Do you agree with the statement: Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex? In other words, if you love someone to pieces, and want to spend the rest of your life with them, should it matter if they’re the same gender as you?
Personally? Absolutely not.
Since 7am this morning (and until 10pm tonight), more than 3.2 million Irish people are officially answering this question in the Irish Referendum on same sex marriage. Some have travelled hundreds of miles to do so; the Ryanair check-in aisles have temporarily turned into a rainbow of YES supporters, decked out in a bold Technicolor armour of striped t-shirts and tie-dyed skirts. The 9:10am ferry from Holy Head to the Dublin dock could have passed for a nomadic pride parade. Troops of Irish YES voters are marching #hometovote to hopefully put an end to the pain, shame, and loneliness inflicted on the LGBT community in Ireland. As an Irish person living abroad, I find scenes like these incredibly moving.
In Ireland, coming out of the closet goes hand in hand with pre-emptively grieving a ‘real’ marriage. We all dream of finding that person to blissfully spend the rest of one's life with. And whether it’s you or your partner who bravely gets on bended knee, a proposal would jar a little if it were: ‘Will you engage in a civil partnership with me?’ Civil partnerships were legalised in Ireland in 2011, and by the end of 2012, had been registered by 965 couples and taken place in every single county in Ireland. It was a step in the right direction but with 160 statutory differences between that and marriage — many of them relating to key areas of life such as child-rearing, finances and taxation — the social inequalities became even more glaringly obvious.
To see equality overlooked on this historic day will be a huge blow to the heart of Ireland. The irony is that the Irish government can’t just pass the law, they have put it to a referendum because it’s a change to the constitution, the very thing that was created to protect the people of Ireland and ensure everyone is treated equally and has an equal voice. This isn’t a ‘gay issue’ it’s a human rights issue. Ireland has been handed a podium to step up on and declare to the whole world that they support equality — its a chance to be on the right side of history.
Irish artist Joe Caslin's pro-equality mural on South George Street, Dublin.
If a NO vote is passed, the LBGT community will be sidelined in society. There remains a strong Christian contingent arguing for that. When I travelled home recently, I was shocked by the NO campaigners using the issue of having children as their tactic: adoption and surrogacy laws are completely separate and will remain unaffected by the result of the referendum. Watching my countrymen preying on uncertainties, using The Simpsons’ Helen Lovejoy’s hysterical cry, ‘Won’t someone please think of the children?’ while waving billboards with short-sighted slogans like: ‘Every child deserves a mother and a father’, made me feel ashamed that such regressive opinions still exist in a progressive country.
Tomorrow afternoon, the results will be revealed. I asked an Irish friend of mine, Mark Andrew Kelly, who happens to be gay, how he feels about it all. ‘Whether you believe in marriage, whether you are religious, straight, bi, trans or undecided – we are voting to end discrimination to a minority of our population,' he told me. 'We should all want a more inclusive society – a more open, loving and contemporary place to live. An opportunity to right a wrong in our constitution has been gifted to us and I for one am voting YES, not so I can get married, but so I have the right to define my relationship for myself. Be myself. We should all have the right to be whoever we want to be.’
The Irish word for love is ‘grá’ (pronounced graw). I hope that this time tomorrow, I can proudly tell my English friends and colleagues that the people of Ireland have voted to #makegráthelaw.