18 Apr 2015

Yes to Marriage Equality

I've just written about our wedding on April 9 and described what a beautiful and perfect day it was. I had married before, 19 years ago. It was an unhappy marriage that I tried for many years to fix before coming to accept, with the support of many people around me and the help of Women's Aid, that staying married would destroy my life and likely those of my children. The separation happened four years ago and the horrendous task of divorcing took a few years more.

I am forever grateful to the people who helped the children and me through that time. I am indebted to all those who over the years, campaigned to change the definition of marriage and make divorce legal. They ensured that children receive the protections they deserve and their efforts meant that I could be free from a terrible situation and, as a person who'd had to stop paid work to mind the children, was not left destitute.

For years after the separation I was a single mother of three. For one of those years, my sister lived with us and for all of them, all members of my family and our friends, have been there for us providing practical and emotional support when we needed it. We never stopped being a family even though we did not fit the proscribed model of a nuclear family. I've often heard campaigners against equal marriage bang on about how children deserve a mother and a father. What children need, as I have discovered, is to be free from abusive situations and to have access to people around them who love them and on whom they can rely. The precise set-up is not important.

I had never expected to find love, yet in July 2012 I met a man who I am now married to. He and I are perfect for each other; as I said on our wedding day, his weirdnesses and mine match! It was important for us as a couple to marry. We wanted to make our union legally binding, to demonstrate to the children that we are both there for them for the long haul. We wanted a party and a chance to show our friends and family just how much we mean to each other. We wanted to be husband and wife.

Everyone is entitled to arrange their relationships in whatever way works best for them. My relationship is no better than that of my friends who opted not to marry. I don't think that anyone needs to marry to be committed to their partner. Many people oppose the institution of marriage for perfectly valid reasons. But what all people deserve is to have that choice. I have heard the reasons people have given for opposing equal marriage and none stand up to scrutiny. There is no reason why marriage need be between a man and a women only.

The joy we had on being able to marry, the ability to make that decision is something all people ought in a civilised and caring society to share. The only reason why anyone would deny that to other couple is because they think those relationships are less important and that is an opinion based on bigotry. Our children are listening, we need to let them know that they are all valued and that we oppose the dreadful bigotry that LGBT folk of my generation endured growing up. We need to end this ridiculous inequality in all corners of Ireland and let them ALL grow up with the choice to marry or not marry as they see fit.

Our Wedding

Thursday April 9th was the best and happiest day of my life so far. My three children, our closest friends and beloved family members gathered with me and the man I love, to witness our marriage. We had the ceremony in Belfast City Hall with a registrar who did everything she could to make it special and personal while also accommodating Ryan's needs. We and the children walked in together and Ryan read out his own words:
"I am happy today because my mum and Micheál are getting married. That is great and loving and wonderful.
Micheál is my friend. He is funny and sometimes silly. We go to Tesco and he buys me the right cookies and DVDs. I like taking him to the cinema.
My mum is beautiful and kind. We go to the Transport Museum and W5 and the funfair.
Our family will always be friends and love will win the day."

By Neil Arthurs Photography

We exchanged our vows including some we'd written ourselves:
In all the world, there is no heart for me like yours.
In all the world, there is no love for you like mine.
I promise to be your sidekick and your best friend, to keep laughing with you, to mind you when you need it and lean on you when I need it.
(To love these 3 children as I officially become your partner in their lives)
To share all my joys and sorrows with you,
To love and support you through sunshine and rain for the rest of my days. 
By Neil Arthurs Photography

My two boys in the photo above are dealing with events in their own way; Michael, like every other man in my family, was in bits crying and Ryan was perfectly at ease listening to his music.

I had been able to find a poem to read out, The Present by Michael Donaghy, that expresses beautifully what this means to me and which fits with both my nerdy and sentimental sides:
For the present there is just one moon,
though every level pond gives back another.
But the bright disc shining in the black lagoon,
perceived by astrophysicist and lover,
is milliseconds old. And even that light’s
seven minutes older than its source.
And the stars we think we see on moonless nights
are long extinguished. And, of course,
this very moment, as you read this line,
is literally gone before you know it.
Forget the here-and-now. We have no time
but this device of wantonness and wit.
Make me this present then: your hand in mine,
and we’ll live out our lives in it.
And Michéal read The Sailor's Vow by Alan Jenkins:
The life I spent so lavishly
Before we met
Seems one long night, in memory,
Of sea-fever and sea-fret –
Which led me here, to you, to this:
Our haven below decks.
You anchor me, I you, with a kiss
(Though the coast is strewn with wrecks).
Official documents were signed and we were officially and legally married and it was time to celebrate.

By Neil Arthurs Photography

Everyone was gorgeous and looks beautiful in the photos.
Our reception was in the Harlem Cafe Belfast just round the corner from City Hall so we just walked over and enjoyed a few glasses of prosecco to get the party started. And boy did we party.
Photo by Red Mum 

Before we had our meal, Micheál and I, his uncle and my dad all gave short speeches. Dad told everyone how Micheál had brought happiness to our home. I managed to gulp-weep just twice and since I usually cry st the least wee emotional boost, that was pretty good going. When we'd finished, my daughter Tara stood up and in her very own way, said how much she and the boys love us both and are so happy to see us marry.

The food was gorgeous and plentiful, the staff were fantastically friendly and helpful, and everyone I spoke to said it was the best wedding meal they'd ever had. Then the music kicked in and shoes were kicked off as my gang and his took to the floor to see who had the best moves- the Dubs or the Nordies. There were no winners, but what we lacked in grace and ability we made up for in joyful exuberance! And what made my heart sing was how obvious it was that all our guests were having a fantastic time. Best of all though, was how delighted my three children were with the marriage and the day itself. We had prepared a chill-out zone for Ryan and had plans in place to take him away early if the crowd and noise became too much for him. But he was in his element hanging out with his cousins, yapping and dancing. At one stage he was even swinging around to the Pogues with Micheál's aunties! No one could have predicted that.

It was a day filled with love, laughter, music, wine and good food. We were floating on the wave of warm feelings and enthusiasm from all around us, both our guests and from people who couldn't be there but sent messages filled with love and kind wishes. People got to see why we wanted to marry, to understand how Micheál, me and the kids are family. It was the most perfect day imaginable and if I'm ever stressed or low in the years to come, I will close my eyes and recall the moment when I was serenaded by 3 Smiths to this and all will be brighter.

(I've written a follow up post on why everyone should be able to have their day.)