Wednesday 17 January 2018

Marriage referendum showed us a better way to do politics

Supporters react outside Dublin Castle following the announcement of the result of the same-sex marriage referendum in Dublin
Supporters react outside Dublin Castle following the announcement of the result of the same-sex marriage referendum in Dublin


IN the end, it was about the stories. We listened to so many different stories of exclusion, fear, loneliness and unhappiness, told by people whose only "wrong-doing" was to love a person of the same gender.

That, in a nutshell, is why we voted very strongly in favour of permitting same-sex marriage.

People were moved by the intensely personal stories from gay people of both genders, some of whom are prominent in our public lives, others who were unknown to us until very recently.

We heard the hopes and fears of parents and siblings who fretted about their gay children and brothers and sisters. There were also stories from the children of gay parents.

The referendum result is about how we realised there was a fundamental and long-standing injustice in our society. And that change was overdue.

This is chief among the many positive factors which emerge from the weekend referendum result on same-sex marriage. In this process, we have learned the power of talking and listening to each other as we discuss how we order our affairs. As a result, we now know there is a better way of doing politics in Ireland.

All sides in the debate are to be congratulated for the way in which it was conducted. In the main, it was dignified and respectful and hopefully will set a template for future discussions, especially those which impinge on morality.

Special tribute must be paid to the No side in this debate, who argued well and conceded with grace. It is important that they continue to contribute to political discourse into the future.

It is imperative that their voices are also carefully listened to. Difficult issues surrounding surrogacy and assisted reproduction remain to be dealt with by legislation.

The Catholic bishops made a strong contribution. The response to the result by Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin was characteristically candid and thoughtful.

Another heartening feature of the debate has been the strong involvement by young people. Many of these have come to political activity for the first time, and of their own volition, attracted by the ability to contribute to change for the better.

Ways must be found to keep at least some of these young people involved in our political processes.

The sizeable defeat of the second referendum on the reduction of the age of presidential candidates was justified. The way that referendum proposition was put before voters was utterly reprehensible and reflects very poorly on whoever insisted upon it.

The number of emigrants who returned, at considerable expense, from all corners of the world to vote was another positive feature. Hopefully, many of these exiles will return permanently to enhance us all, economically and socially.

The volume of emigrants returning to vote is an eloquent argument in itself for an early extension of voting rights to Irish citizens living abroad. Demand for the link between representation and taxation remains strong. But votes in Presidential and Seanad elections could happen quickly, pending a debate on the bigger issue of emigrant Dáil votes.

Back with the core story of this referendum, the country's voters were, uniquely in the world, asked to recognise the rights of their gay neighbours, friends and family members. The gay people who argued publicly over many years for that proposition now deserve special recognition and admiration.

They have won enhanced rights for an important minority of people in Ireland. But they have done a great service for all of the Irish people.

Irish Independent

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