Brendan O’Neill, ed a British journalist and blogger who describes himself as a Marxist and a Libertarian, spoke to the College Tribune on the issue of same-sex marriage.

You could be forgiven for assuming that someone like Brendan O’Neill, the editor of spiked, “an independent online phenomenon dedicated to raising the horizons of humanity by waging a culture war of words against misanthropy, priggishness, prejudice, luddism, illiberalism and irrationalism in all their ancient and modern forms” would be all for the legalization of same-sex marriage. You would, however, be wrong.

O’Neill contends that the same-sex marriage campaign is an aberration of the gay movement started in 1969. “If you look back at 1969 and particularly through the 70’s, the gay movement was actually more interested in telling the state to get out of gay peoples lives. ‘Get out of our bars, get out of our clubs, get out of our bedrooms and let us live as we want to live’, which was a very positive progressive demand. What you have with the gay marriage movement is the demand for the state to intervene in gay peoples lives and effectively offer recognition and to say gay peoples relationships are worthwhile, and valuable, and nice, and good.”

“In relation to other movements like the suffragettes and the black civil-rights movement… I think the key difference here is that the suffragettes weren’t asking for the vote to be changed, they weren’t asking for the franchise to become something different, they just wanted to be included within the already existing right to vote. Black people in America in the 1950’s and the 1960’s, when for example they challenged racist rules on marriage, they weren’t asking for marriage to be radically transformed. They were saying ‘we want access to an already existing institution’, which was the institution of marriage between man and woman”, stated O’Neill. He continued, “What the gay marriage movement today is asking for… is the radical redefinition of an already existing institution. They want and institution to be redefined and completely transformed by the state in order for it to allow the union of a man and a man, or a woman and a woman… They are not asking for equal inclusion in an already existing institution, they are asking for the creation of a new institution. I think that’s the thing they are quite unwilling to admit and therefore they constantly compare themselves to these movements from the past and I think it’s very disingenuous.”

O’Neill expressed his view that behind the push for same-sex marriage are both, “defensiveness on the part of the gay movement and… opportunism on the part of the political elite.”

When questioned further about the political aspect of the debate, O’Neill asserted that there is a “receptiveness to [same-sex marriage] amongst the political classes, amongst people like David Cameron in Britain, amongst numerous Irish politicians who find it a very useful issue, because it allows them to pose as very modern and with-it and open-minded and different from Joe-public, who is a bit backward, and different from religious people and red-neck people who are still a bit stuck in the past.” He continued, “It allows the political elite to take part in a very public form of preening and say, ‘look we’re good and we’re worthy and we’re radical and we’re going to make this change.’”

The Students’ Union in UCD have, this summer, launched their campaign for the introduction of same-sex marriage. “I think if student bodies are also getting really effusive about the idea of gay marriage… that’s probably linked to the fact that they feel the need to demonstrate some sense of purpose and morality”, commented O’Neill.

O’Neill believes that it is this sense of opportunism among the political classes coupled with a slight sense of desperation among gay activists that has given rise to what he terms an “entirely cliquish, elitist demand for an overhaul of traditional marriage.”

Support of same–sex marriage, he states, “has become a moral marker of your decency.” Continuing, “When you support gay marriage it’s become a way of indicating that you’re a decent enlightened civilized person and it’s become a way of distancing yourself from people who are presumed to be unenlightened or backward.”

This can be seen most explicitly in America, where, he says, “Anyone who opposes gay marriage… is just depicted as the scum of the earth and stupid and referred to as knuckle-draggers. Gay marriage is now used to erect a moral force-field around enlightened people and anyone who doesn’t support gay marriage are just presumed to be outside that, and presumed to be a bit stupid.”

In the process of legislating for same-sex marriage, O’Neill claims that politicians are riding roughshod over millions and millions of ordinary people. “I think what people don’t realize is that institutionalizing gay marriage will automatically lead to a redefinition of marriage… it will transform marriages that already exist into civil partnerships…it will play around with the idea of consummation, which obviously gay relationships can’t be consummated in the same way straight relationships can.” He went on to name other areas that will be redefined such as grounds for divorce and ideas of adultery.

“What you’re seeing in this redefinition is the fact that an institution that millions of people have already entered into will overnight become something different. I think it’s important to recognize that in the name of… satiating the defensive needs of the modern gay movement, millions of ordinary people’s lifestyles and beliefs are going to be overhauled by the state”, claims O’Neill.

Many of those who support same-sex marriage contend that ultimately what lies behind opposition to this change is homophobia. O’Neill strongly disagrees with this and indeed even disagrees with the use of the term homophobia.

“I think that word gets banded around rather too much these days… it’s intended to depict someone’s views as irrational, because a phobia is an irrational fear. It’s used to depict certain religious views and certain political views as just irrational and beyond the pale and not worth engaging with… Obviously there is still anti-gay sentiment… That does still exist, but it’s not to say that everyone who opposes gay marriage is anti-gay… they might think it’s perfectly okay for gay people to live together and set up a home and to do whatever they want. They just think that marriage is a specific institution that exists for a specific purpose.”

“In the 1950’s, particularly in America, but also in Europe, homosexuality was depicted as a mental illness in this really outrageous way, it was depicted as an irrational thing that was driven by mentally ill people. Now you have a situation where anybody who criticizes the gay lifestyle or gay marriage is treated as effectively being mentally ill… There are actually some gay writers who believe homophobia is some sort of mental malaise. So you have this really problematic shift from a genuine movement in the 1960’s, which challenged the idea that homosexuality was a mental illness, to a gay movement that now says that anybody who criticizes them is mentally ill.” He continued, “I’m very worried about the way in which the gay pride movement is adopting lots of very backward, reactionary ideas that it once would have challenged.”

There are those in Ireland who claim that a Referendum is not necessary to allow for same-sex marriage, that the constitution allows for both gay and straight marriage. Consequently there is at present a push to have this issue legislated for in the Dáil. O’Neill believes that there is a fear of referendums among those who lobby for same-sex marriage, in part due to the fact that in America when referendums on the issue have been held, most have said no to same sex marriage.

“The gay marriage lobby is very allergic to the idea of having Referendums, which really speaks to their elitism and their cliquishness and their fear of the mob who they just presume to be homophobic. In fact they’re not homophobic, they just feel that the institution of marriage has profound meaning for millions of people and to overhaul it in this way is probably not a good idea.”

On a personal level O’Neill spoke of receiving e-mails calling him a c*nt, a stooge for the Vatican and comparing him to the Ku Klux Klan because of his position on same-sex marriage. “I think it’s really interesting because considering this is supposed to be an issue of love and freedom, it’s remarkable how much hatred and intolerance it seems to generate amongst it’s supporters.”

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3 thoughts on “‘I’ve been compared to the Ku Klux Clan’ – Brendan O’ Neill on same-sex marriage

  1. For all the same points he uses to justify his own thoughts on the issue, he falls down. O’Neil is just ratifying his own argument based on his own studied opinion of previous civil rights movements. He says how the suffragettes ‘ weren’t asking for the franchise to become something different, they just wanted to be included within the already existing right to vote’ and how the blacks were asking only to be included in ‘an already existing institution.’ … Both of which are exactly what the gay community are doing! Marriage between a man and a woman has been defined in this country by and only by the church, which for too long as we’re all aware and have over the past few years had too much influence in our laws. For the same reason those civil rights movements took place in the 50’s and 60’s so too should the issue of Gay Marriage be sorted. O’Neil can use his words and case studies as fickily as he likes, but as we can all look back and see, those movements took place because it was immoral and wrong to have ever let any minority or community be so oppressed, and why were they oppressed? Because the likes of religiously influenced powers saw fit. A book which condoned slavery, and the hierarchical placement of men over women and gays etc, and this is the only reason we still have things like the gay issue. Because of old laws and old thought processes long embedded in us. O’Neil is a snob and justifies his own take on the issue without baring to common sense or decency which could be equally applied to his black/female vote argument.Unless we’re to assume that his feelings on the female vote and black civil rights movement simply had to be done and he’s none too happy about equal rights but because it didn’t involve too much change or blur the lines between political ‘re-definition’ or whatever it is that he see’s such a huge difference being in writing same sex marriage into law. His mental health rant is just pointless even mention.

  2. I’m always amazed at the verbal gymnastics employed by anti-gay talking heads such as Brendan O’Neill in order to make a relatively straight forward issue seem complicated, and also to hide what fundamentally drives their reactionary views on this issue – a belief that gay people are inferior and thus undeserving of equal rights.

    Because for people like Brendan O’Neill, the idea that same-sex couples simply want their unions celebrated, recognised and validated in the same way that straight couples do, is an alien concept that might just challenge long held homophobic assumptions and beliefs on their part.

    Ultimately, when you strip away a lot of the nonsense that often surrounds this debate, the issue comes down to two loving same-sex adults being allowed enter a civil marriage and attain the rights that heterosexuals take for granted. Nothing more, nothing less – it’s about equal rights (not ‘special rights’ – a phrase so beloved of the anti-gay lobby in America in particular)

    On a symbolic level, it does also have the benefit of society making clear that gay people are full and equal citizens – a message that is especially important to young LGBT’s coming to terms with their sexuality. That can only be a positive thing, unless you are part of the increasingly small minority who still cling to outdated and offensive notions regarding homosexuality.

    It’s also clear that O’Neill only wants to accept gay people on his own narrow, stereotypical terms – a separate group that lives on the margins of society quite distinct from the masses he so fondly speaks of. It’s almost as if we should be grateful that we are no longer criminalised and should now simply shut up and go back to the shadows. But what is missing in such a flawed analysis is that this ‘us vs them’ mentality is clearly breaking down. Through social and political devlopments, but most importantly through gay people having the courage to increasingly lead our lives openly and honestly, most now know someone who is gay – we are peoples sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, friends etc. This is what is driving the current debate and why extending the right to marry for same-sex couples is not only the right thing to do in principle but also the popular thing (73% according to the latest poll)

    Brendan O’Neill is on record as stating that allowing gay couples marry will ‘devalue’ the entire institution. That, more than anything, should give your readers an insight into what motivates his (and many other anti-gay commentators) views on this topic -a belief that gay people are unworthy of the same rights as heterosexuals and who will only sully the fine institution of marriage for everyone else. But thankfully it seems a growing majority of society disagrees and is more than ready to extend full equality to their fellow citizens who happen to be gay.

  3. It’s also complete nonsense to suggest gay people and our issues have suddenly been elevated to some kind of ‘elite’ status, not to mention deeply offensive to the many people who are still confronted with homophobic abuse in their daily lives.

    Some perspective here – nearly half of the countries in the world still criminalise homosexuality and indeed state sanctioned bigotry against gay people is on the rise in many places, due in no small part to anti-gay fundamentalists from the US exporting their hate particularly to Africa.

    And far from opposition to gay rights being seen as beyond the pale in America, as is disingenuously claimed above, it is perfectly legal to fire someone due to their sexual orientation in most states. Indeed, despite a Supreme Court ruling in 2003, some states even retain sodomy laws, including North Carolina where it is still officially defined as a ‘crime against nature’!

    Yes, the gay civil rights movement is making progress, but it is a hard fought battle where distortions and untruths from the likes of your interviewee need to be constantly challenged.

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