SHAUN CONNOLLY: Yes vote about handing an equal society to children

ONLY cowards hide behind children. The ‘no’ side are cowards who want to make this marriage-equality referendum about hate, when it should be about love.

The ballot paper, next Friday, contains 17 simple words that have the potential to make every citizen equal: “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons, without distinction as to their sex”.

However, a more important word, an 18th, will come from you — “yes” or “no”.

This increasingly shrill campaign seems to have gone on for years, rather than weeks, because the no side has no argument of substance against equality, and therefore is spreading fear and ignorance to get heard.

This is not something dry and remote, like the Lisbon Treaty, nor relatively meaningless, like whether the powerless Seanad stays or goes.

This is about people’s lives.

READ MORE: Marriage Equality Referendum: No campaign does not value each child

And because there is no counter- argument to the claim that two people should have their lifelong emotional commitment to each other, and love for each other, recognised by the State and the society to which they pay taxes and support, the no side has fallen back on smear and innuendo.

And they have been cunningly astute at it, with the argument just crashing down to a white noise of: “it’s about the children/No, it’s not about children/It’s about the children/No, it’s not about the children.”

So, let’s stand back from the noise and listen to the one person in the country whom both sides accept is neutral, the chairperson of the Referendum Commission, Justice Kevin Cross.

Justice Cross says the referendum has nothing to do with children, will have no impact on adoption laws, will have no impact on proposed surrogacy laws, and will have no impact on existing, or future, heterosexual marriages.

It is just about whether the constitutional protections enjoyed by married couples should be extended to same-sex couples, or not.

It is true that a yes vote will mean that it will not be possible to pass a law insisting that children can only be adopted by a heterosexual couple — and thank God for that.

READ MORE: Marriage Equality Referendum: Gay people should not pay price for improving the rights of children

Because even if there were enough such couples available to care for children in need of love in this country — which there are not — the law should only ever be centred on the child, not the adults.

If a child has been fostered by a same-sex couple, or a lone dad, for years, and wants to be officially recognised as their child, then let them.

Always do what’s in the best interest of the child — that is the law now, and that should remain the law after the referendum.

People are perfectly entitled to vote no. But they are not entitled to pretend they are doing it “for the children”. Some will vote no because they are “uncomfortable” with two people of the same sex being in a relationships, just like some people are “uncomfortable” with black and white people being in a relationship.

Other people will vote no because they are genuinely concerned about the children and the misinformation spread by the no side.

But while this is not about children in the ugly, distorted, misleading way that the no side claims it is, it is in the sense of what kind of society we want our children to grow-up in — an inclusive, open one, or a repressed, restrictive one, in which teenagers who happen to be gay are seven times more likely to attempt suicide and 10 times more likely to self-harm, due to institutionalised stigmatisation.

The playwright Sebastian Barry expressed this eloquently in a letter to a national newspaper. It was widely distributed on social media.

READ MORE: Marriage Equality Referendum: Voting yes is about ensuring fair play for all our children

“As the more than proud father of one shining person who happens to be a member of the LGBT community, I will be voting ‘yes’ in the coming referendum,” he wrote.

“In that sense, it is a personal matter. I have read quite a bit in the papers about our new, more tolerant society, and that may be so, and, of course, it is a solid point of view from which to vote ‘yes’, but I don’t see it as a matter of tolerance, so much as apology.

“Apology for all the hatred, violence, suspicion, patronisation, ignorance, murder, maiming, hunting, intimidation, terrorising, shaming, diminishment, discrimination, destruction, and, yes, intolerance, visited upon a section of humanity for God knows how many hundreds of years, if not millennia.

“My child will be just shy of 18 when the votes are cast, and, therefore, cannot vote himself. By voting ‘yes’ I will be engaging in the simple task of honouring the majesty, radiance and promise of his human soul.”

Ireland, a republic, is coming late to equality. Post-apartheid South Africa and post-colonial Britain are among the 17 countries that have given this right to all of their citizens.

Society and the family have not broken down in these places.

All we are being asked, on Friday, is to extend the rights of civil marriage to every citizen. We are not being asked if we think two men or two women should be allowed to have, or adopt, a child and raise it together.

Spoiler alert: They already can, it is enshrined in law in the Children And Family Relationships Act.

That ship has sailed; next week’s vote will have no impact on it one way or another.

Don’t make this referendum about hate. Make it about children in a positive way; make it about love.

You have two simple choices on the 18th word — “yes” or “no”.

The ramifications of that choice will be life-changing for your children, your brothers and sisters, your friends and colleagues.

You either unlock the door to equality for them, or slam it back shut in their faces.

READ MORE: Marriage Equality Referendum: Why I’ll tick that níl box in a pink glitter pen

READ MORE: AUDIO: Donegal priest to vote Yes in Marriage Equality Referendum

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