As time passes and we draw ever nearer to May’s referendum, same-sex marriage is becoming a topic hot on the nation’s lips. This referendum is not only about improving the rights of a minority group, it also relates to the country’s ability to change the status quo comfortably. In my opinion, this is not something easily done within Ireland, a country which, like many others, is in some respects quite settled in its ways; I have come across many people recently, who don’t understand the need to vote; not because they are intrinsically homophobic, but rather because they see no need to instil change and they feel it does not affect them directly. The ability to affect positive change, as a whole, is something that the people of this country need now more than ever in the wake of a difficult recession and problematic and hard to digest government decisions.
I mentioned previously that some people feel that the referendum does not affect them directly, but this is inherently untrue. We live on a relatively small island consisting of a myriad close-knit communities. Within each of these communities there are LGBT people who are being denied the same basic rights and opportunities that their heterosexual counterparts are afforded without question. This affects each Irish person, because it affects all communities and the nation as a whole. Furthermore, it affects all Irish people because the majority of people will, at some point in their lives, have a friend, family member or colleague who is gay and whose rights will be called into question. We must also each think of our children, or potential future children, and consider their happiness. As a parent, I feel it is essential that my daughter be raised in a country where she is free to love who she chooses, regardless of sexual preferences and that she be afforded the same opportunities to express that love through marriage. That is something that I will fight for.
This referendum is close to my heart for another reason – I grew up with gay parents. I had a very happy childhood and still have a wonderful relationship with my parents. The idea that I could choose to go out tomorrow and get married, but that my parents could not saddens me immensely. Unfortunately this is not the worst aspect of the current inequality. We live in a society which gives great power to the union of marriage, in particular a legal power and yet does not allow many of its citizens to become married. Currently, non-biological parents in same-sex parented families are not legally recognised as being related to the children they are raising. This causes countless problems, from day-to-day tasks such as collecting a child from school early, to being able to visit an ill son or daughter in hospital. I have witnessed situations in which parents have not been allowed into hospitals to see new-born children and have been denied access to visit their very unwell child over the Christmas holidays. Even more disturbing is the fact that if a lesbian or gay couple has a child, if the biological parent dies, the state has the power to remove the child from the household and place them in the care of extended family or foster care rather than allow them to stay with the parent who has been raising them. I believe this to be a huge injustice, adding immensely to the tragedy of losing one parent and causing immeasurable damage to the child.
A lot of people who are campaigning for a no vote ask the clichéd question of: ‘What about the children’. As one of the children in question, I want to take this opportunity to say that a no vote will hurt us, it will not offer protection to Irish children, it will merely allow Irish law to condone the discrimination of us and our families and allow us to fall through the cracks because of outdated and unfair loopholes. There are also those who encourage smear campaigns against LGBT parents, insinuating that abuse within the home is more prevalent because of the parent’s sexual orientation. This is nonsense. Entirely fabricated statistics are the only ‘proof’ these people can offer and it is sadly a scare tactic created by bigots who want something to hide behind. There is an organisation called ‘Doctors for Equality’ who have declared that after conducting thorough research, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that children of same-sex parents would be affected negatively in any way by their parent’s sexual orientation.
The questions of the moment seem to be 'Should gay couples be allowed to marry' and 'Wont allowing same sex marriage cause harm to children in some way'. I want to pose a new question to the people reading this, and I hope you will take a moment to consider it: ‘Isn't it about time that we started asking how we can live in a society that questions the value of equality and considers the discrimination of some a viable possibility on the basis that it won’t veer away from the status quo?’.