The Story Of Ireland's Marriage Referendum Is One Of Hope

Gay Marriage Ireland

The professionalisation of Ireland’s LGBT lobby is a story of hope that can inspire disenfranchised communities globally, says Brian Finnegan.


As we come towards the end of a momentous year for the LGBT community in Ireland, it’s been a month of recounting the events and campaigns that led up to the marriage referendum, and the victory of the Yes side.

We’ve had Conor Horgan’s film, The Queen of Ireland, which explores Panti role as a figurehead of LGBT Ireland during the referendum. We’ve had the publication of Ireland Says Yes, a book from Yes Equality’s Gráinne Healy, Brian Sheehan and Noel Whelan, charting the game-changing national campaign they led. We’ve had journalist, Anna Carey’s eBook BeLonG To Yes: Voices From The Marriage Equality Campaign, telling the story of the the BeLonG To Yes referendum campaign. And we’ve seen Dr. Lydia Foy honoured at the European Parliament for her 18-year battle that saw gender recognition legislation finally introduced in Ireland this summer.

At The Heart of the Marriage Debate

The same-sex marriage movement didn’t just begin in the months leading up to the referendum; it took root just after homosexuality was decriminalised in Ireland 22 years ago. Gráinne Healy appeared for the very first time on the cover of GCN, The Outmost’s sister publication, in 1993, declaring that our community’s next big fight would be for gay marriage. Since then, GCN has been at the heart of the marriage debate within the LGBT community, while educating the wider community and media about the issues involved. Its role, under is various editors since that memorable cover, is not to be underestimated.

Back in 1993 no one could have imagined an Ireland in which gay men and lesbians would have their relationships constitutionally recognised as equal, and while the issue was hardly on the community radar, it appeared in GCN with increasing frequency as the decade progressed. By 2003, when I took the helm, the marriage equality issue was a constant feature. Over the subsequent years our cover featured Katherine Zappone and Ann Louise Gilligan’s legal battle, which began the fight for marriage in earnest, as it did the setting up of Marriage Equality, with its single agenda to win equal same-sex marriage in Ireland. GCN has featured GLEN’s role in achieving civil partnership as a stepping-stone to marriage, and the work done by LGBT Noise in politicising and rallying a previously apathetic gay community, which was instrumental in our referendum win.

Over the years, these pages have played host to a wide and diverse range of opinions, from people within the LGBT community and without, about how and why marriage equality should be won, the inter-community issues that arose, and the various strategies involved in achieving a win. Voices from the transgender community have laid the issues bare too.

Organisations like GLEN, Marriage Equality, LGBT Noise, TENI and BeLonG To, have relied on GCN’s key placement within Ireland’s LGBT community to spread their messages.

The LGBT Lobby

Whatever the stories about the involvement in achieving full equality for LGBTs under Irish law, one thing is certain, this country and others can learn a lot from the mobilisation of our LGBT community. Often in the media we hear anti-LGBT pundits use the phrase ‘the gay lobby’, with distaste. But lobbying is the way politics works. People and organisations lobby politicians, politicians lobby each other, and slowly legislative change takes place.

Back before the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland, the then Minister for Justice, Máire Geoghegan Quinn met with the mother of a young gay man, and the story she was told determined the course she took in introducing legislation. In the years before same-sex marriage was debated at the Convention on the Convention, Marriage Equality ran their ‘Out To Your TD’ campaign, which encouraged ordinary Irish citizens to lobby their political representatives. Meanwhile, GLEN and Marriage Equality were lobbying politicians at a higher level. Essentially every canvasser on a doorstep last May was a lobbyist, moving the populace towards voting for legislative change. TENI lobbied heavily over the past few years for gender recognition legislation, and it paid off.

What’s clear from all of the stories of how marriage equality and gender recognition were achieved is that Irish LGBT organisations have become an incredibly professionalised lobby. Much of this came from looking further afield to ascertain the direction we needed to be headed in. Now, LGBT activists across the world are looking to Ireland

Crucial Emotional Element

The key word for those people looking on, to my mind, is ‘hope’. In the month leading up to the referendum, even though we had to face a lot of overt and covert homophobia, the crucial emotional element of the Yes campaigns was hope. The very word ‘Yes’, with its forthright positivity, was central to the hope that washed over Ireland as we got ready to vote. And in the end it was more than just a referendum about marriage equality, it was a referendum about the hope of a country that had just been put through the financial mill and wanted to come out the other side. It was about the hope of a country that wanted to leave the injustice and darkness of its Catholic past behind.

The movement towards LGBT rights is about hope, no matter where in the world it’s happening, because it’s about a historically and systematically disenfranchised minority standing up and saying, ‘No more’. On May 22, when the vast majority of Irish people voted for same-sex marriage, this country gave disenfranchised minorities across the world hope. It is my hope that the stories of what we achieved, and how we achieved it, will help bring the world further towards the light, despite the darkness many are surrounded by.

© 2015 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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