Wedding Industry Fears Persecution by Equality Legislation?
Manufactured controversy has long been the coin of the realm at the Sunday Independent, a paper that last broke a proper news story around the time the Ballinspittle statues got their groove on. In a week where Dónal Og Cusack came out and Germany appointed a gay Foreign Minister, a reaction was probably inevitable. Dredging the unfathomable depths of the barrel of newsworthiness, it reported on Sunday from a meeting of the Fianna Fail parliamentary party which was attended by (wait for it) up to 20 TDs last week. Among the contributors was the inevitable and seemingly ubiquitous director of the Iona Institute, David Quinn. The Iona Institute is a non-governmental organisation dedicated to the strengthening of civil society through making the case for marriage and religious practice. At the meeting, the increasingly rent-a-Catholic Quinn warned that warned that unless religious believers were granted certain specific protections in law, individuals who are part and parcel of the wedding day of heterosexual couples who had a “conscientious objection” to civil unions for same-sex couples, could face legal action. The grim spectre of djs, flower arrangers, tanning salon magnates and rickety limo chauffeurs being sued for refusing to take part in these ceremonies appears quite fanciful, though he did cite the American experience of photographers being fined and church halls losing their charitable status for asserting their right to abide by their religious beliefs with regard to marriage. Fear-mongering for all he is worth, Quinn said: “Supporters of traditional marriage should not be placed on the wrong side of the law.”
The fears expressed in the story appears a little far-fetched until very recent developments in Sweden are considered. The Church of Sweden has decided to make no distinction in its marriage service between straight and gay couples , the Guardian reported today. Around 70% of the church’s 250-strong synod, or church board, voted in favour of the move. The Lutheran Church says gay couples can now get married by any of its priests from the beginning of November, though individual priests will not be “forced” to perform same sex ceremonies, though substitutes will have to be found if they refuse (What would Martin Luther say?). It is inconceivable that the Catholic Church in Ireland would go the same way given its basis in hierarchy and not democracy. Nevertheless, Ireland lags ten to fifteen years behind Sweden in these matters (Sweden was one of the first countries to give gay couples legal partnership rights, in the mid-1990s, and to allow gay couples to adopt children from 2002) so it may foreshadow debates to come in the future once civil partnerships arrive. Traditional heterosexual marriage (a nebulous concept if ever there was one) will come under attack (if that is the right word) from more committed and organized gay rights groups. The line between conscientious objection to gay marriage manifesting itself in the refusal to provide services and outright bigotry may become the site for skirmishes surrounding the larger battle for something like full equality for gay couples. Then again, it may just be Aengus Fanning making up stuff and David Quinn rallying the base.
Two final points – firstly, if it does come to it, let’s hope gay couple suing professionals associated with the wedding industry with a conscientious objection to civil unions of same-sex couples have better luck than travellers suing hotels who have a conscientious objection to sharing oxygen with them. Secondly, the Iona Institute, like Cóir, shows a moderately worrying trend of Irish people adopting the Karl Rove playbook of very reactionary forces getting organized into single-issue groups, forming a religious base, linking up with the conservative media and launching aborted attempts at culture wars. It’s something to look out for in future.