Today was my first vote as an Irish citizen in a national referendum. A historical vote not just for me personally, but for the country, and as Ireland is the first nation to put marriage equality to popular vote, a globally significant one. Now I’m sitting on tenterhooks awaiting the results. People’s fundamental rights should not be left to popular vote, but it’s necessary to change the wording of the Irish constitution to institute marriage equality and a constitutional amendment requires a referendum. So, a vote it is.
I went to the polls about half an hour after they opened, and saw several of my neighbors. It was quick, no queues, but I noticed it as lot busier than it was during the more recent local and European elections.
Here’s the wording of the amendment:
‘Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law
by two persons without distinction as to their sex’
That wording, by the way, was not on the ballot. The ballot was horribly designed and it took me a couple minutes even to figure out which of the two pieces of paper was for the Marriage Equality amendment and which was for the amendment to lower the age of eligibility to run for President.
I’m going to repeat a few comments I put in kcunning’s post here, so some of this may look familiar. The “YES” campaign has mostly focused on the clear slogan “Vote Yes for Equality”, while the “NO” campaign has mostly failed to come up with logical arguments against the amendment itself, muddying the waters not just with religious pronouncements on changing “the definition of marriage” being an attack on religious beliefs, but trying to make the referendum about adoption (adoption equality is already legally instated thanks to a recent act), surrogacy and artificial insemination (still a legal mess but unrelated to this referendum and mostly affects heterosexual couples anyway), personal fears (many prejudiced), “the right of a child to have a mother and a father” (offending many single parents and children of single parents
It got personal and ugly though. Many people arguing for equality didn’t keep on the high road, and there are fears that some people on the fence have not only been confused about what the vote is about but may have moved to the NO side because they felt personally attacked. So, despite amazing public support for equality, support from all the political parties, and a complete failure of the No campaign to come up with a relevant legal reason to vote no, one doesn’t feel safe predicting a sure outcome.
A lot of young Irish citizens that have been living abroad (many of whom emigrated to find jobs thanks to the recession) are coming #hometovote for equality. This is not at all to say that the elderly are all prejudiced, nor that the “traditional Catholic values” more present in older generations than younger are necessarily homophobic.
Ireland has gone through immense change in the past 30 or so years, but I was reminded recently of a very strong traditional “live and let live” strain in Irish culture that included a sort of honest acceptance of many LGBT people in parallel with prejudice and harsh official line against acceptance. Despite the fact that homosexuality was only decriminalized in 1993, place names actually reflect this. Bachelor’s Walk, on the Liffey river right by O’Connell Bridge is so named because it was a known pick-up spot for gay men. One of the great cultural institutions in Dublin is the Gate Theatre. Its founders, Micheál MacLiammóir and Hilton Edwards, were pretty well known to be lovers. One of MacLiammóir’s most famous performances himself was a one man play, The Importance of Being Oscar. (And considering not only MacLiammóir’s flamboyance but also the fact that he was an Englishman with a bit of an obsession with Celticism as well as with Oscar Wilde, Dubliners’ embracing him as one of the city’s characters was multi-faceted acceptance.)
Despite a Constitution and law largely determined by the influence of the Catholic Church, despite the cultural hold that still often has over the country, despite the fact that it was only 33 years ago that Declan Flynn was beaten to death in Fairview Park and the judge said that, “this could never be regarded as murder” while letting the five murderers walk free, many people are voting from the pragmatic perspective that they don’t think their son, daughter, niece, or nephew, whether hypothetical or real, should be denied a chance at happiness because of their sexuality. A friend who knew her mother didn’t fully accept her sexuality and had spent years coming to terms with the fact that her mum was still prejudiced against her was brought to tears recently when she found out that her mum is unequivocally voting YES.
So, despite weeks of hearing arguments that offend not only my morals and sense of justice but also my logic, despite the fact that recent polls have looked far closer than comfortable, I’m hopeful.