Tuesday 17 October 2017

'My little brother Leo deserves same chance of happiness as rest of us' - Sonia Varadkar

Sonia Varadkar is voting Yes, not just for Leo but so future generations of Irish children can grow up in a society where they will be treated with dignity

Sonia and Leo Varadkar
Sonia and Leo Varadkar

Sonia Varadkar

A couple of months ago, and on his birthday, my brother Leo gave a radio interview.

All of us in the family knew he was going to give this interview. Leo is a politician and does interviews all the time, so this shouldn't have been a big deal. But it was a big deal. Because during this interview, he would announce to Ireland that he is a gay man.

I have a vivid memory of that Sunday morning. It began like most Sunday mornings, I was at home with my husband and children.

We knew Leo was ready to be honest about his sexual orientation if it came up during the interview with Miriam O'Callaghan.

Knowing all of this, and knowing his orientation, for some time did not make the interview any easier to listen to. I was so proud of my brother for what he was doing, but it was still very emotional for us. I was in Ireland with my family but my parents were with my sister and her family in London. They were desperately trying to log into RTE radio to listen to the interview from there, but the internet kept crashing. We were relaying the interview over the phone. I was so proud and relieved when it was over.

Nevertheless, I was also really annoyed because half of me was thinking: why should he have to tell anyone about his sexual orientation? He's my little brother.

I'm his big sister. And I didn't want him having to bare his soul to the nation. Having got accustomed to the news ourselves, the enormity of what was transpiring was not lost on us as the texts and calls started to pour in from all over the globe. Later that day, Leo came to us for dinner. I gave him a big hug. I was really proud of what he had done and happy for him.

All of us in the family just want him to be happy and look forward to the day he has someone special in his life, someone he can bring to family dinners and someone we can tease him about. And that is why I will be voting Yes in the referendum on marriage equality.

I am very lucky. I am a married, middle-aged woman with two fantastic twin boys. I am busy - I go to work, collect the kids, make the dinner and put the little ones to bed and then I get time to say "hi" to the hubby. I have seen what happiness marriage can bring, and I want everyone to be able to share in it.

In my work as a midwife I often have to think about other people and their plight. I don't think by any means that I'm perfect, but I try to be a good and conscientious person. I am not a philosopher, a cleric, or an expert in the ways of the law. But, I try to live my life with respect for others and try to instil this in my little ones.

I'm not naturally a political person, and in the past I've often followed other people's advice on what was the best result in a particular vote.

Not this time. This vote says something about the kind of society we want to live in, and so I was determined to make an informed decision. This referendum is different. The result will have a direct impact on the happiness and wellbeing of others, one of whom just happens to be my brother. It matters to all of us.

There's no reason why my views should matter more than anyone else's - I'm just a proud wife, and mother - but I feel a lot of people like me have been ignored in this campaign, and our voices should be heard.

Initially, I naively thought civil partnership offered the same rights and protection as 'marriage' except without the 'walk' down the aisle in the big white dress. I soon discovered that it does not give the couple the same rights as a traditionally married couple. For example, it calls the family home a "shared home". There is something very sterile and impersonal about that phrase, and it is probably more suited to describing a student flat than a family home.

Some people think that because we have civil partnerships in this country we don't need to go any further - isn't a civil partnership enough? I just know that if I had not been allowed to marry my husband, and had been forced to settle for a civil partnership, I would have felt humiliated. I would still have loved him - and I would still have wanted to spend my life with him - but I would have felt embarrassed I hadn't been allowed to do what other people were allowed to do, and had been forced to settle for something that was lesser in the eyes of the law. I wouldn't have felt I was 'married', and I wouldn't have felt I was equal.

A civil partnership which can only be had by a couple of the same sex does not protect the couple or potentially any children in the same manner as a married-couple family. In a civil partnership, the kids do not automatically have a right to the 'shared home' or a right to stay with a non-biological parent if the couple break up or if one passes away.

Civil partnership, unlike marriage, is not protected by the Constitution and is not recognised abroad in the same way. Even the term 'civil partner' seems more like a business partner than a life-long committed companion.

When I met my husband, our plans were not only about the future, but also about the present. We did not have children for many years, but did this make it a lesser marriage? Certainly not! I did not then and cannot now see life without him. We were very lucky and children did arrive, but we waited a long time for them. Your ability to be a good parent is based on your skills as a parent and your capacity for love, not your sexual orientation. Lots of married couples never have kids. Many great parents are not married.

We need to recognise the fundamental ingredient of the family, be it a traditional family with kids or a family forged by the unity of two people of the same sex, and that ingredient is love. A good marriage is a gift, and that gift should be shared and made available for all loving adults to enjoy.

I would love to see an Ireland where we tell our kids to be proud of who they are: whether straight or LGBT. Civil partnership in itself is not enough to provide for a fair and just society.

We must protect and love our children and give all potential unions the same equal rights. I will be voting Yes, and not just for the same-sex couples who currently want to get married. I'm also doing it for the many future generations of Irish children who I hope and pray will be born into a society where they will all be treated with dignity, equality and respect.

Sunday Independent

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