The marriage referendum is a deeply personal issue for many men and women who, up to now, have been denied full rights as citizens of Ireland, writes Michael ‘Babs’ Keating.
I AM a man of sport and community and I know a positive grassroots movement when I see one. The yes campaign is supported by men and women from all walks of life: Gay, straight, married, single; and of all codes in sport, even Tipp and Kilkenny hurlers!
A yes vote on May 22 would change the lives of many men and women who, up to now, have been denied full rights as citzens of this great country.
The marriage referendum is deeply personal for many men and women and their children from Clonmel to Thurles to Fethard and in all the towns and villages in between.
If you had asked me 10 years ago today if I even knew anybody in that — as I would have called it — situation I wouldn’t have had a notion, but now that has all changed and I know a number of young gay people — all fine young people.
In the past few years, a number of my close friends have seen their sons or daughters come out; so now I can see that this is all around us in Irish people’s lives. It’s just that I, and I think many more people like me, never really never saw gay people for years. I can think of many of these young people who I know now and they are fine happy people.
So when I was approached to support the yes campaign I had no hesitation. The thing is how could I look any of my friends or their children in the eye and think that I hadn’t helped or that I hadn’t stood up for them?
In particular I am thinking of one young person, who I know to be one of the kindest young men I have ever had the pleasure to know.
To think of him being treated differently in any way to his own family or friends. Well frankly that is wrong.
A while ago, I read an article by Billy Keane and I really felt he hit it on the head; he spoke of an elderly man in the parish who had been the butt of jokes and slagging over the years. Why? Because the man was gay. I don’t think there is a parish in Ireland that hasn’t been witness to a similar story. And now we have a chance to make that right, so that those men and women are no longer on the outside.
The strong support among our sporting community for the Yes Equality campaign comes as no great surprise. Irish people have a great sense of what is right. I have always found this — and I believe this is especially true now. As a nation we pride ourselves on our commitment to justice, our strong ethical values and our sense of fair play. As a sportsman all my life I know that it is all about fair play.
As former president Mary McAleese and her husband put it so well, this referendum is about children. It’s about gay and lesbian children who want to grow up in a Republic of equals. My friends’ gay and lesbian children. The parents of gay and lesbian children matter and they, of course, want their children to grow up in a more caring, inclusive society.
Civil partnership was of course a step forward but it’s not civil marriage. Ask any married couple would they swap their marital status for a civil partnership. I don’t think so. No one wants to be forever relegated to anywhere let alone to the back of the bus.
I can understand the apprehension and fears of those concerned about people’s futures or about children. As I said, this is about children. All of our children.
I can think of another friend of mine and as I remember him saying he had no idea about anyone who was gay and then his daughter came out to him one Christmas. He told me afterwards that he was crying for hours and I said to him: “Look wouldn’t it be worse if she had come and told you she was seriously ill or if she had been in a crash?”. Then I added: “Sure wasn’t she going out with that other fella for years and nobody even liked him and here she is now — happy”. And you know what, he got over it and they are all happy.
Of course marriage has changed over the years — and no harm.
Irish people are adaptable; our history has made us like this. What has not changed is the desire of all Irish people to belong in a loving relationship, recognised as equal within their own society, on a level playing field.
That’s why I will be voting yes on May 22.
Michael ‘Babs’ Keating is a retired hurler and footballer and former Tipperary manager
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