In the run-up to Ireland’s Marriage Equality referendum on May 22nd, I’ve invited a series of guest posters– people from Ireland or who live here, of many different backgrounds and orientations- to share their thoughts on the referendum, the campaign, and what it means to them. Contributions to Guest Posts for Equality are welcome- drop me a message.
Robin is a Galway-based writer of plays, short stories, liberal propaganda and the occasional scrap of poetry. One of his best friends and most useful critics once remarked that Robin’s symbolism will always get in the way of his stories. This is probably true. Stay tuned next for his inspiring short story about a lamb-loving opponent of food stamps and abortion, who, after losing his job, home and wife, grudgingly bunks up with a commune of socialist vegan squatters. He twitters, he tumblrs and about once a decade, he blogs.
I’m a man who is, by and large, attracted to women. This sexual preference of mine means that, under Irish law, I enjoy the right to enter into marriage. I have gotten involved in the campaign for marriage equality primarily out of solidarity with my many LGBTQ friends, whose relationships and families have been demeaned, repressed and disadvantaged for the longest time. However, my motivation is also personal. I strongly believe that marriage equality will be tremendously beneficial for all relationships, including mine.
Maybe I’ve watched one too many Disney movies as a kid, but I have always been under the impression that marriage is about love. We’re familiar with many tales of princes and princesses unhappily plunged into arranged marriages, only to encounter their true heart’s love among the commoners and elope, in defiance of their parents’ suffocating traditionalism. These stories tell of dark times when fathers married off their daughters without regard for their own wishes and wellbeing. They also celebrate the supposed enlightenment of our day and age, where people are free to pledge themselves to each other regardless of caste, ethnicity, denomination or the pressure to produce offspring solely for the perpetuation of the family name.
Yet, when the no-campaign seeks to convince us that marriage is an institution primarily designed for rearing offspring, I can’t help but picture Tywin Lannister, gruffly commanding his children to cast aside naive delusions of love and get busy making some suitable heirs. “Every child deserves a mother and a father”, so the most widespread no-poster tells us. In debates all over the national airwaves, we’re hearing time and time again that marriage between a man and a woman provides the best environment for raising a child. Leaving aside the fact that this assertion has no basis in evidence, the unspoken premise is clear: You can’t have children without marriage and you can’t have marriage without children. It’s a message from darker days, days that most of us thought were bygone.
In the minds of the no-campaigners, parenthood is the single definitive purpose of marriage. Love is secondary, presumably even optional. One can readily infer what this means for opposite-sex couples who tie the knot out of genuine commitment to each other, but without any desire to have children. Their relationship is imperfect, their motivations impure, their marriage wasted. In attempting to construct an imperative link between marriage and parenthood, the no-campaign is sending an exclusionary, reductive and ultimately hateful message.
I happen to be raised under the conditions the no-side champions as ideal. I was raised by my birth parents. They were married. The logic proposed by the no-campaign would dictate that my childhood was a rich and happy one. Yet when I think back to my upbringing, the first image is of my father, beating me bloody because I was no good at maths. The second is of my mother chucking a Latin textbook at my head, because I was no good at that either. Even without the questionable benefit of these experiences, it should be plain how outrageously simplistic it is to claim that the only qualification a couple requires to be good parents is their gender. The posters that claim only a married opposite-sex couple can properly raise a child hurt a lot of people. They hurt same-sex parents. They hurt single parents. They hurt unmarried parents. They hurt their children. They hurt childless couples. They hurt polyamorous relationships. They also hurt people like me. They hurt anyone whose family wouldn’t fit on a ca. 1950’s Coca Cola ad; heterosexual, nuclear, happy. They are hate speech. Hate speech couched in the gentlest of words, but hate speech nonetheless, in that they condemn people’s relationships, deny their experiences and invite the public to pass judgment on them.
I know for a fact that getting married to someone of the opposite sex does not magically imbue you with the love and commitment necessary to be a parent. Therefore, the link between marriage and parenthood is fabricated. One can occur entirely independent of the other.
If I am to get married, I want it to be because out of all the people that drift in and out of our lives, there is one I want to hold on to for the rest of mine. Finding such a person is a tremendous and rare gift. Making children, on the other hand, is easy. Any two people with complementary anatomy can procreate, whereas love will only ever be experienced with a very special kind of person. If I were to get married, I would want our marriage to rest on that special bond, on what she, specifically she, is to me and what I, specifically I, am to her. Sadly, as it stands, what our marriage would actually rest on is the combination of our genitalia. As long as marriage is exclusively available to one woman and one man, it is an institution that will reduce me and my partner to our reproductive capabilities. It is an institution undermined by an unfounded, ideological and obsessive emphasis on procreation, an emphasis rooted in the sort of religious social engineering that should have long been overcome. For these reasons, I do not consider marriage an institution worthy of carrying a profound and unique romantic relationship.
Marriage equality would change that. Should the referendum pass, marriage will indeed be redefined, and for the better. It will no longer be tied to the ability and indeed the pressure to procreate biologically. Instead, it will become a lot more like we describe it to our children in bedtime stories: a bond of love.
As long as marriage is being undermined by inequality based on the dystopian glorification of breeding, I want no part in it. If on May 22nd, the institution were to be liberated from these restrictions, it will hold a lot more appeal for me. If we win this, and we can, then my joy and pride will belong first and foremost to my many LGBTQ friends who have been fighting this battle with magnificent courage and dignity. But I will also be grateful for the validation of my own love and experience that will come with a yes-vote.