The Government this evening introduced legislation to establish provisions for civil partnerships for gay and lesbian couples. It was welcomed on all sides of Dail Eireann.
Brendan Howlin TD cited the extraordinary stories that had been circulated by the religious right-wing to try and throw obstacles in the way of the bill. An email had been circulated within religious circles and sent to TDs asserting that the legislation would mean that people like florists could not refuse to provide flowers for a gay celebration. Deputy Howlin thought it unlikely that anyone would wish to turn away business in the current climate and pointed out that the Equal Status Act of 2000 barred such discrimination anyway. It would have been reasonable to further ask why anyone would want to refuse to provide flowers to a gay couple. Where would such prejudice find its roots?
Prejudice is mostly rooted in ignorance; people simply do not know those whom they hate.
In the days following the end of World War II, Allied soldiers were under orders not to fraternise with the German civilians. Faced with the plight of millions of people displaced and in poverty, the Allies quickly became friends with their former enemies – they found it was hard to hate people they knew.
I remember being at an Open University summer school back in the 1980s. A lecturer talked about something called ‘group closure thesis’. It was near the end of the week, and I probably misunderstood what he was saying, but in my memory, he seemed to say that people could find an identity in a group by defining themselves against someone else.
I have plentiful memories of group closure by the English. I remember being told by an English woman deep in the heart of France that most of the French could speak perfectly good English and that they just didn’t want to. I hesitated to ask her why they should.
Group closure arises from fear and suspicion; the unknown worries us. People are different from our group, so we dislike them, even hate them. When the unknown becomes known, most times the fear disappears.
One by one, the fears have been overcome, we no longer discriminate on the basis of race, religion or culture, but when it comes to sexuality, ideas are still muddled. It was disturbing to hear old attitudes being recycled in conversations after the publication of the Murphy Report. Suggestions that being a paedophile and being gay are linked still find currency amongst some people; by the same logic one might conclude that the abuse of someone of the opposite sex is linked to being heterosexual.
It’s time to move on from the Middle Ages. The absurd idea that there should be a conscience clause allowing one not to do business with gay people should go the way of the rest of irrational prejudice. Besides, gay friends I know have excellent taste in interior design, and would probably provide great custom for a florist.