Monday, 27 April 2015

Live and Let Live eh?

It is interesting looking at the Irish nation through the lens of the upcoming marriage equality referendum. It is a snapshot of the big ‘Us’. Exactly where we are at in terms of our vision and aspirations for ourselves, for our country and our place in the world.

For me, there are two important pointers on that lens: our acceptance of difference among our people and the degree of inclusivity in our national conversations. We’ve always had a nice phrase for it - “live and let live”.

As I cuddle my kids, and kiss them good night, I sometimes think what a precious passage it is – through the day, and through our lives. It beats me that somebody would deny another person the right to be a parent, or the right to marry the person they love.

I hear the genuinely raised concerns about the impact of this referendum legislation on the conventional family unit. What this piece seeks to ensure, is that the union of a gay or lesbian couple is equally respected and supported in the eyes of our constitution as that of my wife and I. This does not weaken or threaten our union or our family unit in any way. In fact, our marriage and our family will be enhanced, because we will live in an enlightened country that respects, supports and cherishes all families equally - in a mature and responsible way.

I hear the lofty rationale for justifying discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation, but no matter how it is presented, discrimination is discrimination. I quote Colm O'Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland: "The best way to eliminate discrimination against people is not to discriminate". Equal rights for all.

Fear often lies beneath our sophisticated reasoned arguments for discrimination. Fear of difference, fear of inclusion, fear of embracing life in all of its diversity. To quote Marianne Williamson “it is our light not our darkness that most frightens us”.

As well as being a dad and husband, I work as a counsellor. I see society’s discriminatory messages legitimised in our laws and how they impact peoples’ day-to-day lives. Words and therefore votes can hurt deeply. That kind of pain impacts on people’s well-being, their mental health and even their life expectancy.

This referendum is important to me - as a man, a dad and a husband. I want my kids to grow up in a country where everybody is deemed a first class citizen – not one that fosters division, discrimination or denial - to some. Discrimination always says more about the speaker than the person being discriminated against. It genuinely saddens me how people who care deeply for others can at the same time, support injustice and discrimination against some.

I want to live in an inclusive enlightened society and I’d like to do my bit to build it - for my kids and their generation. I am grateful for much of the legacy of the previous generation, but there is still much to let go of. Discrimination based on sexual orientation is part of that legacy that is unjust and wrong. It doesn’t take any special awareness to realise that exclusion and discrimination breed dysfunction and therefore lead to hurt and pain.

I want my kids to be socially adept to embrace change and diversity. I want them to feel secure enough that they are comfortable with other people’s ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. I want them to never feel discriminated against. Whether it’s based on colour, religious views or lack thereof, or sexual orientation, I want a society that says “live and let live”. And my wish is that they will buy into that themselves and propagate it in their lives, wherever they go.

Today, our families come in all shapes and sizes, so let us nurture and support them all. Embrace inclusion and celebrate difference. Live and let live.

Tom Evans is a father, hubby, writer, counsellor, and psychotherapist based in Midleton, Cork.