I’ve been wearing a wedding ring for three happy years. We’ll be celebrating our fourth anniversary in September. More recently I’ve been celebrating my support of marriage for all couples by wearing a Yes Equality badge, sometimes in English, sometimes in Irish.
Last Wednesday on College Green a lady of sorts asked me if I spoke Irish. “Tá roinnt agam ach ní bíonn mórán seans agam í a úsáid”, my brain answered, a plan stymied by the fact my mouth was full.
I waved my hand in front of my face to explain my predicament and she saw my wedding ring. Pausing only to identify herself as a no voter she embarked on a monologue more shouted than spoken. I wasn’t “really” married, she told me. Nor, I learned, was I truly in love. I was merely fulfilling base sexual desire.
Having publicly denigrated the most important relationship in my life she moved focus to its wider social implications.
Those within her considerably expanded earshot learned that my sham marriage was a tool of division, malevolent in its intent to force women in the majority world to rent their wombs.
I’m not an unreasonable sort. I attempted to make the conversation less of a one way affair but she proved unwilling to indulge me. She paused only long enough to add that she was yet to wed before – perhaps sensing the surrounding audience had changed – moving to repeat her cold refrain that I should not call myself married.
I had started walking and she viewed this as an opportunity to join me, her earnestness expressing to those of reasonable hearing that the band on my left ring finger signalled the destruction of childhoods through the combined selfishness of my partner and I.
This continued, unencumbered by social grace, pleasantry, or acknowledgement that my profession of love was anything more than an abstract thought experiment to be dashed by right thinking members of society. We approached my bus stop where I half expected an unfettered treatise on the rights of people like me to avail of public transport. Instead – absent trace of irony – she apologised for being unable to spare me further time and entered Temple Bar.
And I laughed. A nervous laugh, but a laugh nonetheless. Telling me my wife and I are not truly married is as threatening to me as saying I’m a lightly grilled cheese sandwich. We have signed government documents and constitutional protection of the commitment we have made to each other. The good folks that people this island broadly see the enterprise of our union as positive both for us and for society. They may not celebrate our anniversary with us but in general they wish us well. Our commitment is afforded a certain respect.
What if that were absent? I cannot, indeed dare not call this no voter homophobic. She is the human embodiment of a no poster and I am called upon to celebrate the expression of her sincerely held beliefs in the public square. The no side’s obtuse demand is that we consider our partners, our children or our parents – that which is at the heart of our lives – fair game, a distant second priority to their sincerely held beliefs, and utterly undeserving of any modicum of respect.
We see this when Keith Mills of Mothers and Fathers Matter used air quotes to refer a student’s mothers on the Late Late show last night. We saw it again, minutes later, when fellow no campaigner Paddy Manning employed the phrase “I don’t care what children’s charities say”, dismissing the evidence of hundreds of child welfare professionals to better denigrate families not headed by opposite sex parents.
I see it in the single parents and adopted people I have met both through friendships and through canvassing, their families ruled inferior by the stock photos and glib phrases of the No posters. And I see its effects on those who are forced to conceal the truth about the person they love.
Nearly every week I’m joined on a canvas by a first timer. We don’t get many natural extroverts. What we do get is people of courage. People willing to risk personal abuse or – to my mind worse – public indifference to their desire to celebrate their love and commitment in the way my wife and I can. As a married person it buoys me to see so many willing to fight for the institution. I see a trend in these new canvassers as they shuffle through their notes and rehearse long practiced conversations. They all worry that they won’t correctly recall the myriad legal distinctions between civil partnerships and marriage.
In ten weeks of canvassing that question has never arisen.
To my mind this is because the population already knows the privation inherent in a civil partnership that can never be corrected by legislative tweak: respect. The bulwark of societal support that could counteract the attempts to be made feel less by No posters and their public speakers. The right to share your relationship status without concern for the reaction. The privilege of crossing the road without strangers following you to disavow your love for your spouse. This respect, this difference between civil partnership and marriage is why my experience of what the sincerely held beliefs of that no voter is now an anecdote and not a damaging experience.
Can we grant this respect with a yes vote on May 22nd? Interracial marriage did not end racism. Mixed marriages, as they were once called, did not immediately end sectarian conflict between Catholics and Protestants. But they were both damn fine starts.
This blog post was originally posted by Geoff Lillis on Geoff’s Shorts – A Former Short Story Blog on May 3rd 2015