You know your country is doing it right when you’ve pissed off the Westboro Baptist Church as a nation. Yeah, we did that yesterday.
Volunteers around the country began to count those votes taken on Friday for the two referendums to change our Constitution as we know it. One was to do with changing the age you must be to become eligible to run for the office of president of Ireland (it did not pass by a large majority). The other was just a bit more publicised, just a bit more important to the population as a whole. It was to decide as to whether or not to allow LGBT citizens of Ireland to marry and to have their marriages recognised in law, affording them all of the rights and responsibilities that come along with civil marriage.
It’s been a tense few weeks. Both sides put up one hell of a fight, that much is for certain – whatever I can say about the No side, and I’ve certainly had my opinions, they weren’t backing down. There has been a large amount of nastiness, stress and abuse, along with frustrations building at the ever-present “balance” arguments censoring real opinion in the broadcast media, in particular with our National Broadcaster. This moment on The Saturday Night Show (to be fair, the same show which started Panti-gate and got RTE sued for defamation) goes to show just how much censorship in the name of balance was carried out.
However, today has been the start of a new era in Ireland. Bubbling with positivity fuelled largely by the strength of the #hometovote campaign and a huge turnout of all ages, from the initial moments of the tallying this morning it became apparent that all of the stress, turmoil and hard work of the last few weeks and months has all been worth it. The words “Landslide” and “Overwhelming” were put in front of a victory for the yes side – even without exact figures. With BAI regulations loosened from 10pm Friday night at the close of polls, media representatives on tv and radio had lost their sense of balance and reluctance to express own opinions – the joy in their voices during all of the conversations was clear to be heard. The No side conceded quite early on as it became apparent that it was likely to be a two thirds majority voting to allow same-sex civil marriage in Ireland. While the result was not made official until after 6pm, most of the day was spent absorbing Ireland’s new positivity. For one day we were not a country in recession with awful things going on – everyone was smiling, everyone was welcoming this new stage of our country’s history.
I am so grateful to live in a country where the majority of its citizens believe, as I do, that regardless of your gender or sexual orientation, you should be allowed to have your love and your relationship recognised by laws and protected by them the same as everybody else. For too long, our country was under the strict thumb of Catholicism and church rule, but today we showed that we are indeed the secular society we claim to be and we are not under the control of any religion in our legislation. (Unless you’re a woman. But that’s an argument for another day).
On Friday, I brought my son to vote with me. At just shy of 14 months old, he hadn’t a clue what was going on, but I made my vote count for both him and me. I hoped that I would never have to explain to him why our family friends, wonderful same sex couples, can’t get married. I hoped I would never have to explain the archaic legislation of our country to him. I prayed I never had to have a child grow up feeling that he was any lesser of a human being based on his sexual orientation. I will be glad to tell him that he was there, that we both went to help change our society together.
While it would be naive to say that this has fixed our society of all prejudice, this move has made a massive, glow in the dark, shout-it-from-the-rooftops sign and aimed it at the LGBT population of Ireland and that of the world as a whole: Here, you are no different. Here, you are just a human being who loves, cares and is loved and cared for. Just like everybody else. It’s also likely done a major favour to the economy; in particular hospitality services. Hello weddings – the amount of proposals so far alone, including the rather lovely one from Katherine Zappone to her (Canadian-wed) wife asking her to re-marry her in Ireland.
It has been an important day. I am so proud that our country stood up and took action when it really counted. Less than 25 years after the decriminalisation of homosexuality, an astounding 62% of voters (with a 60.52% turnout) voted to legalise civil marriage between same-sex couples. Just one constituency out of 43 had a No Majority – absolutely amazing. Through all of the muddying of the waters with talk of children, surrogacy and even at its worst incest, the people of Ireland did their own research and discovered that it was just about not discriminating against someone for love – and showed it in the polls.
Ireland has matured, and we are all the better for it. The work of what can only be described as an army of volunteers was tireless, intense and deserving of only the highest of praise. Hopefully, to those who still feel that they are unable to publicly be who they are and love who they love, this will send a message saying “You matter. You are one of us. It’s okay to be you”.
And now, all thats left to do is plan the many outfits and hats to be worn to these wonderful weddings which are now possible. Pinterest, here I come.
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