YES to Marriage Equality on 22 May 2015
I must begin by saying that I believe people who wish to marry people of the opposite sex are unquestionably entitled to do so. Almost 40 years ago I married a wonderful girl called Fran. We undertook to love each other truly until death and despite our extraordinary differences we continue to honour that commitment and we truly love each other. But I believe that future generations will look back at our time with a sense of astonishment that it would be taking us until now to consider the reasonableness of the idea of Marriage Equality.
I look back with the same incredulity to the 1960’s in the US where it required the National Guard to escort young black people into what were still “all white” schools and colleges. We are not talking here about the Dark Ages but the social history of the Land of the Free in the memory of people alive today. People were segregated according to the colour of their skin with white only restaurants, schools, colleges, busses and restrooms. Black people were abused and horrifically tortured, burnt alive even, just because of their skin colour.
In our time and in many parts of the world the very same discrimination is applied to gay people by reason only of their sexual orientation. Gay people suffer ridicule, abuse, imprisonment, torture, even the death penalty, at the hands of their fellow human beings. We need to do all we can to finally put an end to this discrimination and to rules and regulations which support and encourage it.
We also need to put to bed some illogical arguments which are raised against the idea of same sex marriage. The first is the notion that sexual orientation is a lifestyle choice. Just think about that for a moment. You have a choice and yet you opt for a lifestyle that will bring upon you exclusion, ridicule, abuse, violence, even death, even in our own city and country. Sexual orientation is no more a matter of choice than is skin colour or hair type. The second idea is that same sex relationships are against the natural law or the “will of God”. This argument falls flat on its face when you consider the sizeable minority of people for whom a same sex relationship is the only natural choice.
As the Irish people approach this referendum we would do well to consider the famous “I have a Dream” speech of Martin Luther King. All we have to do is magically ‘”find and replace” a few words and the following extract is the resultant appeal for tolerance in our time:
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the gender of the people they love but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today”
So my appeal is, firstly, for all citizens to exercise their democratic right to vote in the referendum on Friday 22nd May 2015 and I urge them to exercise that right in a spirit of tolerance. I respect the right of people to vote NO and I do not view as homophobic, people who are supportive of the LGBT cause but who still decide to vote against the proposal. But my wish is that a substantial majority of people will vote YES and that the referendum providing for Marriage Equality in Ireland will be passed.
We are talking here about the equal formal recognition of a public declaration of a loving lifelong commitment of one person to another. Heterosexual marriage has nothing to fear from the widening of the definition of civil marriage. Marriage has undergone many changes over the centuries, from a union based on political and economic expediency to the point where it is (mostly and thankfully) now a union of choice between two people themselves. Marriage is not the preserve of churches. People are free to marry according to their own religious beliefs. They may wish to do so in addition to their civil commitment. This vote is about civil marriage which is a separate matter subject to the rules of civil society and in respect of which “equality for all” is an idea whose time has come.