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Column: Every love story deserves a 'happily ever after'

Ultimately, the love and commitment that same sex couples bring to marriage can only serve to strengthen the institution, writes Kirsten Fjoser.

Kirsten Fjoser

YOU MIGHT HAVE noticed some red profile photos on Facebook and Twitter lately. Last week, the United States Supreme Court has been reviewing two marriage equality cases, and to show their support for extending civil marriage to same sex couples, many people all over the world are turning their profiles red – the colour of love.

The two cases under review deal with the constitutionality of state and federal bans on same sex couples marrying. The first, Hollingsworth v. Perry challenges Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment in California, which denied same sex couples the right to marry. The second, considered on Wednesday, is Windsor v. United States, which challenges the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Section 3 of the Act defines marriage as between one man and one woman, which prohibits federal recognition of legal marriages between same sex couples. Same sex couples who are legally married in states with marriage equality laws are subsequently denied a long list of important federal protections and responsibilities (over 1,000), including social security survivor benefits, immigration rights, family and medical leave, and taxation benefits.

It’s about loving, committed couples

Rights and protections are important, as are discussions about equality and non-discrimination, but at their heart these two important cases are about real people and real families.

Wednesday’s case, Windsor v. United States centres on Edie Windsor, an 83-year-old widowed lesbian from New York. Windsor and her partner Thea Spyer were together for more than 40 years, and married legally in Canada in 2007. Sadly, Thea passed away in 2010, and Edie was forced to pay $363,000 in estate taxes because her marriage to Thea was not recognised by the US Government.

Hollingsworth v. Perry focuses on two same sex couples – Kris Perry & Sandy Stier and Jeff Zarrillo & Paul Katami – who filed for marriage licenses in California in 2009 and were denied them because of Proposition 8. In November 2008, voters in California passed Proposition 8 to define marriage as between one man and one woman, although over 18,000 same sex couples had been legally married from June 2008.

The Plaintiffs in both these cases represent loving committed same sex couples all over the US and the decisions made by the courts will no doubt be persuasive across the world.

Ireland and the Constitutional Convention

Here at home, our government has committed to looking at “the provision of same-sex marriage” in the Constitutional Convention on 13 and 14 April.  The Convention received over 1000 submissions on the issue, with 3 to 1 in favour of introducing civil marriage for same sex couples.  This reflects broader public support, like the most recent polling by Millward Browne Lansdowne, which found that 75 per cent of Irish people would vote yes in a marriage equality referendum.

Many of those who made submissions in favour told their own deeply personal stories. They included couples who want their love and commitment recognised on an equal footing to heterosexual couples, but also brothers and sisters, mums and dads, friends, neighbours and co-workers all standing up for people they care about and love. Their stories show that in Ireland too, marriage [equality] is about people. Of course it’s about equal rights and non-discrimination, but just as in the United States, what the campaign for marriage equality is about is real people standing up to say our love and our families should be valued the same as anyone else’s.

At Marriage Equality, we look forward to debate on this issue at the Constitutional Convention. The fact that marriage equality has been included on the agenda in the first place demonstrates the importance of recognising this issue and discussing it in modern Ireland. This is our chance as a nation to further enshrine essential Irish values – justice, equality, fairness and respect – in our Constitution.

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Why we’re not out to “redefine” marriage

Marriage matters. Although civil partnership was a positive first step, it grants neither equality nor the same range of rights and entitlements for committed loving same sex couples as marriage does for married heterosexual couples. There are still over 160 differences between civil partnership and civil marriage, ranging from issues around the family home, finance, legal procedures and the parent/child relationship. But even if these differences were to be removed, making civil partnership and marriage equal in all but name, why should gay and lesbian couples doing the same work as a married couple – supporting each other in sickness and health, working to make ends meet, paying taxes and in some cases, raising a family – be content with a separate title for their relationships?

For those campaigning for marriage equality, it is precisely because we value marriage that we want to see it extended to loving and committed same sex couples. These couples have the same hopes and dreams, everyday concerns and worries, and the desire to make the exact same commitment as heterosexual couples.

The campaign for marriage equality is, therefore, not about redefining marriage, which is about love and commitment between two people. It’s about opening up marriage to a group of loving same sex couples who want to stand in front of friends and family and make a lifetime commitment to the person they love. To share the ups and downs that life brings. To be a family, and to be able to care for and protect your loved ones.

Ultimately, the love and commitment that same sex couples bring to marriage can only serve to strengthen the institution of marriage. And if marriage is worth fighting for, as debates both at home and abroad suggest, any couple who want to make a lifetime commitment to each other and add their names to everything marriage means should be welcomed with open arms.

Kirsten Fjoser is the communications officer for Marriage Equality – a not for profit, single issue, national grassroots advocacy organisation whose goal is to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Ireland through the extension of civil marriage rights to same-sex couples. For more information, please visit marriagequality.ie.

About the author:

Kirsten Fjoser

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