Irish society talks marriage equality

Marriage equality vote generates the biggest human rights debate in Ireland’s history.

Irish vote
A restaurant displays a poster supporting the 'yes' vote in Ireland in a controversial referendum [Reuters]

Dublin, Ireleand – Ireland will be the first country in the world to vote on a marriage equality referendum on Friday.

Should the people vote “yes”, the sentence “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with the law by two persons without distinction as to their sex” will be inserted into the constitution.

The referendum is the biggest the country has ever seen and has eclipsed the divorce referendum in 1986 in terms of mobilisation and debate.

Opinion polls suggest a landslide victory for the yes vote, with prominent supporters including government representatives, the Irish Gaelic Football Association, the police force and leading figures in sport, media and entertainment.

The “no” vote comes mostly from the Catholic Church, which has historically enjoyed a firm grip on Irish society.

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has publicly announced his intention to vote no.

“Marriage is not simply about a wedding ceremony or about two people in love with each other,” Martin said. “Marriage in the constitution is linked with the family and the concept of family and to the mutuality of man and woman as the foundation of family.”

Meanwhile Taoiseach of Ireland Enda Kenny has declared his support for marriage equality, seeing it as a human rights issue and stating he and his party believe it is “time to do this”. 

Al Jazeera asked people from both sides of the debate to voice their position on the marriage referendum.

Buzz O’Neill, event promoter
Promoter Buzz O'Neil [Barbara McCarthy/Al Jazeera]
Promoter Buzz O’Neil [Barbara McCarthy/Al Jazeera]

Buzz O’Neill is a nightclub promoter and prominent member of the gay scene in Dublin.

He was the victim of a homophobic attack outside a well-known Dublin gay nightspot.

“If I wake up to a no vote, I will be devastated. I didn’t come out until I was 29 because I was so afraid. I know people who never came out and who have lived a lie their entire lives.  I know people who have committed suicide and others who contemplated it.

A no vote would mean that people don’t cherish their children’s equality. This referendum has absolutely nothing to do with the Catholic Church and everything to do with equality.

There are certainly homophobic undercurrents from the no side who are bringing children and the church into it the debate to create insecurity amongst voters.”


David Norris, senator
Senator David Norris [Barbara McCarthy/Al Jazeera]
Senator David Norris [Barbara McCarthy/Al Jazeera]

David Norris is a senator human rights activist and former presidential candidate who has been fighting for equality for more than 40 years.

“Homosexuality in Ireland was only decriminalised in 1993. That means I was a criminal for half my life and could go to jail simply for being who I am.

We, the homosexual community of Ireland can’t win this election alone. We need to rely on the goodwill of our heterosexual friends.

I want to be a part of the human Irish family. There is hypocrisy amongst the no campaigners.

These are the same people who opposed civil partnership, now they are for it.

The world didn’t end when it was introduced. It also didn’t end when contraceptives were sold over the counter or when divorce became legal. We need to adapt.”


Keith Mills, blogger
Keith Mills [Barbara McCarthy/Al Jazeera]
Keith Mills [Barbara McCarthy/Al Jazeera]

Blogger and prominent member of Mothers and Fathers Matter organisation, Keith Mills said he will be voting no in this referendum, even though he is a gay man.

“I am not the only gay person I know who is voting no. I don’t believe that equal marriage will benefit the gay community. I believe we have more rights within a civil partnership.

When you leave Ireland, a marriage will be recognised in less countries than a civil partnership will. I don’t believe the same size fits all.

The $22mn being spent on this referendum won’t benefit the gay community or wider society.

It should be rejected in order to maintain the unique family unit comprising a mother and father, rather than two fathers or two mothers.”


Katherine Zappone, senator
Senator Katherine Zappone [Barbara McCarthy/Al Jazeera]
Senator Katherine Zappone [Barbara McCarthy/Al Jazeera]

US-born Senator Katherine Zappone has been fighting for marriage equality for 13 years.

“Its critical for the freedom and wellbeing of young LGBT people that the yes vote win.

I can’t imagine what it would be like for a young LGBT person living in a small village in rural Ireland to walk outside the door with a no having won.

They will look from one side to the other and wonder who rejected their opportunity to be equal. I think it would devastate them.

Ireland is seen a forward thinking country around the world and many of the major US companies with European headquarters in Ireland have openly supported the yes vote.

Should we lose, we will be seen as a backwater.”


Steven Mannion, artist
Artist Steven Mannion [Barbara McCarthy/Al Jazeera]
Artist Steven Mannion [Barbara McCarthy/Al Jazeera]

Popular Dublin-based artist Steven Mannion said the response on the streets has been overwhelming.

“We are humbled by the support out there on the streets. We are out canvassing every night and we meet people door to door, some of whom are paying for their children to fly home from around the world so they can vote yes.

Its heartening to see that people who don’t know me want my husband and I to be married under civil law in my own country and be recognised as an equal citizens.

The no voters are throwing the kitchen sink at the campaign.

They may not openly say it, but they are misleading people into believing that family is affected by two people who love each other getting married and its nonsense.”


Joe Caslin, artist
Joe Caslin [Barbara McCarthy/Al Jazeera]
Joe Caslin [Barbara McCarthy/Al Jazeera]

Illustrator and muralist Joe Caslin created a seven-storey mural supporting same sex marriage. The mural was put up in one night in the centre of Dublin with the help of 20 volunteers.

“It’s just about love. It’s here to provoke conversation and its done it’s job. More than 15,000 people have signed a petition calling for the mural to remain a permanent fixture.

I know young men across Ireland are suffering, because they are homosexual. I teach in a school and have seen the devastating affects depression can have on young people.

This is a personal project and my contribution.

I am currently creating a mural with two female figures, which will be put up in a secret location in Ireland.”


Briege Quinn, ‘no’ campaigner
Briege Quinn [Barbara McCarthy/Al Jazeera]
Briege Quinn [Barbara McCarthy/Al Jazeera]

Briege Quinn is a mother of four, Christian, and a prominent no campaigner. She said people have been intimidated by the yes campaign.

“I am hoping on the silent no to come through. My conscience wouldn’t allow me to vote yes because I believe it’s a natural thing for a man and woman to be together.

I think a yes vote would confuse teenagers about their sexual orientation and they could loose their way.

If one of my children turned to me and said they wanted to marry a gay partner, I wouldn’t agree with it, but I would still love them.

There was a bakery nearby that was found guilty of discrimination because its employees refused to make a cake carrying a pro-gay marriage slogan.

I think that’s wrong.”


Terry Quinn, bible studies teacher
Terry Quinn [Barbara McCarthy/Al Jazeera]
Terry Quinn [Barbara McCarthy/Al Jazeera]

Terry Quinn is an international bible studies teacher and founder of a steering committee that brought leaders from churches together to discuss the referendum.

“I don’t believe that homosexuals are equal in marriage. I’m not homophobic, but I don’t want the idea of homosexual parents to be normalised.

A yes vote means children can be influenced by homosexuality from an early age. Schoolbooks will have images of two men or two women where traditionally there was a man and a woman.

Homosexuals can get married already in a civil partnership, so why should they get equal marriage?

They want it so they can start families, but families can only be created by a male and a female. I don’t think homosexuals should have children at all.”


Mark Cunningham, actor
Mark Cunningham [Barbara McCarthy/Al Jazeera]
Mark Cunningham [Barbara McCarthy/Al Jazeera]

Mark Cunningham is a 30-year-old actor who has been campaigning for a no vote. He said his generation is overwhelmingly voting yes and he is in the minority.

“People have torn up our leaflets in our faces and we have been called names when we’re out campaigning.  I don’t know anyone non-religious who is voting no.

As a religious person, I am concerned how I will be affected by this referendum. I think we will be forced to accept things we don’t believe are right.

The referendum will affect surrogacy laws. Once this goes through, the surrogacy market will go through the roof and it’s not right.

Just look at Elton John, he has two children by surrogates and he is sending out the wrong message.” 

Source: Al Jazeera