On Friday when we vote on amending the Constitution to recognise same-sex marriage, this State will, we hope, take an important, modernising step to shake off a legal conservatism that our people have already put long behind them. We are no longer that country.
We will not, as some suggest, redefine marriage – those of a religious persuasion will continue to define it as they wish, the sociologists and anthropologists will keep their own definition. We will vote only to change the legal definition of marriage to extend protection and support to a new class of people who wish to commit themselves to a permanent loving union. Firstly in the name of equality: "I'm not sure it's necessary to get into sexual orientation . . ." Chief Justice John Roberts argued in the ongoing US Supreme Court review of the issue. "I mean, if Sue loves Joe and Tom loves Joe, Sue can marry him and Tom can't. And the difference is based upon their different sex. Why isn't that a straightforward question of sexual discrimination?" It is.
And, yes, as the No campaign complains, a Yes vote will constrain legislators – constrain them not to discriminate. That is the function of a constitutional provision, not just a declaration of the “good”, but an operational legal instrument that sets the limits of legislation. So when TDs come to legislate for or against surrogacy, or on reforming divorce they are only constrained in that they may not discriminate against same-sex couples. Nor may they undermine other provisions which remain untouched in Article 41 like the recognition of the family as “the natural, primary and fundamental unit of society” whose rights are “inalienable and imprescriptible”. Nor will a Yes affect the article’s largely worthless promise, deserving of amendment, that the State “shall endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.”
The point is that by declaring something to be, we do not make it so. By insisting that marriage remains faithful to a particular definition when the world has moved on, we do not turn back the clock but make the Constitution less and less relevant to the lives of our people. And, worse still, we devalue many lives by confining them to second class status. We tell children of “irregular unions” they are worth less, and young people struggling with sexual identity that some choices are less valid, trapping many in secret, painful worlds of denial. We tell couples their commitment to each other can never be as deep or valid as the relationships their brothers, sisters, or parents have been committed to. And that the State will not offer them the same protection, the same honour.
That is not who we are as a people. We are generous and open, inclusive and non-judgmental. And we are committed to strengthening the institution of marriage. That is why we will vote Yes.