The case for marriage equality in the Republic of Ireland

Josh Whelan is a One Young World Ambassador from Ireland who is passionate about LGBT community development and progression in Ireland and internationally. He is a board member of NXF (National Lesbian and Gay Federation) - Ireland's oldest LGBT advocacy organisation.

On 22 May, Irish citizens will descend upon polling stations to vote in favour or against same-sex marriage in the Republic of Ireland.

The Marriage Referendum debate has been heating up in Ireland over the past few months. To date, we’ve had Hollywood movie stars come out in support, a government minister disclose his sexual orientation, 6 Nations winning rugby players are on the ‘Vote Yes’ side, Grammy-nominated Irish musicians lending their voice to the debate, businesses championing equality, economists boasting the lucrative fiscal benefits of a 'Yes' vote passing and many more. Opinion polls over the months have been relatively pro-'Yes', but the only poll we can afford to believe is the one on 22 May.

As a proud gay Irish man, I want to continue my life in Ireland as a respected and equal citizen. Myself and many others in the LGBT community, along with numerous straight friends and allies find it incredibly frustrating that our equal status requires a vote in the first place.

For the most part, I greatly respect Bunreacht na hÉireann (Ireland's Constitution) but it was written in 1937; a time when human rights were not seen as a priority given the increasing despair spreading across continental Europe. We’re now in 2015 and it’s time for us to catch up and join the United Kingdom, Sweden, France, Spain and Uruguay to name but a few and afford same-sex couples the freedom to marry.

The Irish Proclamation of Independence promised to “cherish all children of the nation equally”. As a child and now adult of this nation, that promise has not been kept to me. I want my love and marriage to be considered as equal to that of my brother or sisters and my heterosexual friends, peers and elders. It’s not gay love or lesbian love. Love is love - irrespective of gender or sexual orientation.

2010 marked the introduction of the Civil Partnership Act in Ireland. By all means, it was a step in the right direction but there are over 160 statutory differences between a civil partnership and civil marriage in Ireland. Moreover, civil marriage was enacted through legislation and does not enjoy Constitutional protection meaning it can be amended or removed at any point in time. A 'Yes' result in this referendum will mean my relationship can be celebrated and cherished with protection. Also, my romantic nature means I will one day want to drop on one knee and ask the man I love to marry me, not to ‘civilly partner’ me, it simply doesn’t have the same ring to it!

[[[image 3 - large]]]

As with any debate, the 'Yes' campaigners respectfully acknowledge the right to vote 'No' in the referendum and the opinions of those campaigners. The 'No' side have attempted to derail the focus from the main issue by encouraging a discourse around how the referendum is ‘redefining the institution of marriage’, fostering, adoption and surrogacy along with a litany of other tangents. In the spirit of keeping things positive, I’m not going to dwell on the negative but there is a cohort of Irish society who are vehemently opposed to civil marriage for same-sex couples, and will vote no on referendum day.

For almost five years, I have worked voluntarily with Ireland’s longest established LGBT NGO, the National LGBT Federation. One of our main efforts in the Marriage Equality referendum has been our ‘Yes X 10’ campaign. We realise that the only way Marriage Equality can be achieved is if every person who strongly supports equality actively mobilise their own networks to vote 'Yes'. We have a legacy of great storytelling in Ireland and Irish people certainly have the gift of the gab. It made sense for ‘YES X 10’ to focus on having open conversations with 10 people about voting 'Yes' and securing their vote, and also to take responsibility to get 10 people to the polling station on the day and vote 'Yes'.

There have been a huge amount of stories shared throughout this journey, from students calling their grannies to getting your family onboard to vote and a plethora of others to watch on YouTube. This personal testimony from an elderly couple who want marriage equality for their eldest daughter is one of my favourite stories from the campaign. 

I believe that my generation owe it to our LGBT elders and to our LGBT youth to make marriage equality a reality. Our LGBT elders lived in an era where many couldn’t openly lead their lives with their true sense of self and sexual identity. A number of them fought the battles for equality and tore down barriers to get us to where we are today. The LGBT youth of this nation deserve to grow up confidently knowing that they are valued citizens.

Ireland has had a rough few years, almost a decade. The future pillars of success are being built with some beginning to reap dividends economically. Achieving marriage equality will, without doubt, deliver a more successful, loving, happier, diverse and equal Ireland.