Public Forum Hears Both Sides of Marriage Equality Referendum Debate

One woman, three men, standing. From Left To Right: Tara Flynn, Sean Kenny TD, Colm O'Gorman (Amnesty) and Aodhán Ó Riordáin TD

From Left To Right: Tara Flynn, Sean Kenny TD, Colm O’Gorman (Amnesty) and Aodhán Ó Riordáin TD.                –  Photo: M. Butler

Tara Flynn knows all about discrimination. The author and comedienne is married to an African American, and has, together with her husband, experienced racism first-hand during their time together.

She tells us this only to elucidate that any type of discrimination means that someone is being treated unequally. In this case, the equality being sought is on behalf of the LGBT community in Ireland, as they too deserve to be able to marry the person they love, just as straight people and inter-racial couples can.

After Colm O’Gorman tells her that her legs are alright (you had to be there) Tara went on to say that she wanted to be proud of Ireland, and she urged people to vote Yes in the marriage equality referendum.

Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland, was next to speak, stating:

“I want my children to grow up in an Ireland where they are guaranteed equality before the law”.

Colm told the audience that Art. 41 of the Constitution talks about the family as a married couple, with or without children, in answer to a point about two men in a marriage, who would not be able to have children together. He said that a commitment to human rights is at the core of his beliefs, and so he can understand people who say they would vote No because of their deeply held religious beliefs.

Colm then told us that Amnesty has supported marriage equality since 2007, and that the principle of non-discrimination means you cannot treat people differently, if there is no valid objective reason to do so. However, he said, people who wish to vote No on religious grounds should realise that, in some countries, Christians are discriminated against, on the basis of that country’s own religious beliefs, and in some of these countries, women still aren’t allowed to drive.

Colm also made the point that families are circles of support, rarely only about two individuals, and that marriage is also about who makes the lunches for the kids going to school, and who goes through the trauma of school exams with them.

Some of the No voters expressed their views, or their reasons for voting No, and these included what they saw as religious grounds, or the misunderstood adoption laws in this country. One man felt that equality was a myth, as we all have different clothes, pay, etc.

Another man, a No supporter, didn’t seem to understand that regardless of whether or not marriage equality is passed in the referendum, LGBT people could already adopt singly here in Ireland. The issue for the LGBT community was previously that, if the adopter had a partner, either through Civil Partnership or Marriage in another jurisdiction, that partner wasn’t given the same status as parent until the recent Children & Family Relationships Bill.

One girl told us that when she was canvassing for a Yes vote, a lady who answered the door told her that she was 62 years married, was very happy, and so was voting No! The canvasser only realised afterwards that she could have asked the lady if a gay person should not also have the right to be 62 years married and very happy.

An older man told a really heart-breaking story about friends of his, where the father in the family, who had always called his daughter “Princess”, rejected her when, at 20, she told the parents she was gay. Some days later, the daughter committed suicide, leaving a note which included the message “Tell my Daddy that his Princess loves him”.

Mike Jennings (IFUT) stood up and said that he will be voting Yes. Himself and his wife have been married for 30 years,  yet his brother-in-law, who is gay and with his partner for 40 years, cannot get married in this country, and that really bothers him. He also said that it’s not about the child’s right to have a mother and a father, as, to be born, everyone must have had a mother and a father, but he asked if the No side then mean that a widow should be told to give up her children if the father dies, for instance.

Colm O’Gorman answered some of the above points throughout the meeting, and pointed out that, in relation to adoption, not every child can live with its biological parents. He also felt that this was our opportunity to see that we “cherish all the children of the nation equally”, as gay children deserve the right to grow up and get married if they wish, just as straight people can.

Colm stated that it’s “not about being a gay parent, but a parent” and that when his head hits the pillow for the last time “it’s the quality of how I loved” that will be important.

Aodhán Ó Riordáin TD had the final word, and asked: “What is inequality?”. The reality that he has seen is that many groups suffer inequality in this country, and if you’re not lucky enough to be white, male, educated, etc., you’re likely to have suffered some type of discrimination here. However, he felt that LGBT inequality was different. He asked:

“What if the people you live with reject you?”. He made the point that things are changing here for the better, as when he was 16, you couldn’t stand up and talk about gay rights. He also said that this was a very important referendum, and that in years to come, your grandchildren may ask you “How did you vote in 2015?”

Seán Kenny, TD,  who chaired the meeting, then thanked everyone for coming. The Yes Equality/Labour Party forum was held in Clontarf Castle in Dublin, yesterday evening, 20th April.

– M. Butler

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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