Marriage Equality - A straight guy's thoughts
Well, it looks as if my publication plans for this blog have literally been turned on their head. I had originally planned to publish an already finished article on the redevelopment for the Capitol Cineplex in Cork this week, followed by my trip report on Dublin sometime in the following week. However, an event that I stumbled into on Dublin’s O’Connell Street has changed all that, and those articles will have to wait a little while longer.
It was the kick-off for Amnesty International’s campaign for a yes vote to marriage equality in the upcoming referendum on May 22nd. It is a sign of the times that Ireland, a country that until the 1990s wasn't far removed from being the catholic counterpart to the Islamic Republic of Iran, has moved so far ahead in such a short time that this referendum is actually possible at all. Still, as remarkable as that fact may be, there is still a long way to go.
But back to the event on O’Connell Street for the time being. I had spent the day walking through Dublin, and taking in the city’s limited number of sights, when, with smoke beginning to billow out of my shoes, and the battery level of my phone nearing the low single digits, I noticed a stage being set up outside the General Post Office on O’Connell Street, a large neo-classical building that holds a key place in Irish history, with which I will probably bore my readers to death come 2016. Anyway, they were still pretty busy setting up the stage when I walked past there, so I decided to look for a place to rest my feet.
When I came back, the rally was in full swing, and half of O’Connell Street was blocked with supporters of the various right to marriage campaigns. The speeches held on stage really fired up the crowd, and they greeted each speaker with almost unbearably loud cheers. It truly was a great thing to see.
But why the hell should I care? I’m straight, not even an Irish citizen, so I can’t vote in the referendum anyway, why in the name of hell should I even bother standing there, much less think about it or support it? Well, the belief that “…all men are created equal…” as a certain US document puts it so succinctly, is one of the foundations of my personal world view. And at the moment, this basic tenet is violated in Ireland on a daily basis. Couples living together are denied the legal benefits due to married couples simply because of the gender of one of their partners. Children can’t depend on getting the support they need from both their parents in time of need because current legislation allows only married couples the right to care for their partners’ children. And these are just a few of the restrictions facing homosexual couples in Ireland. In the early years of the 21st century, this is quite frankly an unacceptable state of affairs, and it needs to change.
But it is not just about legal equality, this is about something much more fundamental. It is about accepting others as they are, and not as we want them to be. I personal am lucky insofar as I grew up in a family where there wasn’t much ado about homosexuality or alternative lifestyles. I was raised to see everyone as a human being, treat them with respect, and let them be themselves. This mindset has stayed with me all my adult life, and it has served me well from my time as an unemployed in Germany, through coming in contact with people from various walks of life in my jobs there, and not least when it came to the big jump to Ireland. We are all humans, beneath the skin we are all the same, and all our bodies are made from the same atoms hurtled outwards billions of years ago by dying stars, so lets stop drawing up arbitrary barriers between each other and afford everyone the same freedom and acceptance.
The site of the rally today, in front of the GPO, was most likely not just a random choice. It was here, 99 years ago, during the Easter weekend 1916, that a group of revolutionaries proclaimed an independent Irish Republic. There was nothing new about that, the Irish had racked up quite a respective tally of failed revolts. This one was special however, insofar as to the values that they stood up for. I have taken the liberty of quoting from the Easter Proclamation:
“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 of the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien Government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.”
To this day, Irish society is betraying the fighters of the 1916 Easter Rising. The values of the proclamation are still being ignored, indeed swept under the rug, and have been ever since Ireland finally gained independence in 1922. The leaders and soldiers of the rising have been made into national heroes, but only after they’d been safely executed. It is always easy after all, to lift martyrs onto a plinth, and dead people have a habit of not fighting back.
It is therefore up to the Irish people to finally make the vision of equality in Ireland a reality. The opportunity is there, on May 22nd, when citizens of Ireland will be able to vote whether the Constitution of Ireland should be changed to allow homosexual couples to marry. While certain elements, especially those operating under the umbrella of multiple religious organisations, mostly “christian” groups (looking at you here, Iona Institute), have already made their point clear, the outcome is not at all clear cut. Indeed, two of the most surprising speakers at the Amnesty International rally were these two, who recorded this video as part of the Vote With Us campaign, that also supports marriage equality:
It really shows how far Ireland has come. This great couple would, as they themselves admit, have voted no not too many years back. However, there is no room for complacency. A low voter turnout could still swing the referendum in favour of the No-campaign, and that would, quite frankly, be a worst case scenario. Every supporter of full equality for the LGBT community, and I am one of those supporters, must do everything in their power to mobilise as many yes voters as possible. And while my biggest weapon in this fight maybe my alleged ability to write more than two coherent sentences, I will certainly use that ability in the two months leading up to the referendum.
However, there will still be a lot of work to do even after the referendum. While a fully equal legal standing is essential, there will still be a lot of effort required to combat the long-standing, and often deeply held resentments in some parts of the Irish population, and in the political landscape as well. In other words, the referendum is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
You probably never expected to see a Churchill Quote in an article about marriage equality, did you? ;-)