Marriage equality has improved so many of our lives – five years on from Ireland’s historic referendum

An activist remembers the years it took to fight tooth and nail for equal marriage and the impact of that result on the years that followed.

A smiling woman in the middle of a celebratory crowd

Five years on from the historic Marriage Equality referendum, activist Rachel Mathews McKay reflects on the journey both before and after.

The Irish civil marriage equality journey will be forever etched into my psyche and, quite literally, my body – just weeks after the referendum I treated myself to a ‘forever’ memento and tattooed the ‘equal symbol’ onto my inner left wrist.

Seen at an angle, the tattoo also marks the 11 years I dedicated to the cause; over a decade and from a plethora of platforms supporting, working, lobbying, networking, fundraising and doggedly persevering for the right to access civil marriage equality.

My journey began back in 2004 with the call for action and support from Katherine Zappone and Ann Louise Gilligan ahead of their landmark court case. I was Co-Chair of Labour LGBT, working alongside some equally passionate human rights activists and the KAL case argument felt like an obvious and good fight to pick.

Little did any of us know just how much of an uphill struggle and lesson in resilience it would be; incremental change is not for the faint hearted. But then all historical battles are tainted with blood, sweat, sacrifice and tears.

Friendships, families, allies, bonds, lifelong values and sacred ideologies can and were turned inside out and upside down. I’m far from alone in saying that thinking back over the years, for the majority of people – memories of those crucial months of 2015 can spark and trigger both joy and trauma. Some of my most painful disappointments in life and some of my ultimately, greatest life achievements are wrapped up in the years it took to fight tooth and nail for the #FreedomToChoose!

I’d like to pay special tribute to my nearest and dearests, to KAL, Ivana Bacik, GCN, Dundalk Outcomers, Running Amach, CVEN, LGBT Noise, my Trade Union comrades, my TCD colleagues, NXF, Gloria LGBT+ Choir, Panti and the WHOLE Yes Equality Family!

Thank goodness we did it – and right across the world and up and down the island we can take pride in knowing that we did it together!

Five years after marriage equality – remember to share your own #MarRefMemories on social media and tune in to GCN’s YouTube page this Saturday May 23 for Mar Ref – 5 Years On. You can support GCN by texting “GCN” to 50300 to donate €4 or by visiting our support page here. Text costs €4. GCN will receive a minimum of €3.25 per text. Service Provider: LIKECHARITY. Helpline: 076 6805278.

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