Stupid Is As Stupid Does: Breda O'Brien and Homophobia

Alfie Gallagher with his take on Breda O'Brien's role in the Pantigate affair. It initially featured in his blog Left From The West on 11 February 2014.

In the wake of the "Pantigate" controversy, Breda O'Brien gives the following defence in her Irish Times column against accusations that she is homophobic:

I supported the decriminalisation of homosexuality, did not oppose the protections afforded by civil partnership and am in favour of guardianship rights in specific cases where two gay people are raising children. For this I was declared homophobic? Or because I said that every child has a mother and father, and that legislating to make that irrefutable reality irrelevant needs major debate?

While I would have preferred that she wrote this article weeks ago instead of taking censorious legal action, it is better late than never. Let's examine the defence though.

Firstly, the phrase "did not oppose" in relation to civil partnership is curious. Does she mean that while she did not campaign against civil partnership legislation, she does not in fact approve of it? Secondly, if she believes that giving adoption and reproductive rights to gay couples makes biological parenthood "irrelevant", then surely she believes the same is true for married heterosexual couples who must adopt or use sperm/egg donors in order to start a family. If not, why not?

Most importantly though, O'Brien rather deftly avoids an important question: does she agree with her church's teaching that homosexuality is a disorder and that gay people ought to remain chaste? If she does agree, then while it may be true that she does not hate gay people themselves, she does believe that homosexual sex acts and homosexual relationships are wrong. Essentially, she is saying to gay couples, 'I don't hate you, but your life together is immoral.'

Maybe Breda O'Brien has transcended the Yeatsian conundrum and can truly "know the dancer from the dance", the agent from the action, the homophobe from the homophobia. I'm not so sure myself. For people like O'Brien and her friends at Iona, I prefer Forrest Gump's explanation:

 "Stupid is as stupid does."


  1. Alfie,

    as usual with you a thoughtful piece.

    I am uneasy with people being labelled homophobe because they have a certain view of gays. I view it as a I often do the employment of islamophobia as a means to silence discussion and critical thinking.

    You were right in a an earlier article to hit out at Waters for pursuing the label route as a means of dealing with the accusation.

    I think the homophobe charge has more substance when those who have misgavings about gay relationships try to dehumanise gay people by demanding that they be denied rights that the rest of us have. That is not simply a case of having an opinion but making others suffer for it.

    Keep writing Alfie. You give us plenty to think over.

  2. Breda O'Brien in today's Irish Times objecting to the coarseness of online commentary.

    And I wonder does she have a point? Is free expression protected by allowing the coarseness or is free expression actually bullied out of appearing because of the coarseness and vitriol? And is this just censorship by the nastiest?

    The savagery of online comment is coarsening all public discussion

  3. Anthony,

    I'm sure you know my feelings on this already. Free expression is free expression - it is either free or it is not.

    Coarseness and vitriol are part of life. Moreover, one man's coarseness is another man's comedy; one woman's vitriol is another woman's righteous anger. Even if we could differentiate, I don't think censorship is the answer.

    For instance, on Facebook the other day, you posted an image with the slogan "I Stand With The Catholic Church". Above it, you put the addendum "In The Sewer". Some of your FB friends found this coarse and needlessly vitriolic. Indeed, it is hard to argue that such a remark is in keeping with the "more civilised, sane way of relating to each other’s ideas" that Breda O'Brien calls for in her article today. So should you have retracted it? Of course not!

    That being said, I am not an advocate of anonymous commentary unless the author has a genuine need for anonymity. Thus, I think that websites are entitled to ask people to stand over what they say by using their real, verified identities. Coarseness, vitriol, and bigotry ought to be opposed by fierce public scrutiny, not by libel laws or censorious watchdogs.

  4. Alfie,

    your views are my own as regards censorship and free speech being that or not at all. What concerns me is if censorship is taking place more insidiously by bullying masquerading as free expression that happens so frequently online. People may simple be intimidated out of speaking their mind or alternatively they may resort to the use of anonymity.

    More censorship is not the answer and people's ideas or beliefs should not be protected.

    So in my FB comment I can do it because I am having a go at a belief that the Church should be stood by and that it is not in fact a moral sewer. But I wonder how strong my ground would be if I were to have a go at the person rather than the belief. I think Breda's point is less in respect of the type of thing I said and more about calls for her to be hanged.

    My view on anonymity is that it should be used to float ideas or test other ideas. The problem is when the moniker is employed as as a means to smear.

    It even happens on TPQ where monikers smear and abuse. We have had problmes before with anti semitic abuse and so forth.

    Do you feel TPQ should stop the use of anonymity?