- 22 May 20
Five years ago today, Ireland made history as the first country to legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote. To mark the occasion, we'll be sharing iconic articles from the Hot Press archives throughout the day – plotting the remarkable road to marriage equality on these shores. In the piece below, originally published in the special Hot Press Marriage Equality Issue just before the vote, Niall Stokes stressed the importance of voting 'yes'.
The referendum on same sex marriage is an opportunity for the citizens of Ireland to vote for freedom, equality and mutual respect – and in doing so to show the rest of the world what these words can really mean...
Ireland is on the verge of something extraordinary and brilliant. Which is why Hot Press is urging its readers to vote ‘Yes’ to the constitutional amendment to enable same sex marriage in Ireland, which takes place on May 22.
The referendum is essentially an equality issue. Why should a hugely significant proportion of the population be excluded from the right to marry? There is no basis for it at all, other than that vilest and most small-minded of motivations: discrimination against the ‘other’.
Those campaigning for a ’No’ vote can try to dress their ideology up in any and every form of sneaky, weasel verbiage – but at heart it comes down to this: they believe that the love shared by gay people is somehow diminished, compared to that between heterosexuals. They believe that gay people are intrinsically inferior. And, in truth, when you scrape away the veneer of ecumenical- style dishonesty and obfuscation, the essential truth is that they believe that fucking someone of your own sex is sinful and wrong and should not be done.
Well, it is time to let them know, definitively and forever, that we don’t care. We do not fucking care!
Hot Press has always believed, and has campaigned on the basis, that queers, homosexuals, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, trannies, drag artists, queens, heteros, homos, males, females, shemales, hegirls and every other shade or shape or variation or mutation across the gender spectrum are all unequivocally and unashamedly absolutely equal under the sun. Whether we are black, brown, orange, green, dark, pale, blonde, bald, hairy or entirely hairless, the day we become consenting adults, we are all equally entitled to love and fuck and marry and procreate and have a family – and no bishop or bigot is going to tell us otherwise, thank you very much.
It is encouraging that, over the past two years, the polls have been strongly in favour of the proposition that gays should be allowed to marry. So too is the widespread support for the amendment, which has been reflected across the political spectrum. But, in truth, there is no room for complacency. As we go to press here in HP Central, it is not a given that the amendment will be passed. Which means that it is vital to make certain that you get to the polling station – on time! – and cast your vote in favour. And also that you do everything you can to ensure that your friends get there and tick the ‘yes’ box too. Because the beauty of a referendum of this kind is that – unlike voting for the Lib Dems or the Greens in a British general election – every vote counts absolutely equally. Your yes vote cannot, and will not, be wasted.
That is especially true on this occasion. Winning is, of course, what matters most. But winning well would be even better. Because this is a moment which is potentially rich in symbolism; a moment when the enlightenment can finally and definitively be seen to have arrived in Ireland. Which is why, at the outset, I mentioned the word ‘brilliant'...
It is a concept that is thrown around too liberally at times. I have been guilty of it myself. A brilliant goal. A brilliant solo. A brilliant song. A brilliant night. These things are often said a little bit too easily in the excitement of the moment, when what is being described was just... excellent.
But here, I mean it in its original, French sense of brightness, being suffused with light, glittering, sparkling. And of the qualities which flow from that: being distinguished, lustrous, illustrious, splendid, magnificent. A shining light...
It isn’t often that we are offered the opportunity to step forward and show others the way, to be a global lighthouse. But that opportunity is there for us on May 22. We should, I believe, embrace it unequivocally and give gay men and women all over the world, and their families and friends, something real and important to celebrate.
Marriage for gays has, of course, been legalised elsewhere. As far back as 2001, same sex marriage was ratified in the Netherlands. Belgium, Spain, Canada, Norway and Sweden followed. In 2014, same sex marriage was legalised in the UK (with the sorry exception of the six counties of Northern Ireland). In all, seventeen countries have introduced laws which enable marriages between same sex couples; meanwhile in the US, nineteen States have legalised gay marriage. On the other hand, 29 States have constitutional provisions which exclude it.
Ireland’s situation is different to other European states. Indeed, if the referendum is passed on May 22, we will become the first country in the world where the people themselves have decided, in a plebiscite or a referendum, in favour of embracing gay culture to the fullest extent possible. The law allowing gay marriage can be changed by parliament in the UK. It can be changed in Holland. It can be changed in Spain. The freedom gays currently enjoy to marry, in any and all of these jurisdictions, could therefore be reversed by a reactionary government. But in Ireland, if the referendum is passed, that decision can only be changed by the people themselves in another referendum. It is an extraordinary position of strength. And it is one that gives us, the citizens of Ireland, the opportunity to act as a positive example, which gays all over the world will want their countries and their fellow citizens, to follow.
And it will, officially, make Ireland one of the most gay-friendly places in the world – which is exactly what this country should be.
It is interesting to travel back in time to 1985. Even in our wildest dreams, could anyone have imagined then that, just thirty years on, we would have the opportunity to vote for gay marriage? Not on your life. Back then, it was illegal for a man to make love with another man in Ireland. Strictly speaking, as a homosexual, you could end up in jail for the crime – the crime! – of fornicating with your VBF. Indeed in 1983, in response to the case taken by gay rights activist David Norris, the Supreme Court here had specifically upheld the ‘constitutionality’ of the law which criminalised homosexual acts. (Women were so irrelevant apparently, that they were excluded from this draconian provision – but that’s another day’s discussion).
David Norris, who is one of the great Irish heroes of recent times, had the courage of his convictions. And he also had a powerful legal team, headed by Mary Robinson, who went on to become the President of Ireland. He took his case to the European Court of Human Rights and, in a landmark decision, in 1988, the court decided that the law criminalising same sex acts was contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights. It was a decision which changed the course of modern Irish history. But what if David Norris had run out of energy or felt unable to take his case to Europe? Where would we be now? It is a chastening thought.
Such was the deep-seated prejudice amongst Irish politicians, legislators and public servants, and so great was their craven fear of the wrath of of the Catholic bishops and by extension the Vatican, back then, that it took the Dáil a further five years to repeal what was an utterly repugnant and discriminatory law. For five long, dreary years the shadow of criminality was allowed to hang over everyone in the homosexual community. The cowardliness of those politicians made me sick then. Looking back, it still does...
Well, it may be dressed up in different rhetoric now, but for the most part, the interests, primarily in the Roman Catholic church, that opposed the legalisation of homosexuality are in the vanguard of the ’No’ campaign. Lest we forget, they opposed the availability of condoms. They tried to deny even married couples access to contraception. They made life miserable for unmarried mothers: they sacked them from their jobs, stole their children and locked them up in workhouses and Magdalene laundries. They fought against the legalisation of homosexuality. They tried to stop the introduction of divorce here. And throughout all of this, they colluded in the violent sexual abuse of Irish children, hid the evidence and did everything they could to assist the perpetrators in their own ranks to escape scot free, putting other innocent children at risk in the process.
At every stage of this referendum debate, these ‘No’ campaigners have lied about what is at stake in the vote. They know that it has nothing to do with surrogacy, but they put the posters up anyway. They know that it has nothing to do with adoption, but they do everything they can to create paranoia on that score. They know that it has not undermined heterosexual marriage in any of the countries where it has been introduced, but they attempt to inspire panic all the same. They have lied their way through every single referendum and campaign, and through the child abuse scandals, in the hope that people will be confused or disorientated enough that they will follow their miserable lead.
And now they – or more specifically the Catholic bishops – are threatening that if the referendum is passed, they may no longer be able to carry out the civil aspect of marriages, for couples that do decide that they want to be joined in matrimony in a church.
It is the final throw of the dice, which says it all. If the referendum is passed, they whisper in the ears of the faithful, it will cost you and your children. It is a threat that has as much dignity, and deserves as much respect, as that of a spoiled child who sticks out his bottom lip and says that if the referendum is passed he’ll take the ball home and nobody will be allowed to play with it.
But here’s the inspiring thing; I truly believe that in 2015, Irish people are above all of that. They have been lied to a thousand times too often. They are too smart and open and intelligent – and too generous and inclusive – to be dissuaded now. A ‘Yes’ vote on May 22 is a vote for freedom. It is a vote for love. It is a vote for liberation. It is a vote for equality. It is a vote for the Republic.
This is an opportunity for Ireland to do the right thing by all of the people on this island – and by gay people all over the world. It is an opportunity for us to shine. It is an opportunity for us, as a people and as a democracy, to show the way. Vote yes. Let there be light...