This weekend is the first anniversary of the historic marriage referendum that saw Ireland become the first country in the world to legalize same sex marriage by a popular vote.
62% of the country voted for change, with more than 1.2 million going to the polls.
But as the voting day neared what had started out as a straightforward referendum on LGBT equality began to take on the unmistakable aspects of a social revolution.
It turned out the nation was ready to have a profound, far reaching national conversation, because most people had understood that beyond the same sex marriage question lay further one's, foundational ones, questions that asked us to consider who we were and who we would be to each other, and what sort of society we wanted to live in.
It was becoming clear that the vote was being seen an opportunity for a kind of national course correction, one that was informed by the hard lessons of the past and optimistically facing into the future.
Slowly sensing the true scale of the tectonic shift, conservative forces scrambled to get ahead of the earthquake. Their tactic was simple: they found they could not win the argument on its merits so they would try to inject (and then capitalize on) uncertainty.
It didn’t work. Not only did it not work it backfired spectacularly. Voters didn’t believe other people’s marriages could affect their own. They scoffed at the very suggestion.
Or at least they did in the urban centers, out in rural Ireland it was sometimes a different story.
The night before the Irish marriage referendum I saw the axe begin to fall. Old neighbors from my home town in County Donegal, who had kept their counsel for months, finally began to nail their true colors to the Facebook mast.
They were not the rainbow colors.
The night before the vote on my Facebook and Twitter feeds I started seeing posters pop up. “A child deserves a mother and a father - vote No,” read one. “Marriage matters - vote No,” read another.
After months of silence a dam burst. They were everywhere suddenly. It was a bit like having the things you worried people might say about you behind your back finally said right to your face.
It was completely unforgettable.
But the whole marriage referendum campaign had felt like that, like a mass judgement. Not on you plural, on you singular. It felt that personal. And for every LGBT person in Ireland it was that personal.
As the thousands of Yes campaigners who canvassed the cities towns and villages of Ireland will attest, this referendum was unique in that people simply couldn’t wait to say exactly what they thought of you for knocking on their door.
Faces that I had known since childhood, mothers and fathers of the friends that I’d grown up with, pillars of the local community, were finally turning around and telling every gay kid in the village or town what they really thought of us. I felt heart shot. I literally could not speak. You’ll probably say I’m being emotional. Well, you have no idea.
On the day 734,300 voted No. That means that 734,300 people had to take the trouble to get up, take a bus, drive a car, or just walk to a polling station somewhere expressly for the purpose of preventing their gay friends and family members from enjoying the rights they took for granted themselves.
It was extraordinary to me that 734,300 people thought that was a good use of their time.
In the weeks before the vote each time I opened my Twitter account I’d read a deeply touching message of support from a friend usually followed by some biblical condemnation from an anonymous account.
Most of the No voters that contacted me never revealed their true identities, hiding behind their anonymous accounts. But that anonymity unfettered their id’s. The contempt they expressed was so intense that I was sometimes worried to share the public streets with them.
In the end the votes were there and the day was carried. Later on the streets in Dublin I witnessed the biggest public display of unbridled emotion (not related to a sporting event) that I’ve ever seen.
It was mass elation really, from both the young and the old. People could feel that something beautiful had happened, something transformative and entirely good. No wonder they cheered. How many days are like that?
Later I saw young people spill out of gay bars wrapped in rainbow flags and then walk confidently into gritty working class Dublin pubs where they were reached out to and glad handed like a winning Irish football team.
They say that you don’t feel the weight of oppression until it’s finally lifted. They’re right about that. On that day the whole of Ireland seemed to float.