Ireland heads to the polls in May to vote on civil marriage rights for same sex couples and Irish based equality groups are now actively seeking the support of Irish Americans to join in the debate.
The aims of the various Irish equality groups share one crucial goal - to dispel what they call the fear mongering of their opponents and to facilitate a conversation between Ireland and America on the realities and benefits of marriage equality going into the referendum.
As the coming out announcement by Irish Health Minister Leo Varadkar last weekend has just demonstrated, the days when Irish LGBT groups were shown a cold house appear to be over.
In New York this St. Patrick’s Day Out@MSNBC, an LGBT group, will march under its own banner, the first group to do so since the parade ban was first implemented over two decades ago.
Tiernan Brady, policy director with the Irish-based Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) told the Irish Voice that his organization’s goal is to raise awareness among the Irish American diaspora about the upcoming referendum and equal access to civil marriage.
“I would like the Irish American diaspora to see this as something they would like to be involved in,” Brady said. “There are so many LGBT Irish Americans who live here and many of them have got married in America.
“If they flew home to Ireland tomorrow their married status disappears the minute they get off the plane. Who would want that for their family, for their brother or sister? I would hope they would talk to their families and reconnect with them at home to say why this matters.”
New York has gay marriage, all the New England states have gay marriage, and GLEN wants to communicate back to Ireland that it hasn’t uprooted society here.
“In fact all it has done is made society fairer, kinder and more generous. It has made family units stronger, whether they’re lesbian, gay or straight,” says Brady.
No one else’s marriage is diminished by same sex marriage, Brady says.
“No one has become less married because a gay couple up the road got hitched. That’s not the way it works. The great thing about what we’ve seen in America is that that’s exactly the case. The Irish in America are in a really powerful position to relate their own stories back to family members Ireland.”
One of the things that the Irish equality groups worry about is that the No side will run a fear based campaign, he says.
“They will try and convince you that there will be terrible unforeseen circumstances if you allow gay people who love each other to marry. Yet we have so much evidence across the world and in America that that’s just not true.”
Opening a dialogue between the two nations is also a chance to remind them both that the referendum is about civil marriage.
“It in no way interferes with any church or any sacrament. It’s a legal marriage, not a religious one. It’s important to make that distinction,” Brady concludes.