I never ‘got’ the marriage thing to be honest. As a kid, I was never drawing bridesmaids dresses in my copy books at school, it was usually horses or flowers, and sometimes castles. As a teenager I never yearned to sign a contract binding myself to another person and it may sound selfish, but I never felt the need to share my bank account. I did get engaged once, briefly, but realised pretty quickly that I had no idea what I was doing. I never felt maternal either. I kept expecting it would happen, but it didn’t. I know I would feel differently about the marriage thing if I had planned to have kids, that formalised structure would make sense then. Of course, it was always nice to know that I had that option if I wanted it and I admit I have taken that ‘freedom to marry’ for granted.
I may not be maternal, but that doesn’t mean I dislike kids. I don’t understand them very much, in fact they probably terrify me a little; but I actually feel very strongly that they should be protected, educated and nurtured. Some people seem to have kids without ever planning for their future and that annoys me. While most parents are amazing, some don’t seem to care at all and that infuriates me. I’m not saying I would do a good job as a parent. I think being a good parent must be the most unselfish, difficult, time-consuming and terrifying job of all and I think I’d be appalling at it; but at least I had the good sense to consider that, before I subjected a child to my poor parenting skills!
The next generation is our future and even though I don’t have children of my own, I still believe it’s my duty to keep an eye on the ones we’ve got – even fight for them if necessary. That’s why, although I am not the marrying kind, I am forcing myself to look long and hard at the issues at stake as polling day approaches.
Looking back a few years, the biggest personal annoyance to me about this ‘who’s allowed to love who?’ debate, was the fallout from the Civil Partnership Bill. (The Civil Partnership and certain rights and obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010, to be precise). This scheme for cohabiting partners of either mixed-sex or same-sex relationships, includes rights to property, maintenance and pension, and it was all rolled up in a ball under the same piece of legislation drawn up for the Civil Partnership Bill. While supporting the right of same-sex couples to regulate their lives, I inadvertently managed to lose my own freedom to happily cohabit without the interference of the state. Since 2010, I can’t live unmarried with a partner for more than 5 years without them having a claim on me, my property, my income and my pension. I have paid into a pension since I was 17 and now I’m nearly 50. Why should I be forced to share my life savings? I don’t mind choosing to share everything I own with the one I love, but being ordered to do so is annoying. My horns come out and my hooves dig in. Let’s put it this way, if I live platonically with someone for the rest of my life, the state won’t interfere. However the moment I have sex, the state starts dictating that I pay for it!
I know this cohabitation ‘small print’ isn’t anything to do with the marriage debate decision on Friday but it’s rattling around in my mind, and I need to kick my annoyance to touch as I consider the broader picture. I may heave against the legal obligations of ‘official coupledom’ – and retain a ‘bee in my bonnet’ over the Civil Partnership legislation, but I don’t believe that should blind me to other people’s needs and wants. If two people love each other and want to bind themselves legally and publicly together – go them! Love is too precious and fragile to crush with outdated law and tired tradition.
When it comes to the question “why civil partnership isn’t ‘enough’ for same-sex couples?” I accept the explanation that it gives the ‘legal’ but not ‘constitutional’ protection afforded by civil marriage. Our citizens pay tax, regardless of their sexual orientation and it seems sensible to me that they deserve the full protection of the constitution.
It seems ironic, that while I struggle to be free – others desperately yearn for the freedom to be bound. It also strikes me that while I have the right to marriage and children, I have spent most of my adult life apologising for being single and childless. So now this referendum which is not about me, is actually setting me free. I am finally breathing a sigh of relief and saying without guilt; I am not married, I am not a mum, and that’s fine with me.
As for the future of our kids? It’s a scary and horrible thought, but any ‘type’ of person has the potential to be brutal to a child; married, single, gay, straight, young, old, rich or poor. Similarly we all have the potential to be loving.
I have listened to many silly arguments about a kid needing two carers of different sex. What happens when parents lose a partner to cancer or tragedy? Do we compound these parents’ grief by telling them they have suddenly become bad mums or dads? Dads who have lost their life partner, who are doing an amazing job to raise young families, is that effort all pointless because there’s no female in the mix? How stupid that sounds to me. While we’re at it, should we deport all our single mums to Britain? We’ve done worse I suppose.
I think it’s dangerous to believe a child is safe because their carer is ‘traditionally socially acceptable or respectable’. Look where that got us in the past. Child protection should be about the child, and should relate to the child, not preconceived ideas about the ‘perfect carer’ or ‘perfect family unit’. We need to constantly oversee our young people and make ourselves available to listen to them, not just tick a ‘parents look ok’ box and lazily move on. We don’t live in a “one situation suits all’ sort of world.
As a non parent – the one thing I’m convinced about is that kids need love. The second thing I’m convinced about is that this referendum is less about kids and more about shaking off the residue of taking for granted that the world works a certain way… my way… just because I’m a girl and I kiss boys.
A friend of mine pointed out recently that it’s not too long since mixed-faith and mixed-race marriage was also forbidden. How appalling that seems now. Tradition isn’t worth fighting for, when it no longer serves society’s best interests.
It is embarrassing to remember that homosexuality was not decriminalised here until relatively recently. When I arrived in Dublin as a 17 year old, I had to go to ‘secret’ clubs, if I wanted to socialise with my lovely, sensitive, colourful, creative, funny, brave, gay friends. It was all a big adventure for me then, but it breaks my heart now to consider how it must feel to hide your nature, your love, your passion from the world?
Thankfully we have evolved, grown up and moved on. Now it’s time to rid ourselves of the last of our prejudice. After long evenings of thought, I really believe that we need to stop telling people who and where and when they can love. I also think we need to stop using kids as an excuse to foment poison and bigotry. On Friday, I will be voting for love.
In a narrow sense, this referendum isn’t about me. I can marry if I want. I can sit at home and just ignore polling day. But I care about our kids, I care about the society I live in, the type of people we are, the type of nation we shall become, and I still care about how the small print affects me.
I know some people won’t agree with my point of view. I know some will have deep rooted convictions that won’t be swayed by what I say. I know others will simply think the legislation isn’t clear enough or complex enough. Others may be unimpressed with the results of the Civil Partnership Bill and that may affect how they vote now.
We have a diverse population and each has a right to make their voice and feelings felt in this referendum. I have no intention of telling people how to vote, just as I have no intention of telling someone who they should or shouldn’t marry. If I do have a request it’s that at least everyone votes. This is such an important milestone for Ireland, with real hearts and minds on the table. How tragic if the world changes around you and you fail to effect that change because you are too tired, or confused, or busy to care.
Get up, get informed, get an opinion, and then make it count on May 22nd.