Why ‘No’ Now?

If you’re living outside of Ireland at the moment, you might be unaware that our little country is going to the polls next month to vote in two referendums. The first (which I’m not going to discuss at any great length just yet) is to change the constitution to allow those over the age of 21 to be elected president. The other offers Irish people the chance to change the constitution in order to make marriage equally available to people regardless of their sex. If passed, the amendment would read:

              ‘Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex’.

Personally, I think that’s a glorious idea. I think it is a wonderful idea to make marriage available to people who want to get married. Let’s think, for a moment, about what marriage actually is. It started as a way to bind two people together in order to protect assets; it was commonly used to join the estates of two families of equal standing. Sometimes, one party would be wealthier, in the financial sense, than the other. In those cases, the less financially well-off person would bring something else – social cachet, considerable beauty or the willingness to marry the gimpy son of the wealthy merchant – to the partnership. Marriage also served as a way to try to ensure – in the days before DNA tests – that the children men were raising were their own. Within the confines of a marriage, people were contractually obliged to have sex with no one but their individual spouses.

That brings me to another point; long before it was about love and fluffy stuff, marriage was about the legalities of safeguarding wealth and property within the confines of the marriage and with regard to inheritance. Marriage was and still is a legally binding contract. People enter into legally binding contracts with people of the same sex all the time. People enter into legally binding contracts with people of the opposite sex all the time. No one bats an eyelid. Why shouldn’t men and women enter into legally binding contracts with whomever they want whenever they want?

These days, our understanding and expectations of marriage have changed to incorporate an assumption that the two parties are deeply in love and want to spend the rest of their lives together based on that love. The legally binding contract bit hasn’t gone away, however. (Though it has changed a bit to reflect that women are not regarded as property; rape within marriage is illegal, violence within marriage is illegal and a husband can no longer sue another man for ‘lack of consort’ if his wife has an affair).

Many people still choose to get married in accordance with their religious beliefs, and this referendum – if passed – will not change that. Religious marriages, however, are not civil marriages. Anyone who gets married in a religious ceremony also needs to have a civil marriage in order for their marriage to be legally recognised. That is why the argument some religious people have against equal marriage perplexes me: equal marriage is about civil marriage, not religious marriage of any denomination. The terms and conditions (for want of a better way of putting it) of religious marriages will not change if the constitution does.

The ‘argument’ that children will be adversely affected if they are brought up by two loving parents is just an exercise in casuistry, not an argument at all. Not to mention that it’s rather irrelevant if you refer back to the wording of the proposed change in the constitution.

In November 2012, we had the opportunity to vote in another referendum. At that time, I was open about my intention to vote ‘No’. It was an unpopular stance; many people I know and respect were voting ‘Yes’ and campaigning for a ‘Yes’ vote.  While I disagreed with them, I could understand their point, I could see where they were coming from. This time around, however, I can’t say that. There are many people who are campaigning for a ‘No’ vote and I would really like to understand why. So far, I haven’t heard a single real argument against equal marriage. Maybe this is because there isn’t one, or maybe it’s because I just haven’t been pointed in the right direction.

If you feel that a ‘No’ vote is required on May 22nd, I’d like to hear from you. I’d like to understand your objection and engage with it.

Books, Parenting

Lying Straight in Bed

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In all the years before I had children, I daydreamed about how I would raise them. I thought a lot about how much I would love them, how I would make sure they knew they were loved, how I would treat them. Before I was even a teenager, I decided that I would never lie to them. Not ever. Not even once. I had an idea that trust was an important element of parenting, that it was an important way to teach my children that I was a trustworthy person, and they would always be safe with me.

I have to admit, that policy has served me well. Even when I’m asked awkward questions, I answer them as honestly as I can. Sometimes, I give fuller answers than necessary, resulting in one or other (sometimes both!) of my girls beating a hasty retreat and saying ‘TMI, Mum! Okay, you can stop talking now!’

Until last night.

Kashmira is ten – she’ll be eleven next month – and she has a rich imagination. She also loves reading and counts among her favourite authors people like Ruth Long and John Connolly. In case you’re unaware, these authors don’t write about fluffy bunnies that get lost in the garden and go off on adventures with gentle fairies before being found by child owners who cuddle them happily. Oh no.

Last night, Kashmira came in to me some time after 11pm.

‘I just came in for a cuddle,’ she announced, arms out-stretched.

She popped into the bed beside me and snuggled in.

‘I might just sleep here tonight.’

‘That’s fine.’

‘Except…..am I not a bit old?’

‘No! It’s perfectly normal for human beings to seek other human beings – it’s very artificial to sleep in a room on your own. From an anthropological point of view, humans have….’

‘Mum!’ Kashmira’s tone was urgent. ‘I’m not here because I’m human, I’m here because I’m scared!’

‘Oh. Well that’s perfectly normal, too.’

‘I can’t get my imagination to stop. I can’t get the thoughts to leave me alone. It’s worse at night.’

I stop to think and pull something out of my repertoire for when I write and talk about mental health:

‘Well, who owns your brain, where your imagination lives?’ I ask.

‘I do,’ she responds and I nod.

‘Right. So you get to choose which thoughts you entertain. I imagine myself sitting on a park bench and my thoughts are passing in front of me – I can choose which ones I invite to sit on the bench beside me, or which ones I tell to walk on by.’

She considers this for a nanosecond.

‘Fine. But what if your thoughts don’t pass in front of you? What if they jump out from behind a tree and sneak up behind you and attack you before you even know they’re there?’

Emmmmm….no one in any of the seminars or workshops I’ve spoken at has ever asked me that.

‘I can’t control my imagination,’ Kashmira continued. ‘The thoughts just keep coming at me, I don’t even know where they come from.’

‘You’ve a fabulous imagination,’ I remind her. ‘It comes up with the most amazing ideas and ways of looking at things…’

‘Yes, and it has the ability to terrify me – especially at night! And then I don’t want to sleep on my own.’

‘But you don’t have to sleep on your own. You can always come in to me.’

‘I know, but…’ she hesitates and I am aware that we’re about to get to the crux of the matter. ‘Am I not too old to come in to my mum at night cos I’m scared?’

And that’s when it happens. The lie words tumble out of my mouth.

‘Absolutely not!’ I scoff. ‘I happen to know for a fact that John Connolly was still going in to his mum at night when he was a scared fifteen-year-old.’

Kashmira’s face lights up.

‘Really?’ she asks.

‘Yes!’ I sound so convincing, I have myself believing my own lie. ‘And look at the imagination he has. You can guess how scared he was at night. When he was fifteen. Going in to his mam.’

The relief rolled off the child and she settled down, reassured that she wasn’t a big baby, but rather a ten year-old with an imagination who sometimes needed the presence of another in the middle of the night to make sure that characters in her rich, vivid imagination didn’t ‘get her’ while she slept.

So, John, the next time you see Kashmira at a book signing, or any other event, or even just on the street, will you do me a solid? If she asks you about being fifteen and being scared and needing your mum in the middle of the night, will you just nod and confirm my version of events? Thanks a million.

Images: The covers of two of Kashmira’s favourite books, swiped from their respective authors’ web-sites.