This article originally appeared in The Mayo News on Tuesday, 18th April 2018.
A relationship with a close friend came under strain a few years back, when he was adamant in his opposition to the marriage equality referendum, and I was just as adamant in my support for it. We talked, we debated, we argued, we cried (well, one of us did) and ultimately we fell out. He went his way and I went mine and we each cast our votes according to our consciences. Afterwards, we reconvened. We didn’t talk about the issue ever again. And things have changed. I see him differently now, even though he’s the same person. He sees me differently too. And I miss the way things used to be, but we can’t go back.
I often think about my friend, for whom absolutely nothing has changed in light of the result in that referendum, save for an increase in demand for wedding gear from his retail business, which he’s delighted with. (If only they knew.) And then I think that nothing has really changed for me either, apart from an increase in expenditure on wedding clobber. But then I remember that although neither of us are affected directly – neither of us has been forced to marry a person of the same sex as a result – other people have benefitted greatly from gaining these rights. And at the back of my mind, although I love him dearly after over 20 years of friendship, I cannot quite forgive him for trying to stand in the way of other people’s happiness and to deprive them of their rights, because of his own personal discomfort. And maybe I’m just as wrong as I think he is, in my inability to forgive.
That was the marriage equality referendum, which was painful and damaging to many people, but always stood a better chance of passing than referendum we are facing into. Already bitterly divisive, with absolutely no inkling of what way the result will go. Already, the cracks are beginning to appear.
This column is not about my opinion on the rights and wrongs of abortion so please, if you’re considering responding to argue that point, don’t. It is unnecessary. My mind is well and truly made up and has been for many years. This column is simply an admission that, on a personal level, the prospect of the Eighth Amendment not being repealed terrifies and upsets me, for a myriad of reasons. I cannot help that, and those reasons are not just my own; they are the result of the sufferings of thousands of women in Ireland who have told their stories, and in whose shoes I cannot know that I or a loved one will not walk at some point. But it is also an admission that I am scared of the collateral damage that this debate will cause, among families, friends and loved ones, including my own.
I can understand and empathise with the beliefs of people who are anti-abortion, even though I do not personally agree. But what I cannot understand, and cannot – will not – empathise with, is with the stance of those who would deny women the choice to access safe and proper medical treatment – in many cases, completely unrelated to the issue of abortion. Those who would actively vote to ensure that more women suffer tragedy and cruelty.
And when some of those people are your own loved ones, things start to get painful.
If you fundamentally disagree on an issue that is hugely important personally to both of you, is it possible to accept those differences, compartmentalise them and move on with everything else? Or will the knowledge – in this case, that someone would literally vote against giving a doctor the legal security to save your life, or vote to potentially force you to carry a pregnancy you didn’t feel you were able to – fester in the background, tainting everything else? Is it possible to reach some level of compromise, or understanding, or acceptance, or is it a bridge too far?
These questions keep me awake at night and make my heart hurt.
At what point should the balance tip between fighting for the rights you believe you – and other people – should have, and fighting for your own personal and family relationships? How much can you compromise? How much can you forgive and be forgiven? Should you care so much? Or so little?
If this passes, moving on will be easier, because it’s easier to be forgiving when you know you’re gaining your fundamental human rights. But if it doesn’t …
I don’t have the answers. But I have a feeling it won’t be long before I do.