On May 22nd, the people of Ireland are being asked to vote on an addition to our constitution:
"Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex."
In the interests of openness, let me state, clearly, that I am voting yes to this amendment. I am straight, I am married, and I have three wonderful children. I don't believe there is any morally-sound reason for saying that a person should have fewer rights in their life choices than me on the grounds that their sexual or romantic preferences differ from mine.
In an ideal world, that is all this referendum would come down to. However humans are flawed things, and susceptible to the effects of fear and uncertainty. We resist change, particularly when it relates to something we consider "other", or different to us.
And there are always those who will prey on those instincts to fulfill their own ends.
To say I've been emotive on this subject would be an understatement. The referendum will not affect me. But it will affect friends of mine, and it may affect my daughters in the future. I want them all to have the same rights I do. However I'm conscious that many people in Ireland are still undecided, or are deciding to vote no, or abstain, for various reasons. I'd like to try and set aside my emotional responses today and address, rationally, why I think voting yes is the right choice, in the hopes that people who do not want to vote yes will reconsider, or at least approach me to discuss their choice.
The No Campaign's focus coming up to this referendum has been quite controversial. They, smartly, shy away from citing religious reasons for a no vote. The Irish people don't have the best relationship with the Catholic Church anymore. What the No Campaign has done, is to bring up rather chilling ideas, but ones that none the less might seem reasonable to many Irish people. The notion that a child deserves a mother and a father. That the purpose of marriage is to bear children, and as a same-sex couple can't have children of their own, allowing them to marry would cheapen or invalidate the marriages of different-sex couples. That marriage and civil partnership, which is presently available to all, regardless of gender, are functionally the same. And the concern that gay marriage will lead to women's bodies being "rented" for surrogacy.
However, none of these arguments actually hold weight.
For one, same-sex couples are already allowed to adopt. The adoption process is not weighted in favour of married couples, but by the fitness of the individual(s) involved. It has been made very clear that the marriage referendum will have no impact whatsoever on the adoption process in Ireland, so that's that argument put to bed.
For another, ask yourself why the No Campaign, despite this insistence that children raised by a man and a woman are better off than those who are not, hasn't suggested that there's anything wrong with a single parent raising a child on their own?
Why, if the No Campaign believes that the purpose of marriage is to bear children, do they not argue that the marriages of people who can't, or don't want to, have children be rendered null and void?
There are approximately 160 differences between civil partnerships and marriage, many relating to matters of inheritance, social support, and constitutional rights. To say that they are the same is clearly false.
And there is no evidence whatsoever that children raised by same-sex parents are in any way disadvantaged compared to those raised by a man and a woman. Aside, of course, from the prejudice of those who view this as unnatural.
In fact, even the Iona Institute, which champions the idea that only a mother and a father can provide a healthy environment for a child, released a report which admits that enacting any adoption laws in the future that would favour different-sex couples over same-sex couples would be unconstitutional, because it cannot be proven that having opposite-sex parents is necessary for a child's healthy upbringing.
So with these points out of the way, where do you stand? Do you doubt the facts shared above?
I'd like to take some time to look at history. This is not the first battle fought in the war for equal rights, and it certainly won't be the last. What occurs to me, though, is the side resisting change frequently uses the same arguments and justifications. We've seen these points made by the No Campaign:
"Gay couples don't need marriage, they can have a civil partnership."
"Two people of the same gender can't provide a suitable family environment for a child."
"Allowing same-sex marriage will lessen the meaning of different-sex marriage."
"We can't let same-sex couples marry because it would redefine what marriage means."
If you'll indulge me, here are some of the No Campaign's points paraphrased to suit other human rights issues:
"Women don't need to vote, they have husbands who can vote."
"Black people don't need to sit at the front of the bus, they can sit at the back."
"Black people don't need to go to school, they can do jobs that don't require an education."
"Two people of different races can't provide a suitable family environment for a child."
"Allowing divorce will lessen the meaning of marriage."
"Women don't need to work when they get married, they have husbands who can work."
"We can't allow a woman to refuse to submit sexually to her husband, because it would redefine marriage."
"An unmarried woman can't provide a suitable family environment for a child, so we'll take the child away and put her to work in a laundry until a man claims her."
"We can't allow Catholics and Protestants to marry because it would redefine marriage."
"The Irish don't need a language of their own, they can use English."
"The Irish don't need to own their own land."
"The Irish don't need their own government."
If you've been settled on voting no, I ask you to think for a moment what it must be like to know that your entire nation is about to decide on something that will have no effect on the majority of them, but will be a clear indicator of how they view you, as a human being.
If you vote no, regardless of your reason, the message you send is that you believe people deserve less freedom and less choice about how to live their life, based on something that will likely never affect you.
If you abstain, you're saying that there is something you alone gain from not voting, that is more important than using this chance to improve the lives of 1 in 25 people. Maybe that number seems small, but with a population of over 6 million, that means a yes vote could, in one moment, improve the lives of over 240,000 people. Because even if none of the estimated 240,000 LGBTQ people in Ireland choose to marry, we'll have told them, as a nation, that we see them as equals, and welcome them, accept them, and love them. That's to say nothing of the impact on future generations.
If any of my children, or grandchildren, or (if I get to live so long) great-grandchildren, come to me and say they're getting married to someone of the same gender, I want to be able to say I was part of that. More, I want to be able to say our country wanted them to be able to do that so much, that we became the first nation in the history of the world to declare same-sex marriage by popular vote.
This is history in the making. What way do you want to look back on the next several days?