A leading political critic of the upcoming marriage referendum, Independent Senator Rónán Mullen, has likened adopted children to cattle and surrogate mothers in Nepal to breeding chickens during a marriage equality referendum debate held at UL.
Senator Mullen made the comment during the debate on Thursday in response to a query from a university’s Students’ Union representative, Liz Gabbett when the debate, entitled “Redefining Marriage: The Human Rights Case for No and for Yes,” was opened to the floor for a questions and answers session.
Ms Gabbett asked the senator if there was a difference between the experiences of children adopted by same-sex couples and those adopted by opposite-sex couples when searching for their birth parents.
In response Senator Mullen said: “I grew up on a farm. I still work on a farm. When a new calf is born on our farm, we send off a detail to Clonakilty about the father and the mother so that you can know that you’re getting a good steak.”
Ms Gabbett argued that Senator Mullen had not answered her question, however the discussion was moved on by chairman of the debate, Professor Shane Kilcommins.
During the debate Senator Mullen also expressed concern about Irish students’ moves towards supporting a Yes vote in the referendum.
“One of the things that would concern me at the moment about the debate...is a kind of almost closing down of the debate and students feeling that they’ll almost be shot down or shouted down if they were to dare to say that they were actually thinking of voting No and that to me is the very opposite of what a university should be about.
“If we’ve all accepted a certain narrative from the culture that suggests we should all think this way about this, that's when we should be most afraid for our civilisation, because it’s important to constantly reassess out own position on things.”
He also criticised the use of the online social media initiative, #MakeGráTheLaw on such sites as Twitter. The hashtag originated from the Union of Students in Ireland which recently held a world record attempt in Dublin in support of the referendum.
Referring to Trinity College Dublin’s “ring your granny” initiative, Senator Mullen asked why students were not being encouraged to “learn from their grannies” rather than the students attempting to persuade their grandparents to vote in favour of same-sex marriage.
Criticising the IDA, An Garda Siochána, former Supreme Court Justice Catherine McGuinness and the Law Society of Ireland for their calls for a Yes vote, the senator said: “We have here the corruption of language, but we also have the corruption of the body politic because you have people acting corporately in a way that goes far beyond their remit.”
He alleged the IDA in particular were “usurping really what is the citizens right to decide in a referendum this very important social issue, alarm bells should ring in everybody’s mind.”
He was also heavily critical of the Government’s decision to call the referendum the “marriage equality referendum.”
He explained: “We are given on a ballot paper something more than a nudge, a push from the government by calling it marriage equality, using a campaigning phrase at the precise moment when a citizen is supposed to be sovereign.
“That, my friends, is inappropriate. That is an attempt to manipulate the public. That is not respectful of the electorate and we should push back against that and we should object to it.”
In relation to the issue of surrogacy, Senator Mullen made reference to the recent earthquake in Nepal and the operation of surrogacy in that country.
He explained of the situation in Nepal as he saw it: “So a company brings poor women in from India into Nepal, pays them a few years salary, only by Nepalese standards of salary to basically live in Nepal, free-range I’m sure, not battery.”
He argued overall: “If we redefine marriage and expand it so as to make it gender neutral, same-sex couples who are married will be able to access the rights of marriage, going beyond tax and inheritance rights of the kind that are already provided by civil partnership, but the right to found a family. So how will it be possible legally to interfere in any way with that?"
He added: “Friends, this madness. It is turning reality on its head.”
Speaking in favour of a Yes vote in the referendum, National University of Ireland Maynooth (NUIM) lecturer Dr Fergus Ryan said the vote would have a, “profoundly significant effect for a great many couples, people who now find themselves outside the frame of the Irish Constitution.”
Dr Ryan added that a vote in favour of same-sex marriage would act as a, “powerfully symbolic change, but one that has important practical as well as symbolic implications for couples.”
“It sends out a powerful message that same-sex couples and that LGBT people who have historically been stigmatised in Ireland are no longer second class citizens of the Republic,” he explained.
On the issue of same-sex parenting, Dr Ryan said: “If it were solely about children, would we not terminate marriages where there are no children or indeed at the point where the last child leaves the family home? We don’t, quite rightly, because we recognise that while children are important, they are not integral to every marriage.
Up to 200 students, staff and members of the public gathered for the debate, organised by the Hear Both Sides group at the university. The group says its aim is: “promoting open debate that provides information on the marriage referendum on the UL campus, in a balanced and respectful way.”
Stands from both the Mothers and Fathers Matter group and UL’s marriage equality campaign distributed leaflets and booklets outside the debate hall before the debate began.