I write as straight woman, engaged to be married in one month’s time. I am in the privileged position of being allowed by the Irish State to marry the person I love. My partner and I get the wonderful, exciting and meaningful opportunity to declare our love publically, in front of friends and family and to join our lives together.
I couldn’t be happier, but as I write I’m also aware of my privilege. Marriage shouldn’t be a privilege, but a human right. The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, Article 16, guarantees the right to marry, while Article 7 states that, ‘All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law’. This clearly suggests that every person should have the right to access civil marriage and enjoy the protection and security that comes along with it. To deny access to one group of people on the basis of their sexual orientation is ‘discrimination.’
One of the No side’s arguments against the Marriage Referendum is to compare marriage to civil partnership and declare that they’re basically the same and so this change is not necessary. However, despite sharing similarities, I would argue that marriage and civil partnerships are different on a fundamental level. In addition to the statutory differences, which you can read about here, marriage has a unique and important social meaning. I didn’t ask my boyfriend to civil partner me, I asked him to marry me. We are planning a wedding ceremony, and my vows will include the iconic words, ‘I, Emma Regan, take you, James Atkinson, to be my lawfully wedded husband...’ We all recognise these traditional, time honoured terms: marry, wedding, husband, wife, and associate them with a couple committing to spend the rest of their lives together in a State-recognised union. Civil partnership doesn’t have the same special meaning; it’s different, and we all know that even if it was legally equivalent (which it’s not), different but equal or separate but equal, is an extremely dodgy philosophy.
What’s more, the love between two people of the same sex is no different to the love my partner and I share. It’s the Same Love. It’s the rush of affection when you wake up next to them, the feeling of just holding hands and supporting one another or the joy of being with someone truly loves you for who you are. That’s what love is and it doesn’t have a gender or a sexual orientation; it transcends our meagre attempts at categorisation. That’s what we’re voting on, on Friday, 22nd of May. We’re being asked to share the right to get married with couples who have been denied it and to recognise their love as equal to our own.
Another argument put forward by the No side, which has shockingly gained acceptance by 82% of No voters according to an Irish Times poll published today, is ‘that it would diminish the importance of marriage’. I simply fail to see how allowing LGBTQ people to access the institution of marriage will have any effect on existing married people (unless one of them is transgender in which case it could allow that person the right to have their gender legally recognised without the need for forced divorce). Marriage is a personal union between two people. It shouldn’t involve looking over your shoulder, jealously guarding access to the registry office. St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians says, ‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.’ And now, I’m no expert on this since I’m not married yet, but I would hazard a guess that every marriage is different, just as every relationship is different. Someone else’s marriage cannot diminish your own because the substance of your marriage is your daily life together, the love you share and the strength of your relationship. These are entirely your own responsibility to protect and nurture. Some people say that the referendum will ‘redefine marriage,’ but this isn’t true. If we define marriage as a legally-recognised union of two people who love one another, then allowing same-sex couples to get married too doesn’t change anything. Remember it’s the same love.
The happiest day of my life is drawing near, and in one month’s time I will be walking down the aisle, hand-in-hand with my partner, ready to commit to each other in our marriage ceremony. A Yes vote in the Marriage Referendum will grant all Irish couples in love their right do the same. It may not make any difference to you but it would make a world of difference to them. Please vote Yes on Friday, 22nd of May!