The referendum on same-sex marriage to be held in Ireland this Friday is now too close to call. Opinion polls had had been predicting a huge majority for a "yes" vote, including today's poll of IrishCentral readers, but this has been whittled away over the past two weeks.
And, as we will explain below, the promoters of a "yes" vote have only themselves to blame.
The collapse of the "yes" vote has been very quick and seems to be accelerating. Last Saturday, the headline on The Irish Times front page said their poll had a 70-30 split in favor of a "yes" vote among those who had made up their minds, a slight fall on the previous Irish Times poll but still a huge yes majority.
But three other polls in the weekend papers predicted an outcome in the region of a 60-40 "yes" vote and by now—I’m writing on Monday evening—that may well be down to a 55-45 division.
What this means is that by Friday, when people vote, it could well be on a knife edge. The likelihood is that the "yes" side will still carry the day but, as we said already, it is too close to call.
The result will certainly be nothing like the huge "yes" majority that was being predicted just a few weeks ago. And no one should be surprised if the "no" side manages a narrow win.
Does this mean that the Irish people are an intolerant, narrow-minded, nasty nation? No, it does not.
What it does mean, whichever way the vote turns out, is that the "yes" side ran a campaign that was arrogant, condescending and even nasty at times ("vote no" posters were defaced and torn down by young "yes vote" stormtroopers around the country). Many ordinary undecided voters here resented being treated like that.
They felt intimidated and started to keep their opinions to themselves. They did not like the feeling of being told how to vote, of being bullied into voting a particular way. They did not like that the concerns they had about same-sex marriage were being dismissed as bigoted, Neanderthal nonsense.
Many ordinary voters felt that the issues raised by the "no" campaign were legitimate—particularly the issues about children—and that they deserved a proper response. Instead of providing that, the "yes" side dismissed these questions as irrelevant and endlessly repeated the simplistic mantra that this referendum was about "equality" and nothing else.
But it's not that simple. The issue of children is relevant since same-sex couples can only have children by adoption, surrogacy or sperm donation, and the law here regulating these areas is far from adequate.
Adoption by same-sex couples here, at the moment, is regulated in the same way as adoption by opposite-sex couples, a fact emphasized by the "yes" campaign. But there is a difference between what the present law is and what one puts in the Constitution.
For many people here, what goes in the Constitution expresses the ideal and for them, rightly or wrongly, the ideal situation on this issue is that children are raised by an opposite-sex couple—a father and mother.
In recent weeks, as the ground slipped away beneath them, the "yes" side put forward a couple of "expert" psychologists who said that all the recent research shows that it makes no difference whether a child is raised by a same-sex couple or an opposite-sex couple; what matters is that the child has a loving and secure home. It was also pointed out that these days so many children are raised by single parents.
But it's not so long ago that all the "experts" were stressing the importance of a father figure and a mother figure in a child's development. You don't have to be Bill O'Reilly to think that the number of single-parent families and the absence of a father figure are significant factors in the young offender problems faced by modern societies.
Equally, many "experts" believe that a mother's sensitivity and bond with her child cannot be replicated by a male couple, no matter how well intended they are, and that this unique emotional bond, millennia in the making in a mother's genes, is an important part of a child's development.
None of this is to say that a single parent of either sex or a gay couple cannot provide a loving family for a child. But what is at issue here is what is the ideal, and the effect of enshrining something that is less than the ideal in our Constitution.
That is the main problem that "no" voters had with this referendum. Giving absolute equality to same-sex marriage in the Constitution has implications.
If the "yes" side wins, any issue to do with children in the future will be subject to this equality provision, so that neither the state nor an individual, even a natural mother who puts her child up for adoption, can give any preference to a child being raised by an opposite-sex couple instead of a same-sex couple.
There are also implications in education and other areas. Instead of addressing the issues to do with children seriously, the "yes" side dismissed the concerns of the "no" side and of the many undecided voters in a very high handed manner.
The issue was labeled as a red herring, which was insulting. The situation was not helped by the fact that many of the concerned voters were older and rural and many of the "yes" side campaigners were younger, urban and very pushy.
Equally annoying for many people was the failure by the "yes" side to explain why civil partnership for same-sex couples, which was introduced here in 2010 and provides almost the same legal framework and certainty as marriage, is not enough. Simplistic, endlessly repeated exhortations about the need for "absolute equality" did not explain this.
There is another concern which has caused a lot of anger here among undecided voters, and one which this writer shares. Like a lot of people here, I don't like people telling me how to vote and dismissing any arguments I make as though I'm an idiot. And I particularly don't like it when the people who are doing this have been given millions of dollars to influence my vote.
I'm well aware that Chuck Feeney's Atlantic Philanthropies has been extraordinarily generous in Ireland, putting vast amounts of money into universities, hospitals and so on. But the revelation that they have been pouring money into the campaign for same-sex marriage in Ireland over several years is a shock.
In my mind, such outside attempts to secretly influence social attitudes and policy in Ireland are neither appropriate nor justifiable. Supporting education in Ireland is one thing, but this is fundamentally different and I can't understand why they have been doing it.
The scale of what has been going on is staggering. According to The Irish Times, Atlantic Philanthropies gave just under $5 million to the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) here between 2005 and 2011, allowing it to expand from a HIV issue organization with a single staff member to a "full-time, highly professional lobbying machine" for gay equality.
That quote comes from the Atlantic Philanthropies website and it goes on to say that, thanks to the funding, GLEN "works 'inside' the machinery of government where it uses a 'principled pragmatist' model in which it consolidates support, wins over the doubtful and pacifies those who are opposed.
"GLEN leaders believed that the most viable way to embed long-lasting social change was to legislate incrementally, waiting to advocate for civil marriage until the population was accultured to the ordinariness of same-sex unions."
Again, this comes from the Atlantic Philanthropies own website. Note the reference to people inside the political establishment being "won over" and those who oppose the agenda being "pacified.”
This borders on the sinister and certainly gives a very different picture to the one of a grassroots movement of ordinary gay people who came together to campaign for change. Note also the strategy to go first for civil partnership, wait for that to become normalized in the public mind, and then push on.
How much Atlantic Philanthropies has given to GLEN since 2011 was not reported by The Irish Times, but it is reasonable to assume that it is significant. In addition, Atlantic Philanthropies has given around $500,000 to another "yes" organization in Ireland called "Marriage Equality."
What all this amounts to is a large-scale interference in Irish democracy from outside which is questionable, no matter how well intentioned it was. This outside interference has been reported widely in Ireland in the past few days and is likely to increase the resentment and anger among "no" voters and the many who have still to decide.
The poll experts tell us that most of the undecideds will, as usual, stick with what they know and end up voting against any change, and the revelations about the millions from America will probably add to that trend.
On balance, I will probably vote "yes", to support the wishes of gay friends who I trust and admire. But it will be a reluctant yes.
I would be much more comfortable if, at the same time that this marriage equality is added to the Constitution, there were similar additions protecting the interests of children making their "equality" just as important.
I don't like being dictated to and patronized, which is what the "yes" side has been doing to voters here. When everyone else is demanding that I vote one way, a small voice inside screams at me to vote the other way.
And if this writer feels that way, in the middle of the media bubble in Dublin, you can be sure many more people all over the country feel the same way, especially in rural areas.
If enough of them do so, the referendum will be lost. And it won't be the end of the world one way or the other, no matter what you read.