Saturday, 24 January 2015

Is same-sex marriage the inevitable next step in 21st century Ireland?

Two years ago my secondary school English teacher suggested I enter a writing competition with the headline above as the essay title. For some reason, though I had plenty to say on the topic, I decided against writing the essay. I guess in some subconscious way I was waiting for the right time to voice my opinion. With the same-sex marriage referendum just around the corner, I believe that time is now.

In just over three months’ time, this small nation will cast a vote which will have massive consequences regardless of the outcome. Should the majority of people vote yes, the constitution will be amended and same-sex marriage will be made legal in Ireland. Should the majority of people vote no, no changes will be made and same-sex marriage will remain illegal. Right now, the main question being asked is how do we know whether to vote yes or no?

First and foremost, a yes vote would be historical. We would literally be making history. Just over twenty years ago homosexuality was illegal in Ireland, punishable by imprisonment. Fast forward a few years and here we are, the power to change the lives of thousands of Irish citizens in our hands.

From my understanding of marriage it is the eternal binding together of two people, made possible only by love. Who are we to decide which couples can love and which cannot? That would be utterly pretentious of us, would it not? Unfortunately, an extremely powerful and persuasive body in Ireland does its best to convince us that we can in fact make that decision on behalf of others.

The Catholic Church in Ireland teaches that marriage is a commitment made by a man and a woman to love and cherish one another “til death do us part.” However, when you consider the large number of divorces filed each year in this country, it hardly seems fair to say that the Church make clear, unbiased judgements when it comes to the union of marriage.

Since the 12th century when marriage became a practised custom in Ireland, the Catholic Church has ruled that only two people of the opposite sex can wed. These teachings cannot be blamed on the Church of today. Today’s bishops of Ireland are simply going by teachings that have been handed down century after century, from a time when homosexuality was unheard of.

The reason, I believe, the Church has always taught that marriage is between a man and a woman is because homosexuals of the 12th century did not even realise they were homosexual. In fact, the term “homosexual” wasn’t coined until the mid-19th century. Back then, it was all to do with “unnatural practises.” Readings in the Bible comment on how sexual relations between two women or two men are “unnatural” and should be punished. However, is it natural for a man to watch porn every day, despite the fact that he lies next to his wife every night? No it’s not, but we accept it because it is part of 21st century culture.

In that very same way, we should accept that homosexuality exists and it is an undeniable part of today’s culture. By that I don’t mean homosexuality is a construct of our culture; more so that it is no longer a vice than ought to be supressed or hidden. I’m sure many of us don’t approve of our neighbour’s binge-drinking habits or of our grandmother’s three-legged cat that hisses every time we pass it. But just because we don’t approve doesn’t give us the right to take away the bottle or run over the cat. In that very same way, just because we don’t approve of same-sex couples doesn’t give us the right to take away their right to marriage.

 I could have used this time to inform you of all the legalities and intricacies same-sex couples face concerning custody of children, ownership of property, etc. But I felt at this stage you would have heard enough of that on Vincent Brown, and the likes. Instead I wanted to take you back to when it all began. Are we going to let an outdated scripture dictate the lives of thousands of Irish citizens? Love is the foundation of every marriage, not sexuality. Who knows how long we will have to wait for another opportunity like this if the referendum is not passed. Are we willing to put peoples’ lives on hold any longer than they already have been?

So when I’m asked if I believe the legalisation of same-sex marriage is the inevitable next step in 21st century Ireland, my answer always has been and always will be yes. Would I encourage you to vote yes in the upcoming referendum? Of course I would. As the Bible teaches - true love waits. And it cannot be denied that the thousands of homosexual couples of Ireland have waited long enough for their love to be recognised. Let’s bring that wait to an end this May.

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