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I get annoyed when it is assumed that older people in rural Ireland will vote No

Former president of the Irish Countrywomen’s Association, Mamo McDonald, explains why she will be voting Yes tomorrow.

I HAVE BEEN fascinated and infuriated in equal measure by the debate in the media on civil marriage equality.

As the mother of 11 children there’s very little I do not know about being a mother, a grandmother, a great grandmother and, sadly, a widow.

Throughout my life I’ve been involved in community organisations, mainly through the Irish Countrywomen’s Association (ICA) and Age and Opportunity and so I think I know and understand a lot about this country, especially rural Ireland.

That’s why I get annoyed when it is automatically assumed that people in rural Ireland – and older people in particular – are going to vote No or are opposed to civil marriage for gay and lesbian citizens. In my experience, there are many caring and compassionate men and women of all ages in rural Ireland who are deeply committed to equality and who see the referendum on 22 May as a logical and necessary step. There are also people of all ages who have reservations about the amendment.

I cannot in conscience deny the same opportunity to gay and lesbian people to create happy memories

I moved from the south west of Ireland to Cavan for work in 1949 and then to Clones when I got married. Living in a border town during two phases of Troubles I learned the value of community and of people surviving together under difficult circumstances. I experienced hardship, with the sudden death of my husband at a young age and with the decline and eventual closure of our drapery business.

I have known joy and heartbreak and, as with any mother, shared in many happy family days. I have a bank of memories lodged forever in my mind and I return again to those happy times.

I will be voting Yes on 22 May because I cannot in conscience deny the same opportunity to gay and lesbian people to create happy memories, to share their love and to make a lifelong commitment to each other. Young people in Kilfinane, my home place, and in Clones, my adopted town, have a right to love and affection regardless of their sexual orientation. Children deserve to grow up in a caring environment and to know that they will be cherished for what they are.

To this day, many older LGBT people feel isolated

As someone who has a track record in promoting the rights of older people, I am acutely aware of the sense of isolation experienced by older gay men and lesbians because of their need to conceal their sexual identity. That is why I was so moved by the interview given by Pat Carey, who is such a positive role model for older gay people.

I was very proud to serve as a Patron of Age and Opportunity and proud too of that organisation’s motto, Life is for Living. This emphasised that an enriched, fulfilling life is not something that is determined by age. The Bealtaine festival has always been about joy and happiness. By the same token we should not place barriers to personal fulfilment on the basis of gender or sexual attraction.

I have been enormously heartened to see the strides made towards equality in my lifetime. Who now even remembers the marriage bar, when women such as myself were required to leave employment on getting married? We take for granted the significant reforms in family law and it’s all too easy to forget that women working both inside and outside the home were discriminated against in so many ways.

A Yes vote would be a powerful statement

The Civil Marriage referendum is also about removing similar barriers that deny full citizenship rights to gay men and women. It’s about giving them an opportunity to make a commitment in marriage to the person they love.

Despite the progress made in achieving rights for women, we still encounter discrimination and find it hard to flourish in many fields. So I know enough about Irish society to recognise that a Yes vote will not end the prejudice and homophobia which our gay and lesbian citizens suffer.

Legislative change alone does not bring out a change in societal attitudes, but a Yes vote would be a powerful statement by the people of this Republic. That statement would be enshrined in our constitution, Bunracht na hÉireann, which defines our values as a nation.

I find the notion of two-tier equality a complete contradiction

By giving special recognition to hetrosexual marriage we are, by definition, giving a lesser status to gay and lesbian couples who want to enter into a loving, committed relationship.

Equal constitutional status is of enormous value. The granting of civil partnership was an advance but at the most basic level I find the notion of two-tier equality a complete contradiction. And the term used recently at a ceremony “You may now kiss your civil partner”, although technically correct, is as unromantic as it is inelegant.

In Voting Yes I am supporting equality. A Yes vote on 22 May will not undermine the rights of one citizen.

Family matters deeply. So do children. And this referendum is about cherishing all the families of the nation – and each individual family member, with love and respect. That’s why I am voting Yes.

That’s also why I hope my friends, neighbours and all who have travelled with me over the years on so many momentous journeys towards a fairer society will take that crucial step.

Mamo McDonald is former ICA President and a lifelong campaigner for women’s rights.

This father is voting NO, his daughter is voting YES. Watch them debate.

The answers to your questions ahead of the same-sex marriage referendum

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