Marriage is a right for all of our people

Sarah Gilligan, Sandra Irwin-Gowran, David Caron, John Curren, and Celeste Roche ask their fellow Irish citizens to give them equal access to constitutionally protected marriage in Friday's referendum.

Friday’s marriage referendum is an opportunity for the electorate to cast its vote for full and equal rights for anyone wishing to be married, says Fine Gael TD Simon Coveney 

On Friday, you have the opportunity to do something really positive and powerful for Ireland — extend the institution of civil marriage to all of our citizens under the Constitution.

This referendum is our opportunity to say to gay people that we value them as equals; to say to them that, in today’s Ireland, it’s okay to be gay, to live and love as the person you are.

That is all that the gay community want: To be accepted for whom they are. These people are our friends, workmates, neighbours, cousins, our children.

READ MORE: Marriage Equality Referendum: Answering key questions

This campaign is about thousands of real-life stories and taking the opportunity to ensure that a new young generation of gay people do not have to live through discrimination and prejudice.

I have been around politics all my life and have had the privilege to serve the people of Cork for 17 years. This referendum campaign is like no other I have been involved in. Ireland is having a real and long overdue conversation about how we treat our gay and lesbian citizens.

Over the course of this campaign, there has been a genuine sense of catharsis, and some astonishing personal testimonies from people throughout Ireland, gay and straight, on what this referendum means to them.

Ursula Halligan, a 54-year-old political reporter for TV3 last week gave a harrowingly honest testimony as to how she has hidden and suppressed her sexuality for the entirety of her adult life.

She wrote: “Emotionally, I have been in a prison since the age of 17; a prison where I lived a half-life, repressing an essential part of my humanity, the expression of my deepest self; my instinct to love. If Ireland votes yes, it will be about much more than marriage. It will say to gay people that they belong, that it’s safe to surface and live fully human, loving lives.”

My god, how powerful is that, and how important is it that we do what we can to ensure others don’t have to travel the same lonely journey.

READ MORE: Marriage Equality Referendum: Answering key questions

Tom Curran, a man I know through his work for Fine Gael, made an evocative contribution to this debate from the perspective of a parent.

A committed and devout Catholic, he appealed to all people of faith to consider voting yes. In recalling the moment his son Finnian told him he was gay, he says his over-riding sense was “the deep certainty that I loved him the same as the others, absolutely”.

“As a Catholic, seeing his creation as being born out of love, I couldn’t see how he was different to my two other sons or my daughter,” he said.

Should Tom have to travel abroad with his son to attend his marriage, should that happen, because in Ireland we won’t allow him to marry the person he wants to commit his life to?

This referendum is about people who are asking you to recognise them as equal in our society and under our constitution.

That’s why I’m voting yes. But I’m not supporting marriage equality solely for the benefit of gay and lesbian people. I’m supporting it because it benefits all of us.

Treating everybody equally makes our country a better place. I believe passionately in marriage as the most important pillar in society and family life. Marriage keeps people and families together, it provides stability and consistency despite all of the challenges, diversity, and craziness of life.

Marriage and what it represents has been good for heterosexual couples and families such as mine and it can, and it will provide the same stability for same-sex couples who want to commit to each other.

It’s time for us to be generous with marriage and not continue to lock out a small minority of people who have been singled out, excluded, and bullied because to their sexuality.

Ireland does not have a proud history of protection of minority groups, particularly in the area of conformity with perceived sexual or family norms. Homosexuality was criminalised until 1993.

Less than a lifetime ago, girls and young women were hidden away because society could not accept pregnancy outside marriage. This is our past. We have travelled a really progressive journey in two decades. On Friday, I hope that we will make another huge step forward in reaching out positively to gay people.

This referendum is not about adoption or surrogacy, or other issues which have been brought into the debate under false pretences in order to try and confuse voters.

These are, of course, very important issues but how you vote will have no bearing in relation to them. They are separate to the constitutional question being put to the people on Friday and either have been or will be dealt with comprehensively in legislation by the Government, always prioritising the interests of children as an absolute priority.

The Referendum Commission is an independent body tasked with providing impartial information to the public. Its chairman — a High Court judge — couldn’t be clearer. He is on record as saying: “Parental rights will not be changed by a vote one way or the other.”

The referendum on Friday is solely about the right of two people to marry. Nothing more. Nothing less. This is made clear in the wording that will appear on your ballot paper: “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”

Finally, as a politician, but more importantly as a loving father and husband, as a practicing Catholic, and as a proud Irishman, I appeal to everyone to support a progressive and generous change to the Constitution: to simply treat gay people equally on Friday by allowing them to access civil marriage. Please, please take this opportunity to vote yes on Friday.

READ MORE: Marriage Equality Referendum: Answering key questions

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