Marriage Equality One Year On.
Twelve months have passed since Ireland voted to extend the right of civil marriage to same sex couples. One of the most fundamental expressions of love and loyalty between two people, Marriage, had up until then, been the preserve of opposite sex couples. One year on, civil marriages are becoming more and more common place, and religious marriages continue for opposite sex couples who chose to follow that path.
Polling day came and I, like all responsible, dutiful citizens went to the polling station to cast my vote. I went with my niece, who like many others was voting for the first time, having registered a few weeks previous. As we both placed our ballots in the box, I felt for the first time since the 2002 general election, that I was making a difference that my vote was actually going to affect change.
It did affect change, because on the 22 of May 2015 to a thronged Dublin Castle, the Returning Officer announced that 1,201,607 had voted Yes. The referendum was passed, the crowds erupted with elation. Tears of joy were shed, hugs and kisses were plentiful and the jubilant crowd created the greatest street party Dublin had ever witnessed – and what a party it was.
To get to this point, the LGBT community had to fight a long and difficult battle, ever since brave people like David Norris dared to call for Gay rights and former Presidents Mary Robinson and Mary MacAleese took on the role as legal counsel to the Gay Rights movement. The state had to be brought to the European Court of Human Rights where it was forced to decriminalise homosexuality, something that did not happen until the Labour Party were in government some 5 years later.
Many may think that this battle is now over and that LGBT people are as equal as straight people, it is not over by a long shot. LGBT people in Ireland still face discrimination on a daily basis, in giving blood donations, in employment, in bars and restaurants etc. Only recently did then Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan, remove the rule that prevented openly LGBT people from being teachers. The wall is being dismantled, but one brick at a time.
Ireland has changed fundamentally in the past 12 months. It is now common place to see LGBT couples holding hands on our streets, but perhaps only in major urban areas. Most importantly, the LGBT community approached life and society with a renewed sense of vigour, strength and confidence.
One year on, constitution amended, legislation passed and more importantly same sex couples have been married. Not surprisingly the sky has not fallen down, civil society has not disintegrated and society is all the better for it.
Even though the past is very hard to forget and our own experiences of growing up LGBT are eternally embedded in our memories, for good or bad, the future is bright. Irish children are now growing up in a society that is increasingly more tolerant. LGBT children feel a sense of acceptance in society and thankfully the numbers of those finding the courage to come out to their families and friends has increased. The fear and shame imposed upon them has abated. There is a feeling of love out there.
I am reminded of what Panti Bliss said in her speech on the announcement of the Yes result.
“In a way it’s like we asked the whole country to marry us; and they said yes!”
With that in mind I think it is appropriate to say thank you to everybody who voted in favour of equality on that day, thank you for giving us the opportunity to marry the ones we love, thank you for telling us how much you love us as you do all of your children.
John F Kennedy once said “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them”.
Interpret this as you will, but get booking your venue, because I think it is going to be a busy year for weddings.