Our names are Margaret Burke and Róisín Ward.
We were privileged to be asked to speak at the launch of Teachers for Marriage Equality which took place in the Teachers’ Club last night. What an uplifting evening it was! We got a wonderfully warm reception from those in the room. This is what we said!
We set up the initiative, LGBTwithkids, with some friends, to give a voice to our families in the run up to the referendum on Marriage Equality. This referendum is about civil marriage. The reality of our families is not central to the referendum. Issues of guardianship have now been dealt with under the Children and Family Relationships bill. We feel, though, that if our families are to be the subject of so much debate, we would like to stand up and be seen for the proud and loving families that we are.
We met 18 years ago in St. Pat’s! Marriage equality was certainly not on the horizon back then, and the dream of having a family seemed like just that, a dream. With time, though, we realised that we needed to go and live in a place where we would have full equality. Canada was that place.
We lived for 5 years in Montreal. The relief and freedom we felt living in an equal society was enormous. Our three children, Úna May, Théo and Dara were born there. It was a big decision for us to bring them back to Ireland. But we did and we have been home now for the past 2 years.
There are so many reasons why a yes vote in this referendum is important to us: as a lesbian couple, as teachers, as citizens of this little country. But this evening we are speaking as parents, about how important it will be for our children and children of other same sex headed families.
For every child their family is their world, and our children are no different. In our children`s eyes their family is as unique and special as those of their cousins and friends.
Úna May was 2 and a half when I heard her talking to her little friend. I was upstairs giving Dara a bath when I overheard her friend ask, ‘Where is your other Mammy?’ ‘I don’t have two Mammies,’ Úna May replied. That was the heart stopping moment for me…but she quickly added, ‘I have a Mammy and a Mama.’ And neither child batted an eyelid as they continued to splatter paint on the easel!
Or this year coming up to mother`s day, when the lovely ladies who look after Théo in crèche were encouraging him to make two mothers` day cards. He explained that it was ok. He said, ’They can share!!`
Life is life to our children, their family is their family, there is no further explanation needed.
We wondered if we should explain to our children about the referendum which is happening on May 22nd. Should we explain to them that people will head to the polling station to decide if their parents love for each other is equal to that of other parents. The more we thought about it, though, and after careful consideration, the more nonsensical we knew it would sound to them. And not alone that, but how on earth would we explain it to them in the event of the referendum being defeated. We are lucky that our children are young enough not to be able to read, and there is a strict no radio policy in our house at the moment.
A yes vote in this referendum will send an unequivocal message from the citizens of this country, to the citizens of this country, that we agree that we are all equal, all to be valued equally, and that as a result, all of our children and families are to be treated equally. And to be treated equally does not mean to be quietly accepted, but to be joyously, proudly celebrated. As LGBT people we know what it is to live with silence. If this referendum passes it will go a long way towards breaking the silence, and we hope that as a result our children will be able to hold their heads high, proud of their family and free to concentrate on the important job of living!
This referendum is painfully personal to us. We are desperately aware of the impact a yes vote will have, not only on our lives, but more urgently for us, the impact it will have on our children`s lives and well-being.
In Canada we felt the quiet sense of reassurance, the stability that comes with access to civil marriage. Equality goes beyond rights. Access to civil marriage here in Ireland would mean the recognition of our relationship and the recognition of our family as having the same status in the eyes of the state as any other.
We look forward to joyous celebrations on May 23rd, when the votes are counted.
We look forward to explaining to our children that this is a happy day.
We look forward to being eternally and unreservedly proud of our country and to being abundantly grateful for the love shown to us by our fellow citizens.
And we look forward most of all to the feeling that our children live in a country where their life, their family has been deemed to be as valuable and precious as any other.