The world is building up to an overwhelming crescendo again. I know it’s not just me; anyone with any sense of compassion will have been overwhelmed by the news from Nepal in recent days, and by the reality of what’s happening in Baltimore, MD. That’s not to mention all the ongoing crises in the world which will continue to rumble, even when our eyes are turned elsewhere. Not, it sometimes feels, that it really matters whether we’re watching or not – the brutalities of the world seem like so much entertainment, to some people.
So, in an attempt to distract myself from all this negative horror, I want to talk today about something which means a lot to me, and which – to my mind – is a little shaft of light in a darkening world.
In about three weeks’ time, the people of Ireland will be called upon to vote in a Constitutional referendum to decide whether or not Marriage Equality (or Same-Sex Marriage, if you insist) should be made legal in our jurisdiction. The campaigning has been ferocious, and at times vitriolic, and as one would expect in a debate like this, issues which have nothing to do with the central question have been brought up for discussion, distracting from the real matters at hand. Sometimes, this has made me angry, and at other times it has made me glad I live in a democracy where people are entitled and expected to air their views and have them at least listened to, if not agreed with.
I don’t normally make my own political opinions public, and I don’t normally bang on about what way I’m going to vote in any particular election or referendum, but this time I think it’s important that people say which way they’re leaning, and explain why. I will be voting ‘YES’ on May 22nd, and I’m proud to say so. I will be voting in favour of legislating for legal civil marriage for same-sex couples – or, making every citizen of Ireland equal under the law when it comes to being married and having that marriage recognised by the State – and I can’t wait for my chance to exercise my franchise.
There has been a lot of talk in Ireland over the past few weeks about how this vote will affect children, if it’s passed; how it will (apparently) rip children from their mothers’ arms and place them in the households of legally-married gay couples, and how distasteful that would be, and how it will deny every child the ‘right’ to be brought up in a loving home with a mother and a father. It will destroy the fabric of society, we’re told by those on the ‘NO’ side, undermining the legitimacy of marriage itself, forcing religious people to act against their conscience, leading to a future where children are left lost and rootless and families begin to crumble.
It’s all nonsense.
There are already gay couples living peacefully in Ireland, bound legally as civil partners – but these relationships don’t have the same protections under the law or the Constitution as marriage does. There are already families headed by two adult partners of the same gender. There are already children born to, and being lovingly raised by, gay parents. The only difference that this referendum will make, if it’s passed, to the children of gay couples is this: it will make them more protected, more secure under the law, and safer. Currently, if a child is the biological offspring of a lesbian woman in a civil partnership, and if that woman dies, her partner has no legal right to parent the child whom she loves as her own, and whom she has raised as her own. If the women were married, the child would be secure in her family, knowing that nobody can take her from the parent she has known and loved all her life if anything should happen to her biological mother. Currently, if two men are civilly partnered and one of them dies without making a will, his partner (and, possibly, their children) cannot automatically inherit his estate, as would happen with a married couple. It’s as if, sometimes, people can’t imagine children being lovingly raised by two people who happen to be of the same gender, and they can’t imagine how on earth a child could be raised well, and roundly, and with loving support, by anyone other than a woman and a man. They can be. They are being. It’s perfectly possible. What a child needs, most fundamentally, is love, not two differently-gendered parents. If they happen to have a mother and father, great. If they don’t, they’ll be fine – so long as they’re safe and loved.
The notion that every family headed by a married man and woman is ‘happy’, or functional, or loving, or abuse-free, is outdated and naive, but it seems to be a notion that the ‘NO’ side are clinging to. I am lucky; I was raised in a happy family with a set of parents of opposite gender. I am married to a person of opposite gender to myself, and we are happy. But this doesn’t mean that every family with a mother and father is happy, just because the parents are of opposite genders. Children are battered and beaten every day by their mothers. Children are abused by their fathers. Children live in squalor and horror under the veneer of ‘respectability’, and nobody bats an eyelid because their family are ‘good people’. If the people campaigning against this referendum truly cared about children’s welfare, and if that was really their core concern, they’d shut up shop and join the ‘YES’ side, because nothing else makes sense. We are trying, as a country, every day, to protect the children who suffer at the hands of their biological, heterosexual parents – our system isn’t perfect, but we’re working on it. How, then, we could consider not passing a referendum which would give more stability to already happy and functional families – ones headed by same-sex parents – is beyond me.
But this referendum isn’t about children, really. It’s about equality. It’s about this country looking its gay citizens in the eye and saying ‘You and I are equal under the law in all things, and I’m going to vote to make sure your rights are as protected as mine.’ If it’s passed, this referendum won’t force churches to marry gay people in religious ceremonies. It won’t force anyone to do anything against their will. It will make life easier and more stable for hundreds of children, and it will be an acknowledgement that every person has the right to be involved in a loving, committed relationship recognised by their State if they so choose.
I’m voting ‘YES’, and I hope the majority of my fellow citizens will be with me. It won’t save the world, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.