Let us not be under any illusion that religiously-driven opposition to the marriage equality amendment has anything to do with marriage, or with children. Let us not delude ourselves that it has anything to do with concern for society. Let’s not pretend it has any relation to ethics, morals or the greater good of society.
Let’s not even imagine that it’s motivated by religious conviction, because it is not.
The opposition to marriage equality is all about power. This is all about an ancient privileged class using religion as a flag of convenience. It’s about a profoundly undemocratic tendency staking out its territory, reacting with fury as the formerly-compliant Irish peasantry yet again dare to make their own mind up without waiting to be told what to think.
Though its spokesemen and spokeswomen might be unaware of it, they form part of an unbroken chain of privilege that goes all the way back to medieval times, even though individually they might not all have grown up in privileged circumstances, but that’s how privilege works. Some have it, others compete for it and some are destined always to be ground under foot.
The likes of the Iona Institute, while undeniably at the shabby end of the yearning curve, are also the most vocal, since that’s what aspiring aristocrats are like when they’re still mere squires hoping for better. Opus Dei, on the other hand, is an altogether more Patrician brand of ideology, deeper and broader than the shrill salesmen of Iona, but still part of the same continuum, longing for the return of a time when they ruled benevolently over a peaceful and compliant Irish people.
And there’s the problem.
The Irish in recent years haven’t been doing what they were told. They voted for divorce. They legalised contraception. They decriminalised homosexuality. They closed the Magdalene laundries. They abolished the industrial schools. They stopped condemning single mothers.
Such impertinence was never a problem in the days when princes of the Church, men like Cardinal Paul Cullen and Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, bestrode Ireland in their colossal hubris, and yet the likes of McQuaid and Cullen were anathema to the covert power structure that gave rise to Opus Dei and its latter-day bargain-basement half-sibling, the Iona Institute.
The last thing such tendencies needed or wanted was an ostentatious display of influence. These are movements that operate in the shadows, emerging perforce only in the form of obviously proletarian spokesmen like David Quinn and slightly-less proletarian demagogues like Breda O’Brien as the need arises.
Now, I know full well that this is beginning to sound like a demented version of a Dan Brown novel, but that’s the territory you find yourself in whenever you contemplate silly constructs like Iona and Opus Dei. The madness is contagious, but still it exists, and therefore, to reiterate, there are people who would always prefer to remain in the shadows. People David and Breda will never meet.
The men with their hands through the hole in David Quinn’s back will never emerge from the half-light because these are not the sort who benefit from the full glare of the sun. These are the sort who prosper in the penumbra, pulling the strings of hopeful dancing puppets like Quinn, even though he will never be fully welcome at their table. The tragedy is that he knows it, yet he can’t hide it any more than he manages to hide the accent he grew up with, though he tries, embarrassingly.
That perhaps is the most telling thing about a man such as Quinn, and at the same time the thing we most cringe at, on his behalf. Not one of Quinn’s puppet-masters tries to disguise the accent of his birth, and why would he? After all, that accent speaks of centuries of privilege.
Does anyone seriously think the likes of Clongowes Wood sprang spontaneously out of the native rock when the English left this island? Does any Irish person seriously believe that this is not a society riven by class based on catholic privilege?
It’s true that the aristocracy existed in Ireland before the arrival of the Normans, but it is also true that a parallel class retained privilege based not on Irishness but on adherence to power and later on allegiance to Rome, and that class continued to hold privilege for the same 800 years that the Wolfe Tones banjoed on about. I never heard those musical freedom fighters resisting the power of the other colonial class.
It suited the covert privileged Rome-based class to promote the Catholic persecution narrative and it still suits them, because that story writes them out of history, which is fine. As always, in every story where poor people seek freedom, the most convenient story to tell them is the one that suits you most, and in the case of Ireland, the best tale was the one about Catholic oppression.
It’s still the best tale, even though, ironically, when the Brits left in 1922, a new oppressor emerged in the form of the Rome-based conservative ideologues who immediately set about getting rid of every civil liberty imposed on us by the jackboot of British imperialism. They eliminated divorce. They got rid of contraception. They ramped up the industrial schools. They introduced the crudest form of literary censorship anywhere outside of Albania.
These people, who were always in power, seamlessly took over control of the medical profession and the law where their descendants remain to this day.
These people were never persecuted or oppressed, though they would like you to accept otherwise. These people would like you to believe that somehow they represent a traditional version of Irish society when in fact they represent an ancient tyrannical tendency that we thought we had thrown off, but which in reality we still fight against.
Organisations such as the ridiculous self-styled Iona Institute, contain people who are also members of the equestrian orders that invaded the Holy Land as crusaders. This is not Monty Python humour. This is fact.
The marriage equality referendum means nothing to the mindset of this movement. It has nothing to do with religion or principle, but it has everything to do with power and pragmatism.
If they lose, they lose and they’ll move on to the next fight. If they win, they’ll plan to repeal some other advance of the tolerant society. It might be divorce. It might be contraception. Who can tell?
We can understand the mind of the ideologue, but who can grasp the intentions of ancient power-hunger?