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10 days to go…..

This is a cathartic exercise as I quite simply am at saturation point and I feel the need to write all of this down. I have listened to the no side and found no solid arguments, only conjecture, fear, discrimination and John Waters ranting away about something utterly unrelated.

My life will not change as a result of this referendum. That’s simply because I happen to be straight. But the lives of people I care about will be affected, as will the lives of thousands of my fellow citizens who I have never met. It still feels very personal because its about the kind of Ireland I want to be part of.

Amidst all of the debate and the sweeping statements and the hand wringing and the posters and the alarmism and the heated opinions, it’s all too easy to lose sight of the fact that there are skin and bone human beings who will be profoundly impacted by this vote. Those human beings are our colleagues, friends, family, children, grandchildren, future children. You might not know it yet, but they are.
Whoever they are, they are people and our fellow citizens. Their lives, futures and relationships are being scrutinised and judged. I can’t imagine how intense the past few months have been for them. As Rory O’Neill said, ‘it’s just that personal’.

If the vote doesn’t carry I don’t know how I’ll look my fellow citizens in the eye and say ‘ yup, we scrutinised and we judged and we voted and it turns out we don’t fully trust or accept you lot. So you stay over there in your different place where you belong’. Ugh.

In answer to some of the arguments doing the rounds from the no side…

“It’s against nature”: I’ve had the privilege of encountering the bearded man with his black banner a few times. He seems like fun. Sexual orientation is as much part of who a person is as their skin color and sex. There are records of same sex relations in ancient cultures such as Greece and Egypt. Gay people don’t wake up one day and think ‘screw you nature!’, they simply are how they are. A no vote won’t stop people being gay any more than it will stop people being people.

“It’s not about discrimination”: Yes it is. Allowing me to marry and not allowing my gay friends and family to do the same is discrimination. It’s treating people differently because of who they are. And it’s enshrining that treatment in our constitution.

Discrimination does not always look the same but it feels the same. Ask a woman at the turn of the last century if not having the vote felt like discrimination. Ask someone who grew up knowing they were gay in 1980s Ireland. Ask a black South African who grew up under apartheid.  And ask someone who is denied the possibility of marrying their true love. All of the above reflect legal structures that enshrine lesser treatment based on ‘otherness’.  What else is that only discrimination? We may not like the word but that doesn’t make it go away.

” it will deprive children of a mother or father”; children are already raised, in their thousands, without a mother or father. A no vote won’t change this. Ive said before and I’ll say it again, a mother and father are no guarantee of a happy and healthy upbringing. The individuals involved in bringing up a child are what’s important, and their choices in loving and supporting their children. children will continue to be brought up by both parents, one parent, same sex parents, foster parents,adoptive parent couples and single adoptive parents.  A no vote will not obliterate all families that don’t consist of a mother and father.
The ISPCC, Barnardos, NYCI, Foroige and The Children’s Rights Alliance are supporting a yes vote. They have the experience and expertise, they know the reality of children and families in Ireland today. I’m inclined to listen to them. The Adoption Authority clarified that the outcome will have no bearing on their approach to adoption. The best interests of the child are always paramount. So no, gay couples won’t be able to swoop in and demand children; and again, I’m inclined to listen to the experts on this when they say that no one has a right to a child. And yes, biological mothers can stipulate their preference for the profile of the parent(s) who will care for their child.
Many adoptions now involve overseas adoptions, a long and costly process and not one that is accessible to all couples. That also won’t change.
There are already same sex adoptive parents. What will be different with a yes vote is that they could choose to get married, and therefore be considered a family home rather than a shared home and enjoy constitutional protection.

And this point seems to be overlooked….. not all same sex couples will have children just like not all different sex couples have children. Those who choose to however, should have equal protection from the constitution regardless of their sexual orientation.

Children will continue to be brought up in all sorts of families. If they are loved and supported, the only thing that will make them feel deprived is society constantly telling them that their family is not quite good enough.

“But surrogacy!!!”: yes, it’s complicated and tricky. And therefore needs legislation. I haven’t heard a single argument from the yes side demanding unrestricted access to surrogacy. It’s a process that is expensive enough to be out of reach for many people. Experience in the UK shows that most surrogacy arrangements relate to different sex parents.
We absolutely need legislation to manage surrogacy, and especially commercial surrogacy, but that’s not what this vote is about. Really. It’s not!

“But the precious biological bond”: Talk to someone raised by adoptive parents. Talk to a step parent. Talk to a foster parent and foster child. Will all of those peoples experiences have been idyllic and perfect? Probably not. Will the experience of every family built around a mother and father be idyllic and perfect? Probably not. But they are all equally real. No family is any more or less valuable than the next but yet our constitution and society currently says otherwise.
Talk to my friend who is a paediatrician and told me of her experiences of working with babies and young children who have been abused and beaten by one of their biological parents. Biological bonds guarantee nothing. A lack of biological bonds guarantee nothing. Love and care and respect are what matters.

“Civil partnerships are enough”; the Law Society says otherwise. In a civil partnership, you are not considered a family in the same sense as a married couple. You have a ‘shared home’ rather than a ‘family home’. You have legal but not constitutional protection. And it’s a process reserved only for same sex couples. If it’s so ‘equal’ why isn’t it considered enough for different sex couples?

“Marriage is for men and women only. We shouldn’t redefine it”; in my view, we are broadening it’s reach, not redefining. The above sentiment is based on equating marriage and family with pro creation, which excludes married couples with no children and unmarried couples with children and therefore is actually a very narrow definition. There are records of same sex marriage in Mesopatamia, Ancient Greece and China. Same sex marriage is recognised and legal in the Netherlands, UK, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, Portugal, Belgium, and New Zealand to name just a few. So it appears marriage is not in fact always a union between a man and a woman. It can be, but isn’t always. It is however, always about love.

Marriage and family are deeply personal and it’s not surprising that opinions and passions run so strongly on this. But if life has taught me anything it’s that there is no one size fits all. It’s down to allowing everyone to live out their lives to the fullest in the way that’s right for them. If you happen to be straight, chances are nobody is stopping you from pursuing your marriage in the way you want, be it religious, civil or non existent, as you choose and as is right for you . So why would you want to deny anyone else this choice? What impact does it really have on any of us who someone else chooses to marry?

Please, please get out and vote on the 22nd. Every vote counts. I hear people talking about feeling railroaded into voting yes. Don’t let yourself be. Make the decision your own. Everyone, and yes EVERYONE has access to the same information. No one can or will take your vote from you, no one else will be in that booth with you.  Inform yourself, decide how you feel and go out and vote. If you are uncomfortable with your choice, that’s down to you.

I was never going to vote any way other than yes but I know it’s not that straightforward for everyone. However, we should all heed the input from organisations and individuals who work on a daily basis with the issues at hand, even if the facts they present are uncomfortable. And we should all, every last one of us, heed the men and women who are at the centre of this, who have had their families, lives and loves bared for the past few months in the hope of a more equal future.