With just weeks to go before Ireland's historic same sex marriage referendum, Irish people living in New York City who support a Yes vote held a photo rally in front of Manhattan's Freedom Tower on Thursday evening.
Holding up a banner that read: “Make Us Proud, Make History, Vote Yes For Equality,” the rally was called by Quentin Fottrell, the Dublin-born Irish writer, Sinead Andrews, the Public Partnership Manager at UNICEF and Aisling Reidy, the Senior Legal Advisor at Human Rights Watch.
“The closer we got to the marriage referendum the more powerless we felt because we were so far away,” Fottrell told IrishCentral. “Like the rest of the organizers I am not on the register in Ireland now because I live in the US, so I am not allowed to vote. The New York Irish may not have a vote but we do have a voice, so I got together with my friends Sinead Andrews and Aisling Reidy to arrange a group photo to show our support.”
Irish expats currently living Australia gave them the idea, Fottrell explains. Initially the New York organizers - about an equal mix of both gay and straight Yes campaigners - thought of using the Statue of Liberty as the background for their photo until they visited the Battery Park site and saw the new Freedom Tower. “It's the perfect spot for out message – which is that we are calling for the freedom to marry for Ireland's gay couples.”
Asked if he believes the Yes side will prevail in the May 22 referendum Fottrell said he believes they will: “I think the Yes side has been very organized and very clear that this is a civil rights issue. The No side have said the debate is about children, but the debate is also about the children of same sex couples who need protection under the Constitution. Gay children need to be permitted the expectation that they can get married in the future and that the country values them equally.”
Co-organizer Sinead Andrews told IrishCentral: "I just hope it's really clear to people who vote No that they're denying another human being of a very basic right. It's our individual duty to ensure the next generation is a healthy and happy society. By voting yes, you send a message to children that they are living in an equal society, a society free from discrimination. Please Vote Yes!"
Not content with simply sending symbolic support, many participants in Thursday’s photo call told IrishCentral they plan to return to Ireland to canvas for Yes votes in the days before voters go to the polls.
Irish community activist Brendan Fay, who also participated in the photo call, confirmed he and his husband Tom Moulton would also travel to Ireland to campaign for a Yes vote.
“There's great support in the Irish community in New York for marriage equality in Ireland,” Fay said. “It's urgent and important that we help pass this legislation in Ireland.”
Asked if he thought the referendum would pass he added: “I am very hopeful. All my family in Ireland, many of whom who usually don't vote in elections, have all been calling each other and plan to come out and vote yes. Tom and I are traveling to Ireland tomorrow and we plan to campaign until the day of the referendum. This is so important. As a gay man and an Irish man I know that this will change people's lives for the better.”
Irish novelist Belinda McKeon also added her support to the Yes campaign, telling IrishCentral: "These are tough months for LGBTQ people at home, especially young people, who are hearing their very right to love and to be happy debated in the media. But all of us are on your side.”
A quarter of a million Irish citizens have emigrated since 2008. 70% of them are in their 20's.