SHAUN CONNOLLY: Is Enda Kenny faithful to the same-sex marriage cause?

Like typical Irishmen, Enda and Eamon have grudgingly agreed to marriage, but refuse to set a date.

Eamon is keener than Enda: he is more comfortable with same-sex couples having their life-long emotional commitment recognised by the State.

After talking about gay marriage for more than two years, Eamon thought Enda would commit in Cabinet last Wednesday, and officially propose — propose that a referendum on extending marriage rights to same-sex couple be held.

Instead of getting down on one knee, in front of Eamon, Enda ended up on the back-foot and chickened-out.

The poor, troubled thing is so scared of upsetting them, he has consistently refused to say whether he is, or isn’t — in favour of gay marriage. He was so desperate to escape reporters that he tripped over a flower pot.

But Enda is from a different generation and still not self-aware enough to be comfortable with who he is and how God created him — indecisive.

While Enda refuses to deal with the gay issue, Eamon has gone the other way, and openly flaunts his attraction for same-sex couples.

Indeed, in some circles he is getting a reputation as a bit of a tease, making all sorts of promises, but failing to deliver the goods on a gay-marriage referendum, despite calling it the “civil rights issue of this generation”.

And, uneasy Eamon is also aware that there is another man waiting in the wings, to swoop in and break up Labour and Fine Gael’s somewhat uncivil partnership on the issue — Micheál Martin.

Indeed, on more than one occasion, in the Dáil, Mr Martin has raised the issue of same-sex marriage.

But, again, the Taoiseach just could not make his mind up.

Like something out of a Jane Austin novel — though he was displaying less pride than prejudice — Mr Kenny insisted he would not be “pressurised” into making a hasty decision of such importance.

Despite the likes of Leo Varadkar and Alan Shatter coming out for gay marriage, in Kenny’s eyes it remains the law that dare not speak its name.

Mr Kenny is looking like yesterday’s man, unable to cope with a society in transition, as he has been openly dismissive of marriage equality in the past.

How different from his fellow, right-wing social conservative, the British premier, David Cameron, who, though his personal record on gay rights has been patchy, and his party openly homophobic in recent times, had strong enough political-emotional intelligence to sense when society was changing.

Hence, Cameron’s successful push to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in England and Wales, earlier this year, after announcing: “Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other. I don’t support gay marriage, despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I am a Conservative.”

Conservatism claims that families are the foundations of society, and Mr Cameron, at any rate, is ready to be inclusive about families that happen to be headed by same-sex couples.

And families will, undoubtedly, become the wedge issue of a referendum on marriage equality here.

Eager to avoid the mistakes of the ‘divorce 1’ vote, when issues like separation rights had not been nailed down in advance, Labour is keen for Mr Shatter’s looming Family Law Bill to deal with areas like guardianship and custody, so they cannot be hi-jacked by anti-equality campaigners. Adoption is slightly different as, at present, individuals who happen to be gay can adopt, but co-habiting couples — whether same-sex or straight — cannot, as, archaically, this remains the preserve of married couples, in Ireland.

Surely, it makes more sense to open up adoption to couples, whether gay or straight, married or living together — that would be in the best interest of children longing for a loving home environment.

Despite opinion polls showing a three-to-one majority in favour of marriage equality, the vote will be much closer, especially after the anti-side’s aggressive scare tactics are given 50% of airtime.

Cabinet should finally agree the referendum on marriage equality — as opposed to the second-class, apartheid status of civil partnership — this Tuesday.

And if the firm pledge, which was due to be announced last week, that the vote would be held either in October 2014 or March 2015, is missing, it will be a major humiliation for the Tánaiste. Mr Kenny makes a big play about his compassion for families ripped apart by suicide.

The Taoiseach would do well to muse on the fact that teenagers who happen to be gay are four times more likely to kill themselves than their straight counterparts — a shocking figure, in part due to the feelings of social exclusion they have to deal with and the prejudice they face.

The State, officially recognising the legitimacy of a life-long emotional commitment between same-sex couples, would go some way to easing that exclusion and prejudice.

We want a Taoiseach to have a view on a burning social issue his Tánaiste has branded a once-in-a-generation reform? What does the country expect from him — leadership?

So, does the Taoiseach actually have an opinion on gay marriage?

Next time he is asked, Mr Kenny must finally say: “I do” and commit one way or the other.


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