Wednesday 13 November 2019

It's about equality, fairness and enhancing marriage

A graffiti artist finishes a Yes campaign piece in Dublin yesterday. Photo: Reuters/Cathal McNaughton
A graffiti artist finishes a Yes campaign piece in Dublin yesterday. Photo: Reuters/Cathal McNaughton

Micheál Martin

In the final days of this referendum, it's important to put aside the noise of the campaign and to focus back on the fundamentals.

Tomorrow we will vote on a simple but profound amendment to our Constitution. The one and only issue that will be decided is if we will extend the right of marriage to couples in our society who are currently denied it.

Fianna Fáil's position on this referendum is clear and unequivocal. We believe that extending the right to marry to same-sex couples is a basic matter of fairness. We also believe it is an important reaffirmation of the positive role of marriage in our society.

In the last two decades, a range of legislation has been introduced to work to end the most blatant discrimination against those of different sexual orientations. As a society, these changes have strengthened us. But full equality and respect has not yet been achieved.

We believe that marriage is an institution to be valued and promoted. It provides the essential foundation for a strong society. It has been shown time and again to bring with it enormous individual and shared benefits.

It is because we believe in marriage that we believe the right to be able to be married should be extended to two adults, irrespective of their gender.

And it is important for us all to remember that the only reason marriage has remained a foundation for a strong society is that the understanding of marriage has evolved very significantly. And this is not just some distant historical point. Within relatively recent times, the law of this State gave wives few rights independent of their husbands. Official policy was that married women were to be excluded from most employment.

The legal definition of marriage has changed in the past and we were the better for it.

And it is exactly because of the unique position of marriage, because of the status we rightly give it, that civil partnership is not equality. It has represented progress, but it does not carry the status and position of marriage.

If we extend marriage equality to same-sex couples, we are saying to them that we value the fact that they are willing to make a loving commitment to each other. Those of us who already have the right to be married will lose nothing and what we will gain is an enhanced status for marriage in our society.

Irrespective of what happens tomorrow, the legal position and rights of children in respect of their parents and families will not change in the slightest. These are comprehensively addressed in existing legislation and also in the new constitutional amendment on the rights of children.

If we look back in our history, there are far too many examples of appalling social damage being caused by telling different families that they were not 'normal'.

How many children were stigmatised and had their childhoods destroyed because as a society we said living with a single parent was not acceptable? How often have children been bullied or worse because of belonging to a family which didn't conform?

These things matter profoundly. Status and equal respect go to the very heart of completing one part of the journey of building an inclusive and strong society. They are absolutely central to helping a young person facing enormous pressure about acknowledging their sexuality.

In the five years since civil partnerships were legislated for, I have talked with many people about why full marriage equality matters. Of all of the groups and parts of our society involved, the most passionate and convincing advocates have always been the parents who want their children to have the same right to marriage which they had.

They have raised and educated and loved their children through often difficult times. They've been concerned about their futures and hoping, as nearly every parent says about a child, to see them 'settle down'. But today the final step is not available to them. They are denied the support, respect and status which we give to marriage.

By voting Yes, we will declare that this is a country which values equality and fairness. We will allow families currently providing loving and nurturing homes for many children to be headed by a married couple.

We extend and reinforce the status we give marriage. We will protect and enhance the position of marriage in Irish society.

Micheál Martin is the leader of Fianna Fáil

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss