Representatives of both sides of the marriage referendum coin discussed the issues live on UTV Ireland on Monday in the first of a series of referendum debates this month.
On May 22, the electorate will be asked to vote on the proposal to add a new clause to Article 41 of the Constitution: “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”
Mothers and Fathers Matter spokesperson Margaret Hickey and Stand Up for Marriage chairman Barry Jones represented the No side on Monday’s debate.
Ms Hickey said: “Marriage in Article 41 is described as the foundation on which the family is structured, so if you change the definition of marriage which you are doing in a very fundamental way by taking it from a gender-based instruction to a gender-less institution, you are going to obviously profoundly change the constitutional understanding of parenting and family.”
Mr Jones added: “If it does go through, what will happen is that the definition of marriage will be changed and if that is changed, because of the way the Constitution is written, then family will be changed.
“The definition of family, or what it means, will be changed and if it is changed that means the fundamental building block of society, society will change but if it changes artificially it has to give rise to trouble,” he added.
Yes Equality’s Joe Noonan and Catherine Clancy from the Labour Party’s LGBT group were proposing a Yes vote.
Mr Noonan said: “Civil partnership is something that is understood by family lawyers. Marriage is understood by everybody and everybody should be entitled to marry subject to the law and that is what we are voting on.”
Ms Clancy added: “This referendum is a one liner and all you are being asked is do you agree that same sex couples can marry. In Ireland alone we have 220,000 gay or lesbian citizens – the population of cork is 120,000 people – so that is near double the population of Cork city.
“What we are saying is on May 22 to go out and give those 220,000 people, if they wish, the right to marry the same as you or me and anybody else and to have that recognition for their relationship.”
Meanwhile, former Cork Hurler Conor Cusack said a Yes vote would send out an important message.
“I just think that we had the decriminalisation of homosexuality some years ago and I think this referendum is another stepping stone on that long road to equality, because it is not about wanting to be treated as less than or more than anyone else. It is about wanting to be treated equally,” he said.
In recent years, both Conor and his brother Donal Óg came out as gay.
“I know for people out there there is a load of fear and worry around this but ultimately what this comes down to is the things that bind us all as human beings. It is a desire to be loved and to be able to love,” Conor added.
However, First Families First argue that a Yes vote will radically change the legal meaning of family and parenthood. Their concerns centre on the wording of the referendum.
“Judges can only work with what they are being given and what they are being given is a complete change in the landscape of family law which is going to result with sadness. It is going to play out in a lot of tragedy for children and for their biological parents in the future,” said First Families First representative Kathy Sinnott.
Two gay couples also told UTV Ireland about their differing views on the upcoming referendum.
Paul Dalton, who entered into a civil partnership with his partner Des two years ago, said he is still unsure what to call his other half, which he says makes his relationship feel less important.
“For a lot of people, introducing him as my civil partner doesn’t make any sense. That language doesn’t translate. Not being able to introduce Des as my husband is very strange and very limiting.
“Our relationship is different and inferior. My father said recently, ‘when this is passed will your civil partnership be upgraded?’ He is 78 years old. He didn’t really knows what he was saying but I think it captures it,” explained Paul.
However, Keith Mills who is about to celebrate a one year anniversary with his partner, has a completely different opinion on the referendum and will be voting no.
“Ireland has transformed completely in the past number of years. We have gay ministers, business leaders, sportsmen, journalists, judges and it is terrific and we don’t need gay marriage.
“We have to think of the issue of surrogacy – giving same sex couples the right to marriage gives them the right to surrogacy. I look at the situation like Elton John and his partner bringing children into the world and excluding the mother and I’m very uncomfortable with that.
“I hope that the referendum fails and I will then campaign to put civil partnerships on an equal standing with the constitution so we have that diversity recognised forever and ever,” said Keith.
Monday’s discussion will be followed by a live debates on the Age of Presidential Candidates Referendum in Dublin on 12 May and in Galway on 18 May.
The series of referendum debates will cumulate with a final debate on the Marriage Referendum in UTV Ireland’s Dublin studio on 19 May.
UTV Ireland’s Referendum Debate Schedule:
11 May: Marriage Referendum Debate
Broadcast live from Cork on Ireland Live at 10pm
12 May: Age of Presidential Candidates Referendum Debate
Broadcast live from Dublin on Ireland Live at 10pm
18 May: Age of Presidential Candidates Referendum Debate
Broadcast live from Galway on Ireland Live at 10pm
19 May: Marriage Referendum Debate
Broadcast live from Dublin on Ireland Live at 10pm
23 May: Regular updates from the Ireland Live News team throughout the day, with a special edition of Ireland Live at 5.30pm