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Saturday, May 23, 2015

An opportunity to embrace equality

On May 22 we, the people of Kerry, have an opportunity to embrace equality and make marriage more inclusive for all our citizens. We are simply being asked if we agree to the following line being inserted into the constitution "Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex."

This referendum is about civil marriage, the legal contract of rights and responsibilities as recognised by the state. It has nothing to do with ceremonies held in a church and a Yes vote will not affect these. This referendum seeks to open civil marriage up to same sex couples who value what marriage represents. We all know that marriage matters. Couples get married because they love each other and want their relationships recognised and protected by the state. Same-sex couples want to get married for the very same reasons.

Why is Civil Partnership not enough? Civil partnership is a separate and unequal institution. It enjoys no constitutional protection and could at any point be repealed by the Oireachtas. This point has been made clear by the independent Referendum Commission. Only civil marriage can provide full constitutional equality.

This referendum is about civil marriage and is not about adoption and surrogacy. Mr Geoffrey Shannon, chair of the Adoption Authority of Ireland has made it crystal clear that adoption procedures will remain the same regardless of the referendum's outcome. Mr Justice Kevin Cross of the Independent Referendum Commission has confirmed that "there is no right of access to surrogacy". Surrogacy is largely a matter for heterosexual couples, and needs regulation. This will remain the case regardless of the referendum result.

Ireland's leading children's charities, including Barnardos and the ISPCC, have clearly stated that a Yes vote is in the best interests of families and children across Ireland today. Children deserve equal status and protection regardless of who is bringing them up. Every child deserves love, respect and safety. A No vote would deny the children of same-sex couples constitutional protections. A Yes vote will send a clear message to all children that they are equally valued regardless of their sexual orientation.

By voting Yes we will be sending a clear message of love and support to our gay and lesbian grandchildren, children, brothers, sisters, neighbours and friends. Sr. Stan, one of our most respected human rights advocates and a native of the Dingle Penninsula, has said: "I have thought a lot about this. I am going to vote Yes in recognition of the gay community as full members of society. They should have an entitlement to marry. It is a civil right and a human right."

On Friday we have an important choice to make about the kind of county and country we want to live in. Let us wake up proud on May 23 knowing that we stood together on the right side of history. Please use your vote to say Yes to a fair and inclusive Ireland.


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