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Friday 2 December 2016

Terry Prone: 'If we vote Yes, it will confirm the best of what marriage is. We will be fearless in our faith in it'

opinion

The week's referendum will end a debate which has ranged from the ridiculous to the inspiring
The week's referendum will end a debate which has ranged from the ridiculous to the inspiring

Now that we are so close to the date of the referendum, let me be frank about it. I won't stand for marriage being re-defined.

I got married 40 years, one month and 15 days ago, having never intended to get married at all.

But then I met this man with a great mop of black hair on him, a beautiful pair of hands, a wise head, generous heart and the capacity to make me laugh even in the middle of a ghastly crisis. I fell in love with him. I got lucky: he fell in love with me right back.

So we gathered all of our friends and some of our relatives together so they could share and support our statement of life-long devotion.

Neither of us was driven by the notion of having children, but after a while, we gave that a go too.

On the day after our son's birth, with the baby looking up at me with the deep puzzlement of the newborn, I discovered he was the love of my life. Like his father was the love of my life. That's the thing about marriage. It proves love can stretch to infinity and back without ever being thinned out.

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That gay people would want to be married makes sense from their point of view. They've been on the outside looking in, and they've seen good marriages and bad marriages.

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They know that each marriage is unique, but that all marriages are surrounded by unspoken and unseen supports that start with the quiet pleasure of describing someone as "my husband" or "my wife," rather than that administratively cold word "partner". But the supports don't end there. They surface on every bureaucratic form that asks for next of kin. Those are the forms that get your loved one close to you when you need them most.

Marriage is a strong, flexible fence against the world - and a gate that opens to the world. It breaks and gets mended. It provides - when it works - a warm place for children to discover a good life for themselves. Its constant gift to each member of the couple is the sense that someone is always looking out for them.

The referendum this week will put an end to a debate which has ranged from the ridiculous to the inspiring, from the vile to the virtuous.

Arguably the most ridiculous aspect of it has been the broadcast media trying to achieve balance, some outlets using stopwatches and announcing that one speaker has been robbed of 35 seconds, so would that speaker now make a 35-second point.

Everybody on all sides preached, from the outset, about the need for a civilised, respectful, courteous debate. It hasn't always been that way. On the street, the 'Yes' side suffered raucous profane abuse.

On mainstream and social media, the 'No' side had the toughest time of it. They may have been sustained by faith in their beliefs and by a matching faith that they were supported by a largely silent consensus that admired them for their courage in weathering attacks ranging from being called homophobic to being called Nazis.

But what those attacks demonstrated is that liberals who have fought the good fight against a coercive church-buttressed establishment can themselves turn into a coercive establishment of an eerily similar kind.

The 'No' side, meanwhile, have used the word "surrogacy" as a killer pejorative, ignoring the reality that straight and gay people, right now, have equal rights to adoption, fertility assistance and surrogacy.

overdue

The referendum, whether it passes or fails to pass, will make no difference to any of these rights.

If it passes, everything to do with these areas will stay the same. If it fails to pass, everything will stay the same.

We are long overdue regulation of assisted human reproduction and tight international regulation of surrogacy and we should get both no matter what is the result of Friday's vote.

Predictions of a surge in applications for surrogacy, were the referendum to be passed, are, accordingly, as simultaneously accurate and meaningless as predictions that a surge of same-sex marriages will happen if it passes. Of course they will. So? All that means is that couples have held off seeking to become parents until their relationship has had state sanction - until they are married in the eyes of the law, with all of the protections for their future children marriage provides.

The saddest thing about this referendum is the unusual level of talk about "the silent 'No'".

For all we know, lots of silent 'Yes' voters are out there, keeping their mouths shut because those around them are so clearly going to vote 'No'.

But we're pretty sure that large numbers of people who plan to vote against the proposition are not telling the truth about their intention and they're doing that because they don't feel safe, in modern, open, liberal Ireland, in saying something that the new establishment doesn't like.

respect

That's where we need to examine our consciences, after the results come out. We flatter ourselves that, like Voltaire, we may disagree with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it.

The fact is that, this time around, we have shown an ability to give equal time but not equal respect.

How much that matters, we will decide after the weekend. In the next 48 hours, we will decide how we will vote. Or, in my case, just act on what I always believed.

Which brings me back to what I said at the outset. Marriage has been so good to me for so long, and is so precious to me at the present moment, that I could not bear to see it re-defined. That's why I will vote 'Yes'. Because passing this referendum is about sharing a good thing with our friends, our sisters, our brothers and our children who happen to be gay.

Friday gives every happily-married person the once-in-a-lifetime chance to share the possibility of giving the chance of that happiness to people we know and love - and to people we will never meet.

If we vote 'Yes', it will confirm the best of what marriage is. We will be fearless in our faith in it, trusting that those embraced by it in future will be as blessed by it as we have been.

That isn't redefinition. It's reaffirmation.

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