Vote Yes for a kinder society

Insider is going to come straight out and say it - Vote Yes to Marriage Equality on May 22. Insider is taking an unequivocal stand on this issue as the referendum is very important to a small group of people in Ireland. That group not only includes this Insider, but also some of the most hopeful, optimistic, and open hearted people Insider has ever had the good fortune to meet.

These people - lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender -along with many heterosexual friends from Galway, have organised themselves voluntarily into canvass teams to travel the estates and streets of Galway city and county asking for solidarity, support, and yes, the kindness it will take from the general public to secure a majority Yes vote.

LGTB people are not looking for special extra rights, or say a State apology for years of discrimination and stigma, nor are they seeking something which will incur any great cost to the State, or which will negatively affect others. We are looking for equality; LGTB people face the same obligations and responsibilities as any other person in the State - there is no law or tax we are exempt from but at present we are extended fewer rights than heterosexuals and we would like to change this.

Why? Because LGTB people cannot win this referendum ourselves - we make up only between four to eight per cent of the population and despite polls favouring a Yes vote, many of us are nervous. Not enough of us exist to carry the vote ourselves. So, we need your votes. Your undoubted kindness needs to be matched with action.

Insider has been out canvassing with YesEquality over the last few weeks and has met with heartening support from all age groups, genders, and classes, as well as plenty of genuine confusion, and some outright abuse. One of the difficult things about the campaign is that the people involved have had to be willing to discuss the most intimate details of their personal lives and identities with strangers. On the doorsteps LGTB people have been asked everything from the mechanics of how they conduct their sexual activities to how they went about telling their parents they were gay. Insider cannot think of any time when canvassers had to be willing to face such personally intrusive questions. We are willing to do this because we have to, and because we owe it to ourselves not to accept less than other citizens take for granted, and we owe it to every child that might grow up in Ireland and discover s/he is gay or lesbian in the future.

Civil partnership is NOT the same as marriage

To lose this referendum would be a devastating blow and the LGBT community would feel roundly rejected, but we need a Yes vote for more substantial reasons than to protect us against hurt feelings. We need it because in Ireland, the institution of marriage is one that brings with it a set of entitlements and protections that are not available to LGTB people.

In 2012 there were more than 1.7 million people in Ireland who were married - 1.7 million people who value what marriage offers. Even though civil partnership for same sex couples was introduced in Ireland in 2010, married people enjoy a host of rights that are unavailable for LGTB people’s relationships. In total there are more than 160 differences between a marriage and a civil partnership and these differences are to do with issues as crucial as the recognition of next of kin, of inheritance, and of the family home. In case this all sounds too cold and abstract, this referendum concerns people’s real lives, their only lives.

Insider knows people in Galway who have been denied access to their critically ill partners in hospitals because they were not seen as the next of kin; people who had to stand at the back of the church for their life partner’s funeral because they had no official status in their partner’s life; people whose same-sex partners have been unable to live in the same country as them due to immigration restrictions; even one person who, after the grief and loss of a partner, discovered their home was under threat by a claim from the siblings of the departed.

For heterosexuals, all of these issues are solved or lessened by marriage, but for LGTB people, this has never been an option. Insider thinks life is difficult enough without there being extra unnecessary obstacles put in the way of people's happiness. More fundamentally though, LGTB people deserve equality for the simple reason they are equal humans and they deserve equal rights. We are you. Human.

Countering the claims of the No campaign

Even harder than sharing personal stories on the doorsteps are counteracting the inaccuracies circulated by the various elements of the NO campaign. An observer from another country could be forgiven for thinking we were all involved in an attempt to introduce child marriages or end heterosexual marriage, for the record- we are not - this referendum is very straightforward; it extends the right of civil marriage to two people irrespective of their sex. That’s it. LGTB people value the institution of marriage so much that they are willing to campaign to be included in it.

So to some of the misinformation; first off, this referendum has very little to do with children at all, other than meaning more children than before will have the opportunity to have parents who are married. Also, children growing up now and those who will be born in the future, will not have to figure out why marriage is not on the cards for them or why their State treats them unequally if they are gay/lesbian.

Next rumour for the chop: Voting yes in this referendum will have no effect on any existing marriage. If you are married to a person of the opposite sex that will continue to be the case whatever the result of this referendum. Just to state it clearly; if you were not gay before the vote, then no, you will not be afterwards either and the human race will not die out.

And another one down: the ceremony of religious matrimony that opposite sex couples of faith undertake will not be affected. This referendum only has the scope to deal with civil marriage, that is the contract of marriage that is recognised and protected by the State.

Some other things the referendum does not deal with despite the No side’s claims are; surrogacy, assisted donor reproductions, adoption, education, religion, Catholic teaching in schools, and discrimination on grounds of sexuality by businesses or institutions. For those concerned with the issue of surrogacy (which in any case is something that is mostly used by heterosexual couples ) you will find this relatively new area of law is not covered or affected by the change that this referendum will make to our Constitution.

Assisted donor reproductions and adoption are included in a legislative act called the Child and Family Relationships Act 2015 which has already passed through both houses of the Oireachtas. The other matters above are all covered by the Equal Status Acts which prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender, except in certain very limited exemptions. Neither piece of legislation will be affected by this referendum, they exist already. All you are being asked in the Marriage Equality Referendum on May 22 is if you are willing to extend the right of marriage to couples irrespective of their sex.

Allow Insider to be a bit less legal and pragmatic for a minute, and let me say I now no one in this country who has not had it rough in the last few years with the recession, austerity, and joblessness being so common. We have high rates of depression, alcoholism, and suicide. Insider often thinks we need to avoid putting any extra stresses and pressures on our fragile human selves. The harsh judgments Ireland’s authorities have traditionally meted out to those who did not comply with what was deemed proper are not yet history. There are survivors of Magdalene laundries and industrial schools still among us and will be for decades yet. There are the revelations day after day of the tiny bodies of babies buried in their hundreds and of children sold and taken from their mothers in this country. This is what happens when we decide we know best what others should do, or that we alone know what ‘good’ is.

My point is this: we have had a history of being taught to be judgmental in this country. Our religion and the culture that resulted from it taught us to judge, to be our brother’s keepers. I don’t think we need to accept that any more. There are kinder gods, there are kinder interpretations of the very same religion that people of faith could have adopted and can still adopt. I see courageous people like Fr Peter Mc verry and Sister Stanislaus Kennedy saying they will vote Yes because their conscience tells them to do so. I see Mary McAleese - an expert theologian - insisting that a Christian and a Catholic can, in fact vote Yes. This referendum is one opportunity for us all - religious, atheist or agnostic, heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender - to take one step towards becoming our brothers' and sisters' supportive friends instead of their keepers.

Insider knows some readers may not be comfortable with same-sex marriage or same-sex relationships but you can still act with kindness and solidarity towards those whose one precious life has led them on that path. You can vote Yes because other humans want and need you to do so. This is what Insider is asking you to do on May 22, for a more just society, for a more kind society, and because a minority needs your help.

All any of us from the LGTB community have to convince you that we are worthy of equality are our lives and our stories and our ordinary human deceny, and all we are asking for is that you would use yours on our behalf. Thanks in advance.

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