Marriage equality will be positive for Irish society and will reinforce family values as, fundamentally, it is about allowing people to make a commitment to one another. The Referendum on 22nd May is about promoting, protecting and cherishing the institution of marriage and ensuring that everyone has the right to marry the person they love.
I do not believe that we can continue to exclude loving couples from marrying on the basis of their sexual orientation. I know many people, in the North County and beyond, who are gay. I am not prepared to look them in the eye and tell them that they are second class citizens. I also know many people who have a gay family member or friends. Who am I to say that their son or daughter should be denied the right to marry the person they love?
In recent years, with the prospect of this referendum on my mind, I began my own journey in understanding the need of society at large to welcome marriage equality. I was not in favour of the referendum at that time.
My discussions, mostly with my colleagues and family questioned the effects of marriage equality on my own marriage, or that of my parents. Despite years of religious teachings, mass going and my own research into international examples, I could not identify why I held a prejudice toward the idea of extending the right to marry to gay and lesbian people. I was taught to “love my neighbour”; it wasn’t qualified with, “except for gay people.”
I could not, for a time, differentiate between the religious sacrament of marriage and the concept of civil marriage. In time however, I began to understand the fundamental differences between both and to understand that religious marriage would not be touched by allowing lesbian and gay couples access to civil marriage.
My journey was a personal one, it was not influenced by my politics but ultimately was shaped by the ideal contained within our constitution, written the same year my father was born.
“All citizens shall, as human persons, be held equal before the law.” Bunreacht Na hÉireann, Article 40.
While civil partnership provides for a societal recognition of the love between two lesbian or gay people, it can be revoked by an act of the Oireachtas. In 2015, I believe the rights of a gay man or a lesbian woman should be enshrined in our constitution so that they have equal constitutional protection and equal status and dignity for their relationships that opposite sex married couples have.
In light of the impending centenary celebration of our fight for freedom from British rule, it is appropriate to quote the Proclamation, written just over 99 years ago.
“The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally…” Proclamation of the Republic, April 24th 1916.
I cannot think of a more appropriate tribute to the children of Ireland, all of us, to declare in one voice that the ideals of the Proclamation will finally be fulfilled in relation to the treatment of our civil liberties and inalienable rights.
Opponents of marriage equality frequently claim that it is a threat to the institution of marriage. I have tried and failed to understand this rationale.
I believe that marriage equality strengthens the institution of marriage itself by making it accessible to those in our society who, up to now, have been excluded from marrying the person they love. Marriage equality will benefit all of us because, when we commit to each other and support each other, society becomes stronger as a result.
Some have expressed surprise that Fine Gael is so engaged in the campaign to introduce marriage equality. I would argue that supporting marriage equality is entirely consistent with a Party that strongly values family and community.
Throughout history people have been denied the right to marry the person they love based on their race, religion or sexuality.
The Penal Laws prevented an Irish Catholic who fell in love with an Irish Protestant from getting married. A white person who fell in love with a black person could not get married in parts of America less than fifty years ago. All sorts of arguments were made against changing these laws.
Yet here we are in 2015, where countless Catholics marry Protestants; white people marry black people and society is all the better for it.
There is nothing to fear from allowing people to marry those whom they love. There is nothing to fear from treating every committed, long-term relationship equally.
There is nothing to fear from extending this right to all couples. It will not affect existing marriages in any way. Neither will it affect the institution of marriage or the rights of married couples in any manner. The referendum will have no impact whatsoever on children. It is about equality and solely relates to the right of two people of the same sex to marry.
We live in a Republic. Our forbearers fought to have that right and to secure it for us and for future generations. The Constitution of our Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens. It couldn’t be clearer. A yes vote on 22nd May will ensure these rights are vindicated. This may be one of the last civil rights issues of our generation and I believe that, by voting yes, we will be voting for a stronger and more inclusive society for all.