We like the winds of change, especially when they are blown as a result of popular vote, as if it means we, as a species, have evolved a little, that we have become a tiny bit better.
Ireland’s vote to legalise gay marriage is a welcome change. It is a victory against the Church’s obdurate dogma and a show of Irish people’s maturity and goodness.
In comparison to many other countries, Ireland has done well. Although homosexuality was a crime only 22 years ago, this is a good deal of progress.
The result of the Irish referendum is great news. However, I cannot agree that upholding human rights should require a popular vote. It is always dangerous to ask the majority about the rights of a minority. But where in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights does it say that a country has to resort to a referendum?
Article 1 is very clear about the rights of any human being:
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
Can we please have that rather than a referendum?
How about Article 2?
“Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.”
Democracy is not the rule of all, but the majority. Winning an election does not mean that one is right, but is supported by the majority. When it comes to human rights, we cannot afford to use the same formula. As clearly stated in the Universal Declaration, human beings are equal. That equality should be hardwired into any system, any political decision, and any human interaction. It should not require voting or campaigning.
We are a species defined by our evolution. We are good at learning. Think of the treatment of black people in the U.S. half a century ago. If anything like this happened today, we would all be appalled. When it comes to gay rights, we need to evolve faster.
Let us not forget: I was born free and equal. I am free and equal.