Same-sex marriage vote: Why I changed my mind from No to Yes
‘As a gay man and campaigner for gay rights I believe equality involves representing many views and reflecting the fact that not everyone will agree on certain issues’
‘Let us not be naive about this, a Yes vote in the upcoming referendum on marriage equality will redefine the institution of marriage in Ireland within our Constitution and in law. This could be a welcome development for an institution which clearly is not workable for many in Ireland.’ Photograph: Getty Images
Last October in The Irish Times I put forward my views on why I think marriage, as it currently stands, is not a good fit for gay people’s lifestyles. However, after much debate and without shifting from my original views, I am urging people to vote Yes in the coming marriage equality referendum. My reason for doing this is pragmatic, for while I still don’t believe that this referendum will bring about equality for the gay population or indeed, the population as a whole, a No vote will send a cataclysmic message to gay and other minority groups in Ireland.
As a gay man and campaigner for gay rights I believe equality involves representing many views and reflecting the fact that not everyone will agree on certain issues.
During the marriage equality campaign I believe the gay establishment and some of its more prominent leaders have failed to recognise the diversity within the gay community on the marriage issue and the debates within the gay community have not been inclusive of these different views.
However, having said that, I now believe it is time to focus on the task at hand, put my personal views on marriage aside and stand in solidarity with the gay population on an issue which is clearly of vital importance to us.
Let us not be naive about this, a Yes vote in the upcoming referendum on marriage equality will redefine the institution of marriage in Ireland within our Constitution and in law. This could be a welcome development for an institution which clearly is not workable for many in Ireland. The fact that 36.5 per cent of births were registered outside marriage in 2013 shows a sizeable lack of faith in the institution already.
It is no secret that I believe we could have done all of this without a referendum. The idea that some sections of society will have the right to decide whether or not I have the same rights of access to an imperfect, paternalistic and heterosexual social construct is a concept I happen to abhor, but for me it is now an issue of realpolitik.
Accepting this reality is what has led me to decide to vote Yes in the marriage equality referendum even though I have to grit my teeth every time I say the phrase “marriage equality”.
I’m not going to discuss the children issue – it should never have been part of this debate in the first place.
Marriage is simply about two people who love each other coming together with shared aspirations for a future life and whether those two people are of a different gender or the same gender that love and those aspirations are equally valid and deserve equal validation.
If the country does not vote for the changes to the referendum on marriage on May 22nd then my fear is that the struggle for much needed social change in Ireland will be pushed back a quarter of a century.
Worse still, a very clear message will be sent to every young gay boy and girl in Ireland that despite what we say, we do not really believe that what you feel is real.
I’m not talking equality here I’m talking love, pure unadulterated, passionate love. We all feel it, we all crave it and we all have the right to express it. Therefore, I am asking that those who may still yet be undecided or even those who are against the concept of marriage equality to take a leap of faith. Have the sophistication to vote for something you may not agree with but could make the world a better place for someone else. Find it in your heart to be selfless for the gay child or grandchild you may have one day. Would you really want to have to look them in the eye and tell them that the reason their love is not valued is because you voted No?
Derek J Byrne academic and journalist