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Column: Why should our love be valued less than anyone else’s?

Most people think same-sex couples should have full marriage equality – so what’s taking so long, asks Kirsten Fjoser.

Kirsten Fjoser

ON SUNDAY, AUGUST 14, nearly 5,000 people – couples, families, singles, gay, lesbian, heterosexual, old, young – from all over Ireland came out to the third annual March for Marriage, organised by LGBT Noise. They wanted their support for marriage equality to be seen, and to make their message heard: Irish people want same sex couples, our families and our children to have the same rights and protections as everyone else.

I think it’s wrong that some people don’t get the same marriage rights as other people, and that they’re not able to marry the people they love.
- a participant in the March for Marriage

On the same day as the March for Marriage, The Journal.ie held an informal poll that showed 80 per cent of respondents in favour of extending civil marriage to same-sex couples. Since 2008, public support for marriage equality has grown year on year, from 58 per cent in a 2008 Lansdowne poll, to 73 per cent in this year’s Red C poll (March 2011). The March for Marriage was a chance to show spectators, the government and the nation that marriage equality matters to Irish people, and to urge the government to listen – not only to the marchers present that day, but to LGBT organisations, human rights and equality organisations, and the majority of the general public, all of whom support marriage equality for same sex couples.

Some people might ask why Civil Partnership is not enough, and why the LGBT community can’t be happy with the rights and protections afforded to them under the Civil Partnership legislation. We would ask why couples and families with the same love and commitment as anyone else deserve anything less than equality.

That’s like saying we should be happy with crumbs from the table. Even if it’s similar to marriage but has a separate name, that’s separating us in society, which is fundamentally unfair.
- Brian, Marriage Equality supporter

Civil Partnership is not the same as civil marriage. Although the introduction of Civil Partnerships earlier this year recognised the loving, committed relationships between same-sex couples for the first time in Irish history, it still remains a separate and unequal system. Civil marriage – a legal, secular institution not to be confused with the religious ceremony – confers a unique legal status with a system of rights and protections that is recognised by governments the world over. To put it simply, Civil Partnership does not provide the same rights as civil marriage, and so it does not provide for equality.

We don’t want any special treatment, just to have our relationship the same in the eyes of the law as any other couple’s relationship.
- Laura, Marriage Equality supporter

The marriage equality debate is about civil marriage, how the Government should treat its citizens and how the laws on marriage should be enforced. Irish law should define marriage in a manner consistent with secular principles and in line with the opinion of the people of Ireland. At present, the Government has committed itself to establishing a Constitutional Convention to consider (among other issues) the provision of “same-sex marriage”. As an organisation that works tirelessly for equality for same sex couples, our families and our children, Marriage Equality are dedicated to holding the Government to its commitment, so that marriage equality becomes a reality in Ireland. As a nation, we will then be able to join other countries that are committed to equality such as Spain, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Iceland as well as South Africa, Canada and Argentina – just a few of the countries where lesbian and gay married couples are treated equally under the law.

[W]hy should it take so long in 21st century Ireland for the law to recognise my human right to be free to marry the person I have chosen to love, forever?
- Senator Katherine Zappone, Irish Times, August 18 2011

Marriage Equality’s forthcoming Marriage Audit has identified over 140 differences between civil partnership and civil marriage. This means that there are over 140 areas in which same sex couples in civil partnerships are given fewer basic rights than married couples in important areas such as children’s rights, criminal law, and housing.

Under the Civil Partnership legislation, for example, children do not have a legally recognised relationship with their non-biological parent. This can cause difficulties for parents when dealing with schools and hospitals, as well as around guardianship, access and custody issues. In a worst-case scenario, it could mean that on the death of the biological parent, a child could be taken into care, rather than be allowed to remain with their other parent. Lesbians and gay men are – and will continue to be – loving mums and dads to their children, and they deserve all the protections afforded to any other family in Ireland. For the moment, however, only married parents and their children receive constitutional recognition and protection as families.

And yet, the fight for marriage equality isn’t just about equal rights, because marriage itself isn’t just about rights. Watching 5,000 people march from City Hall to the Department of Justice at St Stephen’s Green on August 14, what you noticed was not a crowd of people asking to be treated equally for housing or parental rights. What you noticed was couples, singles, friends and families telling the world that we are no different to anyone else, and that our love should not be valued less than anyone else’s. The messages on posters and t-shirts were about love, equality and fairness.

Like many other people in the world, we just want to get married, but somehow we’re separated from it, even though we feel the same as other people about love and commitment. In an ideal world, why should we go around the houses and create this whole other thing that’s different?
- Jessica, Marriage Equality supporter

Marriage is about love and commitment, and having that love and commitment recognised and validated by a country and a Government that promises to cherish all children of the nation equally. We’re ready for it. The Irish people are ready for it. Ireland is either committed to being a leader in the field of human rights and equality, or it is not. With 73 per cent popular support, should we really have to ‘let the hare sit’ on marriage equality?

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.

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Kirsten Fjoser

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