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62% What we did and why

By Grainne Healy

On May 22nd when the Irish people voted an overwhelming 62% Yes to marriage equality for LGBT citizens they gave an emphatic ‘Yes’ to equality. Ireland now joins 20 other countries where marriage equality has been introduced and is the first to do so by popular vote.

This referendum was all about belonging – Irish lesbian and gay citizens had to ask the Irish people if they too can belong to Ireland and belong in Ireland. In their deep generosity the Irish people have said ‘Yes’, yes, we belong.

The result of 62% Yes means that, having been branded and isolated for decades, all lesbian and gay persons knows now that they too belong in Ireland, as full, equal citizens.

To the Irish people who voted Yes, including readers of Village Magazine, you have done something that should make you forever proud. Do not forget that moment, that moment when you were at your best self, when you chose to make a mark for an Ireland that could be a better and fairer place.

For those who did not vote with us, I hope that as lesbian and gay couples marry, you will see that we seek only to add to the happiness and the security of the diverse national family.

That over 1.2 million people voted for equality tells a lot about Irish people. For some years now there has been a narrative that Irish people are tired of equality – tired of conversations about those who are not treated equally by society. What this huge vote tells us is that this simply is not true. It tells us that Irish people care deeply about equality. They care deeply about the lives lived by minority groups and have shown the world this in voting so loudly for marriage equality for same-sex couples.

The campaign for civil marriage equality – Yes Equality was a coming together of ICCL, GLEN and Marriage Equality. For about 100 days Brian Sheehan of GLEN and myself took on the roles of Co-Directors of the Yes Equality campaign. At the campaign launch I spoke of the campaign as a people’s campaign – a call coming strongly from the people at the Constitutional Convention in 2013 when 79% called for the Government to hold a referendum to allow for marriage equality. And then going back to the people in the referendum.  It was also a people’s campaign as it sought to mobilise civil society to lead that campaign, unlike previous referendum campaigns led largely by political parties or politicians.

The mobilisation of civil society has been inspiring – volunteers travelled around Ireland on the Yes Bus – 11,000 kilometres, stopping at 80 locations across 26 counties in 29 days.   Each stop was a support to the 60 local Yes Equality teams who were working away canvassing and having conversations, each stop was an opportunity to see the Yes Equality campaign in action in local communities across Ireland, each stop was a further request to Ireland to just say Yes!

There are other statistics which convey the scale and the output of the campaign by staff and volunteers and by Irish civil society – the Facebook page was viewed 2,000 times a day throughout the campaign; Yes Equality Twitter had 5.7 million impressions in the final month of the campaign and #MarRef had a reach of 11.1. And then there was the Yes Equality shop! The shop team began their work because the postal system would not allow them to get materials to supporters fast enough. The team in Yes Equality in St Stephen’s Green shopping centre made a huge contribution to the campaign. Financially, no doubt, but also as a space for information for citizens, for campaign materials – some of the statistics tell the scale of the success: 6,300 t-shirts, 800 hi viz vests, 2,300 tote bags and 500,000+ Tá and Yes badges. The iconic badges will be the cherished object of the campaign in years to come,  and they tell just some of the story of the efforts and supports of Irish people mobilising for equality.

Has Ireland been changed by the campaign for civil marriage equality Yes Equality? I believe it has.

I believe it leaves a model of civil society mobilisation that can be replicated and shows that contrary to the anti-equality narratives which were around in recent times – equality is alive and well and lives in the hearts and minds of Irish people. •