“The rules of the game should be the same for all, no matter what team is right for you,” said Robbie Keane, in a letter to Sunday Ireland calling for Ireland to vote YES on May 22nd’s marriage equality referendum.
In a country where 84% of the population self-identify as Roman Catholic this vote is not a matter to take for granted, and it’s a far cry from similar referendums in the US where 37 states and DC have made same-sex marriage legal. Although Ireland’s Catholic bishops say the church does not oppose the right of couples to enter same-sex relationships, they do oppose giving them the right to marry.
And in the world of sports, the issue is fraught with stigma. The recent Out on the Fields study, which surveyed 9,494 people (including 2,064 Americans) showed that the US actually scores worst with regards to sports homophobia in the English-speaking world.
“The biggest obstacle is fear. The fear of rejection from their teammates, from fans, probably their families, fear the owners of the team might not want a gay athlete.”
—Robbie Rogers, LA Galaxy
Compared to the US, Ireland appears to have a slightly more open sports culture. But regardless of polls that show the majority will vote in favor of the referendum, similar polls have been proved false in previous years.
Often referendums lose steam as the once hyper-charged public grow weary of year-after-year of failed votes. Keane’s letter could impact the vote in a very real way.
As captain of the Irish national team since 2006, Keane holds Ireland’s scoring record with 65 goals in 139 career international appearances.
“As a sportsman, fairness is key,” Keane explained. “My own personal view is that changing our Constitution on this issue is the right decision as it will give people the choice and opportunity to marry, irrespective of the fact that they may wish to marry someone of the same gender.”
Keane will not be able to come home to vote in the referendum on May 22, but is urging his fellow citizens to agree to vote YES for marriage rights to all.
“Marriage equality is an easy answer for me and will show the world that Ireland is a compassionate country that [recognizes] and accepts diversity, and most importantly treats its citizens equally.”
Well said Robbie Keane @UmbroIreland is in agreement! #YesEquality #MarRef #Yes @YesEquality2015 @ClaudineKeane1 pic.twitter.com/xNpTLadhCk
— Umbro Ireland (@UmbroIreland) May 10, 2015
It’s not imperative that pro-athletes promote social causes but it is admirable to see them take a stance — especially when their words impart an authority to an audience that others simply cannot reach. Groups like Athlete Ally, Gay4Soccer and You Can Play are proving daily that when pro-athletes and other influencers become ambassadors for social progress and for betterment of others’ lives, real changes ensue for the next generation of athletes.
“It can’t be easy for an athlete to take a position on an issue he or she knows all fans may not agree with, so it means a great deal to me as a gay fan for Robbie Keane to support marriage equality ahead of the referendum in his home country.”
—Chris Billig, founder, Gay4Soccer
Fair play, sportsmanship and ending the marginalization of groups of people go hand-in-hand. To see the LA Galaxy’s captain standing up for human rights in such a profound and public way should make every fan proud.