On Friday 22nd May, 2015, Ireland becomes the first country in the world to hold a referendum on same-sex marriage which will be a momentous occasion. This forthcoming ballot has stirred up a lot of emotion and interest for me – and maybe it has for you too.
I’ve experienced my fair share of homophobia over the years and know exactly what it feels like to have my sense of self-worth challenged. Ignorance shows itself in many situations where people directly and indirectly attempt to marginalise others and make them feel shame, fear and guilt for who they are. Thankfully, not everybody is homophobic. There are enough broadminded people in the world who are allies of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community and who fully accept them and treat them as equals. We are still on a journey towards full equality, but if equal marriage for same-sex couples is passed in the referendum, this will ensure wider acceptance of LGBT people.
Passing the referendum will undoubtedly lead to further liberation and freedom from the oppression of the past. I remember the loneliness and oppression I felt as a young gay person growing up in Ireland. At that time there were no role models, nobody to confide in and nobody to turn to for advice and guidance. Being gay was something that you had to be silent about. It took me a long time to be more open and free about my sexuality, and I am sure there are many thousands of others who have felt exactly the same.
There is no denying that Ireland has changed for the better concerning LGBT issues over the past quarter of a century. Homosexuality was only decriminalised in 1993 and Civil Partnerships were introduced in 2010, less than two decades later. To arrive at the point where we currently find ourselves is a remarkable achievement for a country once shaped and moulded by Catholicism. However, the Catholic Church still remains one of the biggest threats to the referendum being passed, with some of its bishops espousing the view that being gay is not part of God’s intention for mankind. They forget the piece of scripture that says that God made everybody in an image of himself. They also make these comments whilst ignoring the fact that a large percentage of Catholic clergy are gay themselves.
Other opponents to the referendum have said that marriage can only ever be between a man and a woman, and that equal marriage for gay couples is a threat to both family life as well as the sanctity of existing marriage amongst heterosexuals. But surely an ideal family is two loving parents – whether it’s a man and woman or two men or two women. The fact is a ‘yes’ vote won’t entail a threat to family life; rather it will strengthen families and society. Gay people do have children, either through fostering, adoption or surrogacy and so strong is their desire to have these children that they go to extraordinary lengths to be parents. There is no evidence which suggests that they make anything other than good and loving parents.
If you are heterosexual you might ask what relevance this referendum holds for you. Although you might not be gay yourself, you will likely know a close relative, friend, neighbour or work colleague who is gay or lesbian – or you might just simply believe in the rights of equality for everyone, which essentially is what this referendum is primarily about. By voting ‘yes’, you will be giving everyone in Ireland the same equal opportunity as yourself to get married. Laws help to shape people’s attitudes. A powerful ‘yes’ vote will send out a positive message that Ireland is at the forefront of modern Europe and concerned with equality for all its citizens, particularly its minorities.
As a gay man I very much hope that Ireland passes this referendum and that by allowing same-sex marriages, this will be seen as a celebration of loving relationships. This newfound equality will ensure that LGBT people have fully taken their place in Irish society and in doing so the ignorance, bigotry and narrow-mindedness of the past will be have been stripped away forever.
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