Michael Boyle (who has been killing it lately at his excellent blog) writes that in today’s cultural and religious debates “we are seeing the opening up of a broad and increasingly unbridgeable chasm between two identifiable ‘sides’” who can no longer comprehend each other.” It reminds me of Andrew Sullivan’s characterization of our current state as a “cold civil war.” The reactions to Ireland’s historic vote in favor of gay marriage illustrate his point perfectly. It’s like the right and the left are responding to two separate events.
In the days surrounding the vote, two things captivated me and lots of left-leaning commenters: 1) the demographic breadth (old and young, urban and rural) of the country’s support for the referendum and 2) the “Home to Vote” movement. Regarding the first, Una Mullally put it most beautifully: “The decency of the Irish people was not limited to the liberal leafy suburbs of Dublin, nor the solidarity from the flats, but that decency came from the cliffs of Donegal, the lakes of Cavan, the farmyards of Kildare, the lanes of Kerry.”
[Am I the only one who hears in that a revision of the last paragraph of Joyce’s “The Dead,” a melting of the snow that was “general all over Ireland”?]
The “Home to Vote” (or #hometovote) phenomenon was no less stirring. The Guardian has a recap here; basically, Irish citizens abroad weren’t allowed to fill out absentee ballots, like we do here in the States—they had to appear in person at their designated polling places. So, in the build-up to the referendum, thousands of Irish ex-pats tracked their return trips home—from Abu Dhabi, from San Francisco, from Bangkok—using the twitter hashtag #hometovote. And they came home in droves. As one tweeter put it, “The #hometovote is like when you’re watching The Hobbit and an army of elves you’d forgotten from earlier in the film arrive over a hill.”
I’ve read reaction after reaction from the Catholic (and “orthodox”) Right to Ireland’s historic vote in favor of gay marriage, and I haven’t seen anyone reckon with either of those two elements of the story. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen a single mention of them.
That disappoints me. Because in place of this reckoning, the religious-right-o-sphere has tried to fit Ireland into its preconceived narratives about “Autonomous Eroticized Individualism” or “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” That is, the right sees the Ireland vote as another sign that people are embracing a philosophy of “do what you feel,” that they are moving away from the hard sacrifices that lead to true human flourishing. For them, the vote represents just another example of what Rod Dreher called today the “atomization of human solidarity with the past, with tradition, with each other, and with anything outside of the willed, chosen Self.”
But how do you square that with the phenomenon of (mostly straight) expatriates traveling across continents, at great expense, to vote not for their own rights, but for the rights of others? How do you fit that into the actual message of the “Yes” campaign, which was all about family members, young and old, looking out for each other? How do you fit it with the demographics of the “Yes” vote, which wasn’t carried by young, secularist urbanites but by the whole country, young and old, city-dwellers and farmers, atheists and regular church-goers?
And how do we get people on the right wrestle with these questions?