In less than 24 hours Ireland will go to the polls for one of the most important votes in the country’s history and I’m completely and utterly terrified.
It’s widely known that the Marriage Equality Referendum will ask the people to decide if same-sex marriage should be given the same legal recognition as heterosexual marriage, and support for the Yes vote appears to be widespread.
And yet, if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the UK General Election it’s that opinion polls tell us nothing. Just this morning I spoke with my mother on the phone and despaired with her as she recounted a conversation she’d had with someone I’ve known my whole life.
- Person A: “Look at him over there, with his big YES in the window. Well I’ll be voting no anyway, and f*$k the lot of them.”
- Mum: “But sure if two gay people get married what difference does it really make to you in the morning?”
- Person A: “It’s the children I’m worried about. I’d be worried about the children.”
- Mum: “Voting yes doesn’t mean the gay people are going to come out and snatch the children…”
- Person A: “And that Mary McAleese, what business has she got getting involved with it?”
- Mum: “I think her son is gay.”
- Person A: “Well I’m voting no anyway, if they want marriage they can go and set up a church for themselves. And they saying they’re BORN gay…”
In the midst of debate between those at the polar ends of the spectrum, the indoctrination of the middle masses has silently gone unnoticed by many.
Person A isn’t a bad person, they’re a person who doesn’t have access to information, to resources, or to anything other than the limited TV and radio debates during which the factual inaccuracy of the campaigns goes unquestioned.
When Barnardos, The ISPCC and the Referendum Commission among others are telling you that a Yes vote will NOT be harmful for children you have to wonder why on earth so many people still believe it will.
And when the Referendum Commission clearly states that this is NOT about religious marriage, you have to wonder why people cannot simply let the concept of a ‘gay church wedding’ go and just allow two people who love each other to have the same civil ceremony that any heterosexual couple is entitled to.
I’ve watched events unfold from a bedroom in South West London, despairing at the idea that I can’t come home to join the queue for the ballot box. If there’s one thing I’ve realised whilst feeling physically ill watching the coverage it’s that this battle is far from won.
Last year, on International Day of the Girl Child, I wrote a letter to the daughter I might theoretically one day have, explaining why I wasn’t sure I’d want her to grow up in Ireland. Today it feels as though I’m writing to Ireland, to say that if this Referendum doesn’t pass I’m never coming back.
That’s not emotional blackmail, it’s fact. I watched an infuriating video in which a member of the No campaign essentially mocked a Yes campaigner who was attempting to have a respectful debate. I’m not going to continue without acknowledging that both sides are guilty of taking things too far with each other – during such a heated campaign everyone will cast stones.
And yet it was this particular exchange that stayed with me because the No campaigner said “and just five minutes in you’re saying I’m ruining your happiness” before suggesting the Yes campaign was emotionally blackmailing the population with sentiment and should be content with a civil partnership.
Here’s the thing though – that person IS ruining someone’s happiness. They’re telling them they shouldn’t be allowed to legally marry the person they love and have that love EQUALLY recognised in the eyes of the Irish State. It will make absolutely NO difference to the No campaigner’s everyday life but it will affect that young man who wants Ireland to accept him for who he is.
The sad fact is, nobody wants to be labelled a homophobe or be accused of discrimination, but that’s what is going on here. History has shown Ireland to be one of the most racist, xenophobic, homophobic countries in Europe and there is an ingrained intolerance that clearly displayed itself in the industrial schools and Magdalen Laundries.
Children, snatched from mothers who were deemed unsavoury by virtue of having had them out of wedlock, were shipped off and never allowed access to their true identity. Families, too scared to listen to anyone other than those in positions of power and authority, put their sons and daughters through hell.
Why, in 2015, can Ireland STILL not get its head around the idea that love is something to be celebrated, that same-sex couples are NOT freaks nor child grabbers, or that there’s a new generation who will not stand by and watch their friends, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers and loved ones be told they’re not equal by individuals who are quite simply afraid?
Ireland allowed her children to be sent to laundries, sanctioned the Church and State-sponsored separation of babies from their mothers, allowed cardinals to pay off children who’d been abused by priests, allowed injustice and inequality to be written off as cute whoorism and brown envelope pushing, and yet we might not allow two people to be LEGALLY recognised as husband and husband or wife and wife in the eyes of the law?
If Ireland votes no I won’t be coming back, because that’s certainly not the kind of country I could ever see myself theoretically raising a family in and it’s certainly not a place I’d be proud to call my home.