Bressie: ‘I find it really hard to believe that we have to vote on whether two people who love each other can get married’

If you believe in equality and want to see teenagers grow up in a society that accepts everyone equally, please vote yes on May 22, writes Niall Breslin            

FOR me it’s simple. Either you believe in equality or you don’t. This pick ’n‘ mix liberalism that we tend to entertain in this country can often leave people confused as to what “equality” actually means. It’s a simple question. Do you believe that all people or minority groups have equal status within society, be it civil rights, freedom of speech, property rights, and equal access to social goods and services? If so, then you believe in equality.

If you do believe that humans are and should be treated equally then you cannot pick and choose where this should be applied in society. Saying that you believe in equal pay in the workplace but that you don’t agree with the right for society to recognise same-sex marriage is a contradiction of the very nature of what equality means.

I believe in the essence of equality which is why I sincerely want to see a yes vote in the marriage referendum on May 22. One part of me still finds it really hard to believe that we have to vote on whether two people who love each other can get married, but that’s another day’s work.

Apart from my firm belief in equal rights for all citizens, there is another reason that I want to see a yes vote on May 22; over the last two years I have found myself working and engaging with many teenagers about their mental health and emotional wellbeing. A recurring theme that bothers quite a lot of our nation’s youth is the fact that they sometimes have to repress and disguise their identities, out of fear of judgment and isolation from their peers.

READ MORE: FERGUS FINLAY: No, Archbishop, a ‘yes’ vote will not change the definition of marriage

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These actions can have a truly devastating effect on the emotional wellness of a teenager, especially during a period in their lives where self-expression should be nurtured and promoted. Instead their lives are being manipulated and controlled by outdated and damaging stigmas that eat away at their self-esteem, self-worth, and confidence, with often long-lasting negative effects. I certainly do not feel comfortable living in a society where teenagers feel they must repress their identities and disguise their emotions.

I recently spoke at a seminar on mental health in Trinity College Dublin when a young man from Shoutout, a youth LGBT awareness group, spoke of the deeply distressing experiences he faced as a gay teenager growing up in Ireland. He spoke of how he self-harmed and often contemplated suicide because he could not be himself.

His identity was robbed from him as he constantly attempted to be what society accepted . He would do things that seemed to contradict his idea of a stereotypical homosexual man; for example he would get into fights, talk about how he thought certain girls were attractive, and even speak of his fake sexual conquests. He was visually shaking with emotion while telling this story, and he really opened my eyes to the devastating issues some LGBT teenagers have to face.

As a teenager, I myself let a damaging stigma determine how I lived my life, in silence and sometimes in fear. You may ask what this has to do with the marriage referendum? Well for me, by voting yes, we are telling thousands upon thousands of young LGBT teenagers they should not repress their identities and that they can live in a country that fully accepts a person’s sexual orientation, a country that believes in equality.

We live in a progressive, diverse, and dynamic society, but we have a profound and proud culture that will always be the spinal cord and foundation of our country. Although there are some elements of our culture that define and represent our values, there seems to be a deep set conservatism in certain areas that refuses to recognise the dynamic nature of how society has changed throughout all the years.

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I find the arguments being made by the no campaign as lacking any sensitivity. I am a straight man, who is not married, but even I find the campaign posters extremely offensive and misleading.

I completely respect people’s opinions but I do not respect the tactics being used to highlight these opinions, especially when they are so off point. To say every baby deserves a mother and father is deeply emotionally manipulative but also highly disrespectful to all the single mothers and fathers and adopted and foster children up and down the country.

What a baby deserves and needs is love. What every human person needs is love, safety, and respect. The ability to care for other humans, luckily, is not restricted to some imaginary perfectly formed family.

I don’t like stigmas. I sincerely hope the stigma surrounding the subject of mental health fades over the coming years. But we have a real chance on May 22 to break down another stigma that has been present for far too long in Ireland.

I urge everyone not to expect others to go out and vote for them. If you believe in equality and want to see teenagers grow up in a society that accepts everyone equally, please vote yes.

Niall Breslin is a judge on The Voice

RELATED: Marriage equality: Why I won’t be saying ‘I do’ to gay marriage

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