In the run-up to Ireland’s Marriage Equality referendum on May 22nd, I’ve invited a series of guest posters– people from Ireland or who live here, of many different backgrounds and orientations- to share their thoughts on the referendum, the campaign, and what it means to them. Contributions to Guest Posts for Equality are welcome- drop me a message.
William Quill is a political nerd who finally got around to start studying law last year. In 2011, while on the executive of Young Fine Gael, he led the campaign to get the youth wing of the party to support equal marriage, before helping to set up Fine Gael LGBT in 2012. He occasionally blogs, often tweets, but spends most time online on Facebook.
This is the sixth referendum campaign I’ve taken part in. I’ve also been to the count centre after every general and local election since 1997. I was emotionally invested in the result on each occasion. I have both great and difficult memories from those count days. Yet I will watch the results come in on Saturday with more trepidation than ever before. This isn’t normal politics, whether in the distribution of resources, or arrangements of political structures. This referendum is about me, and others like me, a political decision on our lives and relationships, and our place in Irish society.
It is the natural step in the decline of animosity and the growth of empathy towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Ireland and elsewhere, that we would have the same opportunity to marry as anyone else. Slowly at first, and then in rapid succession, other countries and territories have come to view the limitation of marriage to heterosexual couples as an unjust exclusion, and changed their laws to reflect this new insight and understanding.
We have seen since the beginning of this year in particular what a Yes vote would mean to so many people, what a difference it would make. Those who were quiet for decades about this part of their lives, silent even to themselves, who felt compelled to speak out. And felt so much better for it. And we can think of young people, beginning to realise their difference from their peers, how wonderful the effect of a Yes vote would be for them, how devastating the effect of a No vote.
Being gay is not a small part of who I am. It doesn’t feel right to say that I just happen to be gay. It is not an incidental feature like height or hair colour, but a distinguishing feature of one of the relationships most important to me. From when I properly realised that future romantic relationships would most likely be with other men, it was something I could not but see as an important part of who I am. Indeed, it was before then, though I did not yet fully realise it. It is important because of where we now stand in society. A successful result will allow us each to determine its significance for ourselves. I look forward to the idea that my romantic life will no longer be a political issue.
This isn’t about any need for validation, but a commitment that society should treat us all with equal concern and respect, and that where the state is involved in our lives, our laws should recognise our equal dignity. With civil partnership and family law reform in place, to withhold marriage is such an arbitrary and needless act of discrimination.
When I attended a wedding service of two friends of mine earlier this year, something that stood out is our part in that. Not only did they commit to each other, for better, for worse, but we, the community of friends and family gathered there, also pledged to stand by them. The vote this Friday is that moment writ large. It is a chance to say clearly that when two people choose to make this commitment, we will stand by them, and hold their relationship as something to value.
So vote Yes. Be part of what should be a great moment for so many of us. Plan your trip to the polling station on Friday, and make sure others you know have done the same. Every vote will send a message, and every Yes vote will help secure a more equal Ireland.