Ireland for the first time in my life, I feel genuinely optimistic and hopeful about my future. Yes it’s four days since the marriage referendum was won by a landslide (a landslide guys!), but something has changed, I can feel it and it feels awesome. And no this referendum has no affect on my life whatsoever, well, apart from quelling my dreams for running for the presidential office(I’ll just wait another ten years guys..thanks). This referendum has made a huge difference to my friends, neighbours, co-workers and students who are not only finally able to marry the person they love, but most importantly to finally feel a part of their home country. They feel equal.
How does one not get emotional about this? We made history. It’s cheesy but it’s so true. While the international media reflected Ireland in a wonderful light this weekend, the last three months have not been easy. While I’ve blogged and blogged and blogged about LGBT representation on television, lightly mentioning the topic of the same sex marriage referendum, throughout these posts I was trying to remain hopeful and optimistic, but believe me what I felt was the opposite. I was angry, very angry. I was angry that there was even a debate about this. I was angry I was forced to listen to, and see hurtful and offensive stances and views all in the spirit of “balance” and “good debate”. I was angry about how these views were scaring and confusing people. I was angry that there was a strong possibility that the No side of this campaign could convince those who were on the fence, and that in turn would deny my friends, co-workers and neighbours their basic human rights. So yah I was angry.
I had other reasons to be angry at my country too. I’m a part of the Celtic Tiger generation and it’s not a great one to be a part of. We grew up in the boom and were faced with the consequences of the bust. We have apathy for politics in general and were taught how to spend, spend, but probably not really how to save. We were told if we followed the line and got a good junior and leaving certificate results, go to college and then get a nice job, we’ll live happily ever after. But guess what, for a lot of us (cough me) that didn’t happen. A lot of my generation had to compromise their future by either leaving the country altogether or getting underpaid/not paid in a field they desperately loved(recession is over but jobs are still being advertised for this), or getting a good enough wage in something completely unrelated to what they’ve trained in. Or if they’re like me, spend more time unemployed(despite having a nice Junior, Leaving, BA and MA) than actually working in a nice, stable job. So yes now that I think about it, I was angry about this too. Sometimes it would seep out with friends and family, but most of the time I had to keep it in check, cause no one needs an unemployed downer at a party, or in life in general.
So when the government announced that they were enabling the Irish public to vote on something as important as whether or not that same sex marriage would be included in the Irish constitution, I got excited. I was convinced then(although a little naive) that it was going to pass. I was convinced for the 25 years that I’ve been around, that I finally would get to witness something momentous and special in my country. I mean I remember when Brian Cowen and Brian Lenihan interrupted my Xtra Factor viewing back in 2010 to announce the country was basically broke and we needed a bailout. I also remember the creation of NAMA and the IMF coming into town, the emergency general election, and most importantly how the country was just all over the place and for a wannabe 20-year-old journalist, the future seemed frightening and uncertain. But this was different, this was not politics, this was human rights and I knew if we really wanted to, we could create real change. But then March came around and well the No campaign upped their game and people started to have doubts(I sigh as I write this). The doubts were unfounded. My Yes bias is showing, but their concerns on surrogacy, adoption, basically that the dynamic of family and marriage would be changed as a result were just unnecessary. The thing is as much as these concerns raise so many more questions on itself, it had nothing to do with the referendum. There was a bill already passed into law that allowed protection for same sex couples in cases of adoption and as for surrogacy, it exists outside the law not just for gay and lesbian couples, but for heterosexual couples who cannot conceive a child naturally. But despite all of this, a lot of people seemed to want to believe the scaremongering, and that was more frightening in itself.
I think for me, I dismissed the No campaign, or really, underestimated it. But I remember on the 22nd of April walking down to my local shop for some milk, and being bombarded with hateful and scaremongering No campaign posters. I’m not exaggerating every step I took I was met with one scaremongering poster after another. I went from stages of shock, to upset that my Dublin hometown seemed to be the only place in Dublin surrounded by these cruel and hateful posters(don’t worry the whole city was covered by midnight) and then guess what, I got angry. I remember writing a status trying to keep my anger in check, but I was also scared, scared about what if the No side won. What then? Not only would Ireland be even more depressing place for me and my generation than it already was, it would truly leave those in the Irish LGBT community feeling rejected and isolated.
So is all of Ranleagh covered in No campaign posters or? I mean, I think I lost count of the amount of “Don’t redefine marriage, we already have civil partnership” campaign posters on a simple milk run to the shops (4 minute walk). My brain didn’t even bother processing the “surrogacy” stuff. So seriously if you haven’t organised postal voting or even registered yet..I mean you really need to..cause it looks like it going to be a tough month ahead.
The No campaign had the funding the Yes campaign did not. While all political parties backed a Yes vote and campaigned on it’s behalf, the Yes Equality campaign relied on public donations and social media. The No campaign were rumoured to get support elsewhere. These posters reflected a Ireland, I thought at least was long gone, because not only were they offensive to lesbian women, gay men, they were offensive to single parents, widowed parents, offensive to couples who can’t conceive naturally, offensive in general. But more and more people began to endorse the Yes campaign and it was beautiful. It was heart warming, to see my friends changing their Facebook and Twitter profile to those of supports from “straight up for equality” or to simply “Yes Equality”. The social media age is dismissed constantly by mainstream media, and while the mainstream channels here in Ireland were living in fear of “balance”. The social media age was screaming that we’ve had enough. We knew we wouldn’t win on likes alone and the Yes campaign became more inventive because of this. The ring your granny campaign was tear inducing as it was moving. Then there was the push, to get a new generation to register to vote, which was so successful there were queues outside the door at county council offices around the country. We knew this was important and we were taking action.
I tried to talk and sometimes it wasn’t easy, there were arguments and I lost my cool. But then I kept my cool for my friends who needed to vent about this too, reassuring them that we can’t “drag a horse to water and make them drink”, and we just have to stick by what we believe in, not keep silent, and keep on hoping that change will happen. I bought my Yes Equality badge and Ta Coimhneas badge and walked around the city centre, sometimes meeting fellow badgers and sometimes getting the odd few stares. In my home area (Galway East constituency) the Yes Campaign wasn’t as strong with their posters and badges, but when I went to Galway city itself, the yes badges came to the surface. But the closer the voting day came, the more intense things got. And while all the main political parties who usually oppose each other united to press their support for a more fairer and equal Ireland, the No campaign posters just became more blatant as they became more offensive. (“Two men can’t replace a mother’s love”? Sorry you can say all you want that you’re concerned about children, but what the gay, bisexual, lesbian teenagers who have to walk to school, and being forced to see blatant cruel posters like that? The children who haven’t even come out yet, and even more afraid to after being surrounded by so much hate. Afraid to be who they are, those posters are damaging and they’re cruel.)
Thanks to my awesome siblings, I managed to escape to Paris the week before the referendum and it was nice to walk around such a beautiful city and not to be faced by the daunting referendum and those posters. I returned from gorgeous sunny Paris, to a cloudy Ireland. Then something in me snapped on Monday(I was grumpy from lack of sleep with all the travelling) when I saw the No campaigning near my hometown in Galway with balloons, I felt I had to cover up my Yes Equality badge when going past them(ridiculous but the truth). Unfortunately two of my friends felt my grumpy wrath(Yes Voters btw), and while they were talking about the No campaigns stances, they were also getting confused and it was frustrating to listen to. But then I arrived in Dublin on Tuesday and something glorious happened. The moment I stepped into Hueston, I was hit with the realisation that this was my home. I was surrounded by so many Yes stickers, Yes t-shirts and badges, I genuinely had to hold back the tears on the Luas. It didn’t stop there, there were the mysterious Father Ted supportive drawings around Jervis and Four Courts and then the businesses with their beautiful inventive ways to motivate people to vote Yes. Then my usual walk from Abbey to Stephens Green, was the most buzzing walk I’ve ever experienced. (Also Ben and Jerrys were running a supportive campaign, to hand out with free ice creams in support of Yes Equality.)The vibe was supportive, beautiful and I was surrounded by the masses of Yes Equality. I was moved so much, that I had to write another cheesy status about it.
But in my mind, it was still too close to call. Dublin maybe was a clear Yes but what about the rest of the country. I didn’t buy the polls especially with how wrong they got the elections in England. There were many comparing this to the divorce referendum. It could be close, incredibly close. There was a divide for sure between Yes and No voters. Everyone was making it clear, it’s all well and good to show your support online but the only poll that matters was the one taking place on Friday. But I think everyone, underestimated just how far my generation were willing to go to make sure that Ireland was being brought forward in the right direction. And the #hometovote fecking proved that. I have never been so proud of my generation emigration, I am beaming again just thinking about those who travelled from all across the globe just to come to vote all too briefly for 24 hours. And not over a political issue or a national issue, but they did it because they simply wanted their family, friends and fellow citizens to be equal in their home country. They were proud to be Irish and they seriously showed it. For the first time since the campaigning got intense, I had a hope we could win this.
Then Friday came and I woke up at 6 in the morning, buzzing(it’s the only accurate word for this post) with the reality of what was happening that day. I got an earlier train back to my home constituency and the first thing my parents and I did was vote. I have always known my parents were supportive, but I was beaming at their defiant Yes’ votes, it was a given for both of them. When dad told me he voted Yes, I started bawling(don’t ask me why…) and he looked at me as if I were crazy with an of course he was voting yes and a “I believe that everybody should be treated the same.” (It reminded me of the last scene in the video below.) But they weren’t the only people moving me to tears, my friends made me so proud too. My sister made sure she could vote in her own constituency and she was no.99 out of all the voters so far, and that was just lunchtime. My friend told me she voted straight away that morning and that she convinced her parents to vote yes too. Another friend who is completely apathetic to politics and didn’t believe in elections, put that aside, registered and oh boy did she make sure she voted. Then there was my other friend who went home not only ensured her family voted for equality but convinced her workmates who were unsure, to vote yes too. They were concerned about the No side’s arguments and she convinced them with the simple argument “Just because someone’s gay, doesn’t mean they’re not human.” The day ended and we knew something had changed, nothing was for the certain but there was hope. It was announced it was the highest turnout since 1937, and that’s insane in itself. They asked us to speak through the ballot and spoke we did.
I thought there was a chance we may have won this, but that didn’t stop the nerves from creeping up on Saturday. So much I stopped myself from logging online, even listening to the radio because I was scared of what might occur. But little did I know history had already occurred, it was evident from the onset that Yes was going to win this out. As the day progressed the stronger the Yes outcome looked but not by inches(which many of us were just hoping for) but by miles. It was a defiant moving yes and I was moved to tears when my parents told me the outcome. While Galway West was a given, Galway East was close at times during the counting(I was not too surprised about this either), but then it won out by 53%. I got emotional, I got hopeful. That two places that are important to me in Ireland, my two homes were Yes votes. (Ranelagh highest yes vote in the country: 84%). Then there was the official announcement and that was that, Ireland said yes to equality. We said yes by 62%. Or as one awesome minister said “fuck yeah”.
I was beaming with pride and on the verge of tears at seeing how happy my parents were also at seeing the scenes that took place at Dublin Castle. We were happy to see so much joy, happiness, plenty of engagements, and seeing politicians united with drag queens and LGBT advocates. This was a day for the Yes campaign but also a day after so many years of oppression for the LGBT community. But also a day Ireland beamed with pride, of course #proudtobeIrish trended on Twitter.
So while this referendum has changed nothing for me, I do feel the country has changed for the better after Saturday. Internationally we’ve gotten such positive attention and have been titled as the Rainbow Republic, for a girl who grew in hardcore Catholic Ireland..that’s amazing. My friend pointed that a lot of people still said No though. That’s true, but I knew they were there the whole time during this campaign, and I stand by what I said that some people were scared and unsure, while others can’t simply be dragged to water. But the referendum was not about them. It’s about creating a more inclusive and fair Ireland, it was about those who are now finally able to marry who they love, not feel ashamed of who they are, feel safe publically displaying their love and most importantly for the generations of LGBT to come, to finally feel Irish and equal. I can speak for the majority of the country right now when I say, for the first time in a long time Ireland, I feel hopeful, optimistic and happy.