Start spreading the news, I’m off to New York for a little jaunt in a week or so. It’s my first time there and I am weak at the thought of it. I’m a substantial lover of Irish history, not an expert now mind you, expert would suggest I could discuss it after 4 sherries at a dinner party, when all I’d do in reality is sing Raglan Road and fall asleep under a coffee table, but I love reading about it and carry it dear to my heart as an expat abroad.
I was booking some New York stuff this week, and realised that on the 22nd of May, I’ll be taking a tour of an old tenement that housed immigrants from all over the world, but this particular tour explores the world of Irish immigrants to New York and is called “Irish Outsiders”, referencing the fact that the Irish were outsiders in the US even amongst other immigrant communities.
The 22nd of May also happens to be the date of the referendum concerning the 34th Amendment to the Irish Constitution, also known as the Marriage Equality Referendum. As the name suggests, this is a chance for Ireland to state whether are not it fully accepts its gay brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, mammies, daddies and everyone else as an equal citizen in the eyes of the constitution. It will be a day that many of my friends and family go to vote, and I’ll watch from NY with crossed fingers and a wish on my lips that a Yes vote comes through (I cannot vote as an irish expat of over 3 years.)
I started having a little think about what would happen if the No vote does win out. What will it be like to be an LGBT person in Ireland, knowing that a majority has voted against you? This is not just a vote on marriage, it is a vote on whether Ireland is ok with LGBT people being deemed equal to those who identify differently to them. It’s about acceptance and fairness. You don’t have to even be ok with homosexuality, nobody will ask you to be the Grand Marshal in next year’s Pride Parade, you just have to say Yes to agreeing that nobody on this island is worth less than anybody else.
Haven’t we had enough Irish Outsiders? Whether or not people realize it, a No vote in this referendum will turn LGBT people into outsiders in their own communities. We hear stories all too often of people who felt they had to move away to come out and realize their sexuality. How wonderful it would be for Ireland to establish itself as a country where all of its citizens had the potential to be as comfortable and open as possible in their own skin.
I don’t have any more words to explain it any better, so I asked a few lovely people to tell me their own thoughts on what a No vote would mean for their relationship with Ireland. I’ll leave it to them:
Eimear: “if the No Vote goes ahead I will leave Ireland permanently. I always thought that if I ever had a family of my own I would stay in Ireland as I’m very passionate about my heritage but if No wins, I’ll cut all ties. I would have to for my own self respect and the rights of my (hopefully) future family. It’s been very difficult to listen to people talk about “people like me” like we’re a circus freak show and if the majority of the country feels that way I wouldn’t be able to bear living here. I’d be very much lying if I didn’t tell you that being gay in England made me feel normal and that’s a massive pull, as opposed to here where its still ‘not the normal thing'”
Senan: “I think what worries me most is that there are a lot of people who don’t think that this affects them. I overheard a woman I work with today saying she didn’t mind which side won as it didn’t really effect her. She’s in her 20s, I know she has gay friends and she knows I am a gay colleague so I was surprised that she didn’t connect the impact of this referendum with people she knows. I find it hard to visualise an Ireland after a No vote. I try to think that I would carry on as normal but I know in my heart that it would hurt and I would find it very hard to feel the same about Ireland. I love Ireland and I don’t want Ireland to decide it doesn’t love me. I don’t know if I would leave but it would definitely push me in that direction and make it a lot easier to not look back. I have never felt different to my straight friends and colleagues before to a major extent but if the No side wins I feel the Ireland will have branded me as different and less than them.”
Aoife: “I absolutely visualise my future differently should a No vote happen in the referendum. It is honestly unbearable a thought. It will be a hammering blow to people if it is No, and it will have much broader consequences than halting the campaign for marriage equality.
If the country votes no, it will first and foremost be a horrible message to LGBT people and their families that their fellow citizens do not view them as equal, or view their relationships as equal, or view their families as equal. This is an awful message to have reinforced. Behind these debates about marriage are real people, living their lives, having families, and trying to get by. A no vote will tell all those people that their relationships and their families are just not as good as their heterosexual counterparts, and they will be getting a strong message that their families do not deserve constitutional protection.”
I am currently in a little family of two with the most wonderful partner in the whole world. We cannot wait to have children, and to have our little family grow, and this is something that is incredibly important to us both. We were both relieved when the Children and Families Relationship Act passed because we now know that when our children are born we will both be recognised as their parents. This is good for them, and it is good for us. No longer will our children be denied the security of a legal relationship to their non-biological parent. These children have been denied this for so long. Our children will have two loving parents, who jumped through hoops and went through physical, financial and emotional hardships to bring them into the world. And they will be so loved. And now the law will recognise those bonds, and will protect the children’s rights to us both.
Despite this, if the referendum fails, our family will not be afforded the constitutional protection afforded to ‘The Family’ in Ireland. Families outside of marriage are simply not recognised as a family under Irish law. The constitutional family excludes us. It excludes us because it is based on marriage, and it excludes us because it is for heterosexual couples and any children they chose to have.
Our family will always be ‘less than’ if this fails.
Of course this will impact on the future we see here in Ireland. My family deserve better than this, our children deserve better than this. It upsets me so much to think they would grow up in a country where they were not seen as equal and where their family was seen as ‘less’.
We have spoken already about what we will do if this fails. I can’t see my future in Ireland if it is a No.”