with little concern for the reader. Essentially the referendum campaign gave a new public platform for straight privilege which both exposed and accentuated it.

“Secondly, the final days leading up to the vote were intense and exhausting. In the week leading up to the referendum churches started to hold ‘discussion evenings’ (that almost never featured LGBTI Christians) and emails started to be circulated calling for a No vote. Members of the LGBTI community who had not been in contact with Christian friends for decades, through any medium, suddenly received these emails that stated their relationships were threatening the health of our nation.

“Thirdly, the days immediately following the vote also carried importance. We voted on a Friday and the result was on a Saturday. On Sunday there were stories (albeit rare) of Christians being asked to stand in church if they voted Yes. While some churches had not called on their members to vote No (acknowledging that some would vote Yes), the consistent report from morning services was that the atmosphere was funereal as some level of public mourning occurred. Meanwhile those who wished to rejoice with those who were rejoicing would find no space to do so. In the weeks that followed, life went on. The sky didn’t fall in and gay couples got married. Having raised their heads briefly, Christians returned to their positions on sexuality that are largely marked by silence and fear.”

In other words, the Irish campaign did not foster respectful dialogue. In fact, it didn’t foster dialogue at all.


Christians on both sides of the debate couldn’t speak to each other. And neither side had any idea how their words were being received by others.

Could an Australian version be any better? I suppose it could. But on the whole do evangelical church leaders here show any real capacity or interest in genuine dialogue?

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5 thoughts on “You do know the Irish same-sex marriage referendum got ugly, don’t you?

  1. Talk with me 🙂
    I am willing to have conversations to help people see and understand *this* LGBTQI Christians perspective.
    Grace and Peace.

    1. Here is another Irishman’s perspective. The referendum was somewhat devisive but no more so than any referendum relating to an important issue. These divisions/attitudes/priviledges were there, and remain regardless of the referendum taking place. I suspect that advocate avoiding referenda on such sensitive and controversial issues often do so because they are happy with the status quo. Those living with intolerable discrimination feel differently. IMHO I would say it should therefore go ahead.

      1. Richard’s point, I believe, is that LGBTQI Christians were the ones most hurt by the process. Also, I think he was frustrated by the sadly typical practice of evangelicals communicating in an echo chamber on such an important opportunity for a national discussion.

  2. Thanks Mike! I would add there was a paradox in play in Ireland in that it was healthy conversation that won the vote yet those on the victorious side believe an Australian plebiscite would be inappropriate because of the impact of the conversation that was required to make it happen. Here is my friend Tiernan on SBS illustrating that very paradox of the Irish referendum.

    Also what is key in my comments is that I believe Christians are called to guage division and the level of health in a conversation from a “margins-in” perspective rather than a “centre-out” perspective. So straight (generally male) Christians only get to make the call on whether a conversation is healthy on this if they have submitted to the New Testament one-anothering with their LGBTI brothers and sisters in Christ. It is this reality and its impact that was so markedly absent from the Irish debate.

  3. Good article Mike Reading it reminded of this extract from the epilogue of A Life Of Unlearning
    “It’s important to remind churches that having a conversation about us without us will usually be nothing more than a recycling of preconceived ideas and misconceptions. Imagine a group of male church leaders discussing the role of women in the church without females present? We would call that misogyny. Or church leadership discussing indigenous issues without consulting indigenous people themselves. How could they have any insight into what their life experience is really all about? We would call that white supremacy/racism/elitism. The church has done a great deal of talking about us but rarely has spoken with us. So when church leaders discuss LGBT people, relationships and the community without speaking with or spending time getting to know LGBT people it does beg the question why. What is there to fear? Why the exclusion? Is this further evidence of homophobia that is regularly denied?

    It’s time for the church to invite LGBT people into the conversation. For some this is a conversation about their thoughts and beliefs but for us it is about who we are.”

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