May 22 is drawing near, and I am not alone in my total lack of certainty as to which way the referendum on marriage equality is going to go.
It comes up in almost every conversation, but no one can confidently say that they’re sure it will pass. There seems to be a combination of hope that it will pass and fear that it won’t.
Initially, I was 100 percent sure the referendum would pass. How could anyone deny people in love the right to live happily ever after?
My Facebook feed has been inundated with yes campaign support, videos, images, polls and uplifting stories from around the country. However, the no campaign is strong – they have a lot of money, and what I consider to be a surprising amount of support. From inside my social media bubble, it is to imagine who and where these people are.
I grew up in a community of musical theater, went to college in the very liberal Trinity College, and have always been surrounded by open-minded people, gay people, bi people, transgender people – you name it.
I always knew that same-sex marriage wasn’t an option here, but when you’re in school or college and no one has any immediate intention of getting married, it doesn’t feel like such a pressing issue. People were coming out, exploring their sexuality and feeling the love of Trinity’s safe and welcoming arms. Then we got out into the big bad world and had to contend with the harsh reality.
Living in New York was a hugely eye-opening experience. I often found myself in a position where I was ashamed of my country that I love, trying desperately to defend our ways.
Telling people that you can’t get an abortion, can’t marry unless you’re straight, can’t adopt unless you’re straight (which has since been changed, thankfully) and couldn’t get a divorce until 1995 – it’s embarrassing. Especially while strolling through Central Park and coming across 14 different gay weddings and no one batting an eyelid. It is normal -- as it should be.
The referendum – if a yes majority wins -- will rewrite the Constitution to allow same-sex couples to marry and to have all of the same rights as a heterosexual couple. The no campaign has a problem with the re-definition of marriage which is a sacred tradition, written in the Bible, and very much belonging to straight people.
Anyone can see the church getting behind this, and understand that redefining such a long-standing tradition can be scary. It is a cheap shot to ridicule peoples’ religious beliefs, but when the country’s constitution is largely influenced by Catholicism while numbers of active Catholics continue to drop, there needs to be room for change.
A lot of what the yes campaign is doing is going door-to-door and talking to people about what the referendum will actually mean, putting their fears at ease, and asking them to help make other peoples’ lives significantly happier. This is what it should all be about – each side presenting their case and challenging each other’s points.
But of course, it is never that simple. The no campaign have presented, for some, highly misleading, shamelessly inaccurate, insulting and irrelevant arguments.
Their campaign is pushing the “think of the children” angle, with one poster of a cute baby being smooched adoringly by his heterosexual parents and a slogan that reads “A child deserves a mother and a father.” That is completely reasonable; of course a child deserves loving parents.
But what about single parents, bereaved parents, foster parents – are they somehow inadequate? The point is also null and void, as on April 6 of this year, the Children and Family Relationships Bill 2015 was signed into law which allows same-sex couples to jointly adopt children.
This particular poster has received some significant backlash this week as the couple in the stock-photo had no idea that their picture would be used for the no campaign and are not impressed. They even released a statement in support of the yes campaign through Amnesty International:
“This family believes that every child deserves to be loved and cherished. This family believes that everyone has a right to marry the person they love regardless of their gender. This family believes that EVERY family matters. And this family would vote Yes."
On May 1, The Late Late Show hosted a debate. Keith Mills of Mothers and Fathers Matter and Petra Conroy of Catholic Comment spoke for the no campaign. Amnesty Ireland director Colm O’Gorman and Irish Times columnist Una Mullally represented the yes side. It all went off without a hitch, each side remaining calm and civilized, articulating their points well.
Mullally has been a key campaigner throughout, and in late April wrote a heart-wrenching article about her recent cancer diagnosis, appealing for people to vote yes. She had faltered in hospital, explaining that her next of kin is her girlfriend. “I guess it’s hard to accept yourself when your country doesn’t,” she wrote.
She tackled each argument thrown at her by the no side with ease, and it was clear that the majority of the audience were with her.
However, there were some shock moments like when Paddy Manning, a gay man on the no campaign, launched into an attack on the Irish children’s charities who are pushing for a yes vote. He recalled his experience of growing up as a gay child in Ireland as “terrifying” but maintained that the best place for a child to grow up is with a mother and a father. Mullally calmly replied, “I do think it says a lot that someone would sit there and say, ‘I don’t care what children’s charities say.’”
So who are the no voters? The general consensus is that they will be straight people from outside of Dublin who are very old and/or very religious.
I beg to differ. I’m straight. My whole family is straight. We are from “the country” which means “not Dublin” and also often means “backwards.”
But I know that every single member of my family will be voting yes. My grandmother who is 89 will be voting yes -- without persuasion. “Live and let live” says she who goes to Mass every single day and is a militant catholic.
And there we see a gay man campaigning for a no vote on national television. The danger is to generalize and to presume.
Everyone has their own personal set of beliefs, and their own individual life experiences that have led them to think one way or another. I would have presumed that every gay person would vote yes. Someone else might presume that everyone from “the country” will vote no.
There is no way to tell. We can only hope.