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Dublin: 7 °C Tuesday 21 October, 2014

Column: If I die, what will become of my partner and children?

Marriage equality isn’t about weddings, romance or confetti: it’s about human rights and familial security, writes Alan Flanagan.

Alan Flanagan

IMAGINE THIS. It’s late some foggy Tuesday evening, you’re driving home. You’ve been working late and, despite heavy caffeine intake, you know that you’re nowhere near as alert or together as you’d like to be.

Your mind drifts and wanders to that thought – the one that runs through every parent or spouse’s mind on a foggy Tuesday evening: what if I were to die? What if I drifted off the road? What would my wife do? My children? How would they cope?

Now let’s imagine a little more. Imagine that fear – that “what if?” – extends further. What if, when I die, it leaves my partner in financial ruin? My family kicked out of a home they can no longer afford mortgage payments on? My kids taken away from their surviving parent?

For couples in same-sex relationships, this is the fear. At the moment, civil partnerships offer a number of rights to help same-sex couples, but ignore others, especially around children. If the biological parent in a same-sex family dies, there is no legal relationship between the remaining parent – and a child can be taken away.

Ireland’s journey towards LGBT rights

We are not Russia. In a month that has seen the former Soviet nation roundly condemned, if not punished, for their recent laws banning the “promotion” (ie visibility) of homosexuality, it’s important that we take stock of where we are in our journey on LGBT rights.

It is only 20 years since homosexuality was legalised in this country, and those scars still run deep: homophobic and transphobic bullying are rife in our school system, 50 per cent of young LGBT people under 25 years of age have seriously considered ending their lives and 20 per cent have attempted to, at least once.  And the media still have a nasty habit of treating the mere act of being gay as outrageous, reckless or merely titillating (apparently everything, from paying the bills to washing dishes, is inherently erotic when you’re a lesbian).

But we have also made massive strides, be they political or social. Irish politicians and celebrities feel more comfortable coming out, media depiction of the LGBT community is common bordering on hum-drum, while the recent Constitutional Convention has been a positive step towards the upcoming referendum on marriage equality.

Marriage equality isn’t about weddings, romance or confetti

But these positive steps should not be used as a reason to take our foot off the gas, but instead to push harder — especially amid the recent anti-LGBT activities in Russia and other countries. Now more than ever we must show our allegiance to the LGBT community worldwide. Not only to show respect for LGBT friends and family, not only to show respect to LGBT pioneers like Alan Turing and Eva Gore-Booth (who were so cruelly betrayed by history), but also to show respect for ourselves. To say that Ireland is a country where no person will be denied their rights based on their sexuality or colour or creed.

The fight for marriage equality isn’t about smiling couples, weddings, romance or confetti – it is about how we treat our citizens and what freedoms we believe should be available to every single one of them. And it is also a message to countries like Russia, like Uganda, like Iran, saying that we wholeheartedly and unreservedly embrace LGBT people as equal.

It is also about supporting that person that gets a knock on the door some foggy Tuesday night, telling them their whole life is about to change. About telling them that in their darkest times we will be there to catch them.

Because life is hard enough already.

Alan Flanagan is a member of LGBT Noise. The group’s annual “March For Marriage” will take place this Sunday, 18th at 3pm, meeting at City Hall and marching to the Department of Justice.

Read: There were 429 civil partnerships in the state last year
Read: Irish nurse first person ever to get US residence through same-sex marriage
Photos: Thousands take to the streets for Pride

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