May 2015 was a rollercoaster ride. For the record, I had no apparent stake in the Marriage Equality Referendum. I’m not Irish, so I can’t vote in national/presidential elections, or in any referendum. Though I’ll happily engage in political discussions socially, I very rarely get actively involved in any campaigning. It’s the main reason that I’m considering applying for Irish citizenship. I’ve lived in and have fiercely loved this country for over twenty years but I don’t think it’s my place to tell its citizens how to vote. I’ve always cringed when blow-ins here (or in Spain, or Italy, or in whatever country the blow-in has chosen to live a ‘better life’) get on their high pulpit and start preaching to the natives. However, that does mean that I am indifferent.
As the referendum campaign got under way, it was impossible not to get caught up in the waves of emotion that were sweeping the land. I was amazed, and very proud, of the local, door-to-door, canvassing that was organised at the grass roots level. They went out in all weather, to knock on doors, walk into cafes and businesses and tell their stories. ‘The personal is political’ has never been more brilliantly demonstrated. It takes some guts to knock on a door and hand out a leaflet, but it takes magnificent bravery, heroic valour, to stand on your neighbours’ doorsteps with a big gay campaign button on and watch their eyes to see if they now think less of you. It’s one thing to parade in a big anonymous crowd in an urban area, and a totally different thing to ‘come out’ to people who have known you and your family forever.
As a friend of mine put it: “It was like coming out, over, and over again.” And it was wonderful to see that, with a few exceptions (one friend in Galway was chased away by a man brandishing a bottle of Holy water!) most canvassers were met with respect and kindness. Conversations were had with strangers that would have been unthinkable twenty-five years ago. They ranged from the sublime: Like the Dublin taxi driver who said he said he was voting No, and then noticed a friend of mine crying in the back seat. He pulled over to comfort her and said: Jaysus! I don’t want to hurt anyone. I never thought voting No would make a lovely girl like you cry; to the comical: as when a concerned senior citizen asked: “When were you diagnosed?”
There were also more intimate conversations, with friends and family. ‘The love that cannot speak its name’ was spoken about in homes around the country. It was like a tsunami of truth sweeping out the last flotsam and jetsam of hypocrisy, secrets and fear out to sea. I cried when I read Ursula Halligan’s article in The Irish Times, but before that very public pronouncement, Ms Halligan (who is 54) had to have a very private, and I’m sure, painful conversation with her mother, friends and family. Like so many in the past few weeks, her courage and humanity was welcomed with love and support.
In the last 24 hours before the vote, I started to feel anxious, then scared. I realised that I did have a stake in the outcome: A very personal, gut wrenching stake. I was optimistic that the Yes vote would prevail, but the dread of what would happen if it failed started to rear its ugly head. I thought of all my gay friends and family. I thought of how rejected they would feel. I thought of all my Irish straight friends and family, who believed that Ireland is a better place than when I moved here in 1992 — when divorce and homosexuality were both still illegal. I thought of how ashamed they would feel. I thought of all my friends and family abroad and what they would think of this little island I call home. I remembered that in 1996 Cork South West voted 61 per cent No to divorce. I thought about whether I could stay, if it voted No again, even if the referendum passed. I wondered if all those things I love about the Irish people and their big hearts, were just a load of Blarney.
And then something wonderful happened…Someone posted a picture of Dublin airport on Thursday night. It was jammers. Soon pictures and videos of people on boats, trains and aeroplanes started appearing. People were coming home. Floods of happy people, travelling home to vote on equality is a sight I will never forget. It lifted my heart in a way few images ever had. These guys and gals were walking the walk, not just talking the talk, and I knew that their friends, family and neighbours would be doing the same. It made me proud to live here. It made me proud to fiercely love this place and these people. It made me want to be an Irish citizen.