"Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution." (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 16i)
On May 22nd 2015, the Irish electorate will be given the opportunity to change society for the better. It's a simple question, yes or no, that they will be answering in this referendum, but the outcome of their votes have the potential to change the lives of countless thousands of people in our country. If passed, this referendum will allow homosexual marriage in Ireland.
We are told as children from the time we can comprehend sentences that being different is nothing to be ashamed of. 'Value what makes you different,' we were told by our parents, teachers, and mentors: 'because that's what makes you special.' The mere fact that human beings can be so hugely diverse is something which should be celebrated: it is a pure monument, a miracle, a magical feat of nature itself. These are the values I see taught to my four year old cousin, who has just started primary school, these are the values taught to me as a second level student, and those are the values society is said to hold dear. The phrase 'different but equal' comes to mind. But unfortunately this is not true, despite our apparent openness to diversity.
It is a widely accepted fact that all human beings are born equal with equal rights and responsibilities as a global citizen. Therefore, how is it that a demographic of the population is being denied their right to marry as a result of their sexual orientation? This is a fundamental discrepancy in an outdated constitution, one that did not foresee the huge steps we have taken in recent times towards self freedom and expression. It is natural for this to happen in such a fast moving world, quickly changing for the better. However, this is why we have referenda: we are now being given an opportunity to write our names into history as the generation who gave all members of the population the equal rights they deserve.
I know some people may disagree fundamentally with the principle of homosexual marriage on religious principles. I won't try to change your mind - you have a right to your religion. I do have a question, however: I believe everyone has heard of the widely accepted philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi that every right has a corresponding responsibility. You have a right to practise your religion, but you have a responsibility to ensure that it does not impact on the rights of others - if you vote no to this referendum, are you respecting this responsibility? Marriage is not exclusively a religious act. This referendum references it's position in civil law, in a secular way. Allowing homosexual marriage does not impinge on anyone's religion, it merely grants the right to others to celebrate their love, recognised by law in a way equal with heterosexual marriage.
I look forward to a day when the phrase 'different but equal' will truly have a meaning in society. The proclamation of the 1916 Easter Rising states: "The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens." As we enter into the centenary of this momentous event in our country's history, what better way to celebrate it than to lay down another landmark for the Irish Republic. Let us make another step towards ensuring this declaration is fulfilled, and take another stride towards a country where we have equal rights for all by voting yes on May 22nd.
Love is love. No matter what form it comes in.
For Yvonne and Ciara