For the past eighteen months, gay marriage, same sex marriage and marriage equality has been on the radar of the Irish people. The campaign has only intensified in the past number of months, leading up to polling day: 22nd of May. Today 3.3 million registered voters (yes, you have to register to vote here!) are eligible to vote in a referendum that many have described as one to "define a generation”. Traditionally a deeply conservative and Catholic country in which homosexuality was only decriminalised in 1993, and divorce only legalised in 1995, Ireland is now facing the very real prospect of becoming the first country in the world to legalise same sex marriage by a vote of the people.
So, why is such a vote necessary? Why has the parliament not legislated and done the simple thing? The Irish Constitution gives special protection to marriage, and the highest court in the land, The Supreme Court, has ruled on a number of occasions that marriage is defined within the Constitution as between a man and a woman. To change the constitution, a referendum must take place. Today, the exact wording we are being asked to vote upon is "Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”
The campaign has been turbulent. As was always presumed, this campaign would bring out strong feelings on both sides, from many unexpected sources. In Parliament, every political party is supporting the referendum, with just a handful of independent MPs opposing. The Catholic Church has, as expected, been a vocal campaigner on the no side. But what is most surprising is the passion and enthusiasm from the youth, from the so-called "lost generation” who, it been presumed for many years now, don’t care about politics and are entirely apathetic. Friends of mine who have never cared about politics are suddenly out on the street campaigning, and filling up their newsfeeds with pleas to vote yes. And be very clear, the vast majority of youth are voting yes. Our Prime Minister, Enda Kenny, a 60 year old man from the most rural area of the country on the west coast, has been a staunch supporter of the yes side, even making an appearance in a gay bar in Dublin at Christmas to participate in the Christmas party of the LGBT branch of our party. It is clear that no matter what the result is, this is a referendum that has inspired a generation.
Last night, I sat on a completely full Ryanair flight from Brussels, home to Dublin ready to vote today. When I arrived in Dublin airport last night, my two sisters drove me home to my parent’s house where they welcomed me with hugs. My sisters chatted the whole way home about how their friends were voting and how they think it will pass. When I got home I told my dad that if he was thinking about voting no, he couldn’t be in our family photo after voting. As I went to bed, I thought about what is essentially a typical family evening, spent making fun of each other. Today, I will vote for everyone’s right to that family. And I couldn’t be prouder of my small nation, as we hopefully achieve this all-important equality.
Member of Young Fine Gael (Ireland)