GCN editor, Brian Finnegan, gave an emotional speech at a debate in Sligo this week, where he was pitched against Bishop Kevin Doran on the No side. Here’s the transcript:
My name is Brian. I’m a gay man. I’m the son of biological parents, who are here tonight. I’m a father. My son can’t be at this debate, but he and his girlfriend will be with me on May 22 to vote Yes to marriage equality.
I grew up in Sligo. My national school was St John’s on Temple Street, and then I went to Summerhill College, before going to the IT for my third level education. When I was eight years old in St John’s, a boy from the class above mine pushed me to the ground and called me “a gay poof”, much to the amusement of the other boys present.
It was the first time I ever heard those words, and the abrupt end of my happy childhood. I was bullied on a daily basis from that point on, throughout the rest of my education. Even when I came to the IT, somebody who had been in Summerhill with me tried to get the bullying going again. But another person stood up on my behalf. He said, “that kind of prejudice is not welcome here”.
In a way Ireland is being asked to say exactly the same thing on May 22.
Because of this, a lot of the No campaigners have taken a particular stance. They know they cannot argue for prejudice, and neither can they argue against equality, so they have introduced fears around marriage and children into the debate, fears that have no basis.
But having said that, I too believe that this referendum is about children. It is about the child who was born gay somewhere in Ireland today, who deserves to grow up in a country where he or she is not actively discriminated against. It is about the child who was born straight somewhere in Ireland today, who deserves to grow up in a society that has enshrined true equality into its laws. It’s about the child of a gay or lesbian couple who at this moment innocently thinks at his or her family has the same rights and respect as the family next door. It’s about the child of a mother and a father who deserves to grow up in a family that promotes acceptance, equality and wants a society where caring for each other is at its core.
Contrary to posters that raise fears about surrogacy, this referendum has nothing to do with reproductive rights. Whether Ireland votes Yes or No on May 22, it will not affect the way our government will legislate around surrogacy, when it eventually comes to doing so. However it will affect all those children who are born into same-sex parented families, and those who will be born into those families in the future. A No vote will not stop gay and lesbian people having children; so the question you need to ask yourself is: “What is my responsibility to those children?” I believe it is everyone’s responsibility on May 22 to create a society where children in all families are treated equally.
Many people I’ve spoken to are confused. They are worried that children are going to suffer, that society is going to be threatened, that marriage is going to be redefined. I understand their fears, but none of these things will happen.
The truth is that marriage will be strenghtened, because every couple, whether they be straight or gay, will be able to access this cornerstone of a healthy society, to create a families based on marriage, and have them constitutionally protected. Civil partnerships are not constitutionally protected, they are not afforded the dignity and respect, or the same rights and responsibilities that come with marriage. Some people call them a “measure of equality”, but if you are heterosexual, ask yourself, would you trade your marriage, or your hopes for marriage, for a civil partnership? If the answer is no, then you understand the inequality that is created by a two-tier system, where the family created by one couple has lesser rights than a family created by another couple, simply by dint of birth.
On a deeply personal level, I want Ireland to vote Yes for the eight year-old boy who might be pushed to the ground by his peers and called ‘gay’. It happened to me all those years ago, but it’s still happening to children today. A No vote will underline difference and endorse discrimination. It will tacitly give permission to those children who might bully others because they perceive them as gay or lesbian. It will give the message to Ireland that some people should be treated as lesser than others. It will give the message that Ireland is an intolerant place that has not learned from the past.
On the other hand, a Yes on May 22 will help Ireland move forward towards a new age of caring, striving to understand, and nurturing all of its children, no matter what the circumstances of their birth.
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