Mandate says yes to Marriage Equality

Wednesday 22 April 2015, 03pm

By Bill Kelly

Mandate Divisional Organiser
 
I attended the launch of the Trade Unionists for Marriage Equality campaign in SIPTU’s Liberty Hall on February 13. 
 
The theme of the night was Love & Pride and was kicked off with a moving speech by Mandate General Secretary John Douglas, current President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. 
 
John said that many unions within ICTU, including Mandate, would be calling for a Yes vote in the referendum which is planned to take place on May 22. 
 
The trade union movement has a long-held, positive policy of support for equality, solidarity and social justice and on a daily basis is involved in defending the rights of workers who are victimised, bullied and treated unfairly in the workplace and in society in general. 
 
We have been to the fore in securing equal pay for women, maternity rights, equality legislation and in seeking to improve the rights of working parents. 
By denying members of the LGBT community full equality, we are saying that LGBT relationships are not worthy of the support of society and are second class. This is no different than saying that it is OK to treat LGBT workers less fairly in the workplace or in society and that we are not really committed as a movement or a society to full equality for all. 
 
Is this really the type of Ireland we all want to live in – and where would it stop?
 
There is nothing wrong with society expressing its support for two people who want to make a lifelong commitment to each other and this is a threat to no one. 
 
Many gay and lesbian friends of mine have been together in loving, committed relationships for several decades and although I cannot currently count myself among them, it is something I continue to aspire to. 
 
I would like to think when that day comes, I will have the support of a society who will not treat my relationship as second class.  Surely all loving relationships are of equal value? 
 
What message do we want to send to our LGBT young? Would you not want to tell them that they are equal members of society and not second class? If your son or daughter told you they were lesbian or gay, would you not want to them to form a long-term, committed relationship that had the support of society and the Constitution of our country?
 
On May 22, we can choose to say that all long-term committed relationships and families are equal and vote to change the Constitution to allow lesbian and gay couples civil marriage. 
 
It is important to remember that the referendum has nothing to do with religion or religious marriage and will not impact in any way on the position of the various churches to marriage. Some people are saying that voting to pass the referendum will damage children and the family. However, we already have many different types of families in Ireland today, including lesbian, single and gay parents. 
 
The referendum does not seek to redefine either the family or the rights of children in any way. The Government is enacting new laws under the Children & Family Relationships Bill (2013) which is intended to deal with the variety of families we already have in Ireland today. 
 
Although Civil Partnership already exists, this does not confer the right of full marriage and maintains a two-tier system which says that LGBT people are not really entitled to full equality. If marriage has a special place in the Constitution, then the Constitution should not exclude LGBT people from having the right to marriage.
 
In his speech at the launch of the Trade Unionists for Marriage Equality campaign, John Douglas speaking as President of Congress, called on all trade unionists and workers to ensure that they vote Yes in May and called on all activists to get actively involved in the campaign. 
 
As General Secretary of Mandate he gave the example of how unacceptable and illegal it would be if a customer was told they could not buy something solely based on their sexual orientation. Why then it is acceptable that someone cannot get married for the same reason? 
 
Minister of State Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, addressing the launch, asked: “Who are the State to say that you cannot have a civil marriage to celebrate love in the Republic?” 
 
Seamus Dooley of the NUJ and Ethel Buckley of SIPTU – conveyors of the campaign as well as being members of the Congress Executive Council – also spoke passionately in support of a Yes vote. 
 
The exterior of Liberty Hall was lit up in the colours of the rainbow flag for the launch which was well supported and attended by members from many unions. 
 
The night finished with a showing of the film Pride. Based on a true piece of trade union/LGBT history and solidarity, the film tells the story of a group of young LGBT activists who raised money in support of the 1984 British miners’ strike. 
 
The solidarity shown later by the National Union of Mineworkers was instrumental in changing the policy of the British Labour Party in favour of LGBT rights. It's an excellent film and well worth watching if you haven't already and it was an honour to watch it together with fellow LGBT members from most of the unions affiliated to Congress.  On May 22, don’t be fooled by the fear being spread by the No side and vote for full equality in the Civil Marriage referendum. 

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