The Second Class Citizen Box

On May 22nd of this year, my country, which I love endlessly, is to hold a momentous occasion. We, as a nation, are to vote on the Thirty-Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, in a move which has the potential to put Ireland on the map as one of the world’s most progressive states. I say this because, for those of you who don’t know (The non-Irish readers, or the Irish readers evidently living a) under a rock, or b) in outer Mongolia, for the past two years) we will vote on the legalising of Same Sex Marriage.

Many of you may not know, or have limited knowledge on the fact, but within my own lifetime, (that’s just over 22 years, by the way) not only was Civil Partnership not an option for gay people in Ireland, but homosexuality itself was criminalized . In Norris v Ireland, after a condemning judgement in the highest court in the land, which makes for embarrassing reading in Liberal-Ireland, the European Court of Human Rights declared our illegality of homosexuality to be a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. In just over 20 years, we have the potential to move from a state of complete illegality and taboo to full acceptance and equality. For now, however, this remains only a potential.

Although in the minority, as the day of the referendum approaches, many people have begun to speak out against a Yes Vote in favour of maintaining the status quo and denying the right of people who love other people to mind their own business and marry each other. If you are on the fence, if you are unsure, if you are certain about voting No or if you are uncaring and intend not to vote, I implore you, I beg you: Read on.

A No Vote will force a person, who never did anything to harm you, or more accurately, whose sexual identity never did anything to harm you, to remain in their little socially constructed box of “Second Class Citizen”. That Box is one in which we still put women who want a right to their own reproduction (the audacity of those girls. Back to the kitchen with you), immigrants with immaculate but unrecognized qualifications, the disabled and so many others who don’t fit into the stereotype of shiny plastic normality. The members of the Box are suspect, wrong, to be changed, altered, molded and never to be trusted. The are to live their lives always anticipating social rejection, bullying and hatred. We have created an unacceptable class divide and we have change at our fingertips.

We, for the first time in our history, are being given an opportunity to let a whole category of person out of that Box in the most legally significant process possible in Ireland. The State is saying “Your Constitution, written in 1937, says marriage is only between a man and a woman: We want you to decide whether this is fair or not” They are giving us the opportunity to allow a perfectly good human the right to love another. It is also giving us the opportunity to allow a perfectly bad human the right to love another. Because, being gay isn’t the same as being good. It’s also not the same as being bad. Much like heterosexuality, it has absolutely no effect on a person’s character. Because character ought not to be relevant in this argument. Equality is funny like that.

Increasingly as May 22nd approaches, I see more and more articles pop up, videos make their rounds on social media purporting an idea of “normalcy” and expressing a view that we must protect the youth from such abnormality, such strangeness. They cite religion as, among other things, a justification for inequality and its maintenance.But this discussion is not a religious one. Nor should it be.

The various churches of the world can choose whether or not to dictate themselves into irrelevant obscurity through a refusal to change if they so please, I don’t really care. The issue is whether or not we allow a mighty injustice to be eradicated. The issue is whether we can actually mean it when we tell children to “be who you are” and whether that mantra will be backed up by our legal system. The issue is whether we can legally permit two people to stand next to each other and say “I love you” and for the state to say that it’s ok. Religion can say what it likes. Religion is not a horse in this race.

The issue is that right now in Ireland, people are being put in a Box and labelled as abnormal because of something as immaterial as the sex of person they love. How dare I, or anyone else in the “majority” situation define what is normalcy? How can we be so arrogant as to portray ourselves, our deepest and most intimate desires as the standard to which all people may be held? How can we deny the most basic and pure part of life, the right to love and to be equally recognized in love, to anyone? How dare we say that the love of one person is somehow impure, unnatural and wrong? How can we sit on our pedestals and declare that all of those who are “different” are ill-equipped to join us in our privilege?  We have created, as humans love to do, a situation of “Us and Them”. The Us and Them is what fuels racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, anti-Semitism, islamaphobia and every bad ism and phobia that I can think of. A No Vote keeps the Us and Them culture alive.

I have many friends who I love so dearly who also happen to be part go the LGBT community. I also know that there are thousands, millions of people world wide who identify, privately or publicly, as part of the LGBT community. Whether I know them or not, love them or not, is entirely irrelevant. What I do know is that the biological make-up of the person with whom you are in love does not define you as a person. Certain commentators on our upcoming referendum, however, have a difficult time perceiving this.

These people, fearful of change, allow hate of the unknown to cloud their judgement. They use the age-old myths about gay people, quoting a book written too long ago to be relevant in legal reasoning, purporting the message that children need to be protected from such abnormality and scaremonger with warnings of the destruction of the institution of marriage between a man and a women as a means to muddy the pure and unoffensive waters of love.

Recently I’ve heard a lot of discussion about whether or not a gay couple ought to be allowed to adopt children. The argument supporting this is that “Children need a mother and a father”. That a mother and a father each bring a unique set of characteristics to the upbringing of a child that cannot be obtained from only one sex. I am burning inside from the gender-stereotype that this argument smooths over (Mammy can’t teach you how to play football and Daddy can’t show you how to bake? The sexism is giving me a migraine!) But this is not a feminist post. This is a post about the potential to right a great wrong that my country, and the whole world has promoted since the beginning of modern legal systems. What a ridiculous argument! Firstly, although I am lucky enough to have been raised by two parents who made me the person I am today, I have many friends who are wonderful, accomplished and well rounded people who were raised by only one parent or no biological parent at all. Single mothers, single fathers, adoptive parents, guardians, widows and widowers are a reality with which no one has an issue. Why then would social acceptability of the addition of another willing parent be hinged on that second parent’s gender?

Furthermore, as a student of law, I have had the displeasure of reading some of the most harrowing and heartbreaking cases where children are abused. Many of these cases, more than I care to recount in fact, involved one or both parents perpetrating abuse. My point is this – heterosexuality is in no way indicative of one’s ability to raise a child. Neither is homosexuality.

We would then, arrogantly deny the right of a couple to raise a child, even when their process of procuring a child is much more complex than the “normal” couple. How dare we? How dare we say that these people who would willingly put time, effort, money and stress into a long and complex procedure just so they may show love to a child, are somehow inadequate as parents?

I am not asking anyone to instantly love all gay people. That would be akin to asking you to love all straight people. What you must do, however, is look inside your heart. Look deep inside yourself and ask yourself how would you feel if you too were put in the Second Class Citizen Box. Ask yourself how torn up would you be if you were prevented from expressing your love in the most fundamental and traditional way to the one person who made you feel whole, who completed you, who made you the very best version of yourself. Picture your child, never being allowed to walk down an isle to meet the person who will make them most happy and unite as one happy little, legally recognised family. How on earth could you live in that world? I am almost brought to tears just imagining the injustice of being denied such a happy celebration of love, before all of my friends in family. The thought alone of the injustice saddens me and yet it is the harsh reality of millions of people world wide and so many of my beautiful, wonderful friends.

I beg of you, not to let this referendum pass you by. Don’t stand by with the assumption that it will be a success. Register to give a right to your friend, your neighbour, you brother, sister, accountant, barista, doctor, teacher, librarian. Stand up and be counted. Don’t let the fear of the unknown, the prospect of change affect your judgement. Give all people the right to love and the right to be happy. This may be our only chance to vindicate the rights of so many Second Class Citizens. Allow these people, these perfectly good humans to escape the Box, and allow them to take one more step on the road to equality. Let us all stand proud of our country and our people and when our children one day ask us if we stood up for the rights of one of the most marginalized groups in society, we may proudly answer in the affirmative

If you’re unsure about whether or not you’re eligible to vote, check the register here: 

Also, for more info on what we are actually voting about, check out these pages.

  • Referendum Commission which talks independently about the facts of the Marriage Equality, but also the Lowering of the Presidential Age referenda.
  • This site, one of the many useful sites devoted to marriage equality
  • And finally, for a look at the ridiculous and awful scaremongering approach to a No Vote, I present you with this abominable video.
  • If my ranting doesn’t convince you about what not voting, or voting No will do, then this video certainly will. This video is all like “Logic and reason? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯  Nope!” Good luck getting those 4 minutes of your life back.