* grá is the Irish word for love
I lean in and touch my lips against his. He’s still asleep. His lips are dry and coarse. His breath is a clash of last night’s chicken curry and the remnants of the Aquafresh toothpaste, that failed to fully fight the Indian odour. I lean in further, and chirpily whisper “Good morning” into his right ear. His eyes flash open and a glowing smile ripples across his face. He replies with a warm and croaky “I love you”, and playfully turns away from my pestering. Neither of us speak for another 10 minutes. Instead, we lie still, spooning, quietly sharing and cherishing each other’s body heat, before we face the cold world. We have woken like this almost every day since we fell in love in early 2013. Despite this enduring love we are barred from marriage in Ireland.
We care about marriage because marriage matters. Marriage is a core institution of the State. It has value. It has meaning.
Aaron and I, and lots of other same sex couples, want the protection and status that marriage affords. We want to be able to celebrate our love with friends and family. Beyond the ceremony, we want the stability that marriage provides. We want to share everything we own. We want to build a home together. We want our family to be valued no less, or no more, than any other family.
To be excluded from a core institution of the state sends you a signal that you are somehow worth less. In this case that your love is less valuable. That your relationship is inferior. That you don’t belong. That rejection adds to the social stigma.
I recently started a Master of Public Policy at the University of Oxford. Among my class of 70 or so, three have recently got engaged. At lunch on one of the first weeks, one of the newly engaged students was being overloaded with advice and reflections from those who had already been through the ceremony. One by one, the people around the table shared their personal experiences of a Hindu wedding in Australia and a two-day long celebration in Chile. I sat and listened. I couldn’t help but feel a tightness in my chest. A dread. A sense of not belonging. I diverted eye contact. I hoped I wouldn’t be asked to contribute. I had no personal experience or anecdotes to share. I wasn’t married or engaged, and unless a referendum passes, I never will be.
Many who will oppose the referendum will say that I should be satisfied with civil partnership. I fundamentally disagree. Civil partnership was built as a second-class institution and to my eyes will always be viewed as such.
Others who oppose the referendum will argue that the purpose of marriage is procreation and because same sex couples can’t produce children alone they shouldn’t have access to marriage. By this logic heterosexual old people, the infertile and those who simply don’t wish to have children should also be barred from marriage.
As we move towards 2016, the 100-year anniversary of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, we have a chance to reflect on what kind of Republic we want to live in. Do we want to live in a state that denies some citizens basic rights? Or do we, as the Proclamation declares, want the Republic to guarantee “religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens”?
LGBT rights have advanced greatly in my lifetime. I’m part of the young LGBT generation that until now hasn’t faced much legal discrimination. I was born in 1990. Homosexuality was decriminalised in 1993 – 10 years before I ever knew about the fundamentals of sex. The Employment Equality Act was passed in 1998 – six years before I started my first part-time job. My life has, however, caught up with the pace of change. I don’t want to have to wait a decade or two to get married. This referendum is giving us a real opportunity to keep the momentum of change going.
Between here and May, those of us who passionately believe that gay and lesbian couples should have the right to get married, have a choice to make, do you actively engage in the campaign and help build that momentum, or do you not?
Picture the referendum results day for a moment. You are watching the results on RTE’s referendum special. You can see the results flow in, constituency after constituency. Brian Dobson says “It’s incredibly close, but the yes side are losing”. The older commentators are drawing parallels to the 1995 divorce referendum. 50.3% in favour to 49.7% against, but this time it’s reversed. The referendum has been lost by less than 10,000 votes. Your heart sinks. You try to hold back the tears but you can’t. You let one tear out but the emotions just flood you mind and a hundred fall. You are gutted. That night you head to the George for what the complacent thought would be a victory party. You look around and you see the entire community is deflated. Thankfully it’s not too late, each and every one of us has a role to play in getting this referendum over the line.
If the referendum passes, for the first time all loving relationships will be recognised equally. Grá and not gender will be the test of the law and that will be a beautiful thing.
Pádraig Rice is currently studying for an MPP at the Blavatnik School of Government and tweets at @PadraigRice. A longer version of this opinion piece appeared first in the Irish Times. The referendum on same-sex marriage in the Republic of Ireland has been announced for 22 May 2015.