Towards an Ireland of equals - Marriage referendum

The decision by the electorate to enshrine within our Constitution the right of all citizens, irrespective of sexual orientation, access to the institution of marriage is a victory for equality.

What a wonderful message of inclusivity and equality we have sent to the world and, more importantly, to many of our fellow citizens who have been victims to societal prejudice around their sexual orientation and gender identity and the inevitable and unwarranted internal torment which results.

We should also celebrate the fact that the debate in the run-up to yesterday’s vote was exercised in a true spirit of democracy, was focused on the legal and constitutional issues at hand and was held largely without vitriol.

But equally welcome, but less commented on at this stage, was the return of one central and consistent theme to all political and civic debate: Equality.

One can only hope, therefore, that a real legacy of this referendum will be a renewed focus by political and civic society on the achievement of other such victories for equality in areas where it remains deficient.

It is worth reminding ourselves in the glow of this warmly welcome vote of some of the areas where our efforts to meet a definition of equality summarised “as the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, or opportunities” has been hugely deficient.

What is equal about an Ireland in which more than half of the country’s net household wealth rests in the hands of 10%?

What is equal about an Ireland which continues to promote a two-tier health system in which access to life saving health care can be dictated by wealth?

What is equal about an Ireland which oversees a direct provision system shrouded in secrecy and which deprives asylum seekers of basic human rights?

What is equal about an Ireland in which the glass ceiling and gender pay gap still exist for women?

What is equal about an Ireland in which over half of all Traveller children did not complete post-primary education?

Looking beyond our borders we must ask why it is that despite the promise of the tide of market-driven capitalism raising all boats, inequality is becoming an increasing problem not only in the world’s poorest countries but in the West.

As most recently highlighted by Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, where is the equality inherent in a political and economic consensus based on neoliberal policies promoting market deregulation and corporate tax cuts?

Stiglitz argues that only by increasing taxes on corporations and the super wealthy internationally, developing bailouts for struggling homeowners, investing in education, and having full employment the ultimate goal of all economic policy, can this inequality be addressed.

One can only hope the hugely welcome interest and participation sparked by our most recent test of equality — especially in the young — will be a catalyst for a renewed passion around its realisation in many other areas where it is sadly absent. We will wait and see.

 

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