It has been a long road. I never knew we were on it, or even that we were remotely interested in the journey we have taken together over the past twenty-two years. It was only during the marriage equality referendum I came to understand the significance of that journey, and the distance we have travelled together.
I am the son of the son of a farmer. My roots lie in rural Ireland, and thirteen years ago, after almost two decades living outside Ireland I returned to my home county of Wexford. I was born in 1966, in a place where the swinging part of that decade never quite reached. It was a different time, a time when many of our citizens found themselves living on the edge of society because of who they were, or because of who they loved.
I mention this, not to induce shame or outrage, but so that we might acknowledge and celebrate the distance we have travelled. It is a mighty thing, and we should be proud of it.
Throughout the course of the referendum, I had many dozens of remarkable conversations with people all around the country. It’s quite the thing to have to do; asking someone for their permission to do the most wonderful and ordinary of things, to get married. What I found in many of these conversations is a spirit and an open heartedness that left me at times profoundly moved.
I met a couple on Wexford Main Street who glowed as they told me that they would be voting Yes. “We’ve been married forty years; why would we deny that to anyone else?” she said. Her husband beamed and smiled as he shook my hand warmly.
We’ve been married forty years; why would we deny that to anyone else
Or Mossy, who I met in Galway and who spoke with huge passion about how much he wanted to see a Yes vote on 22 May. He told me that he wasn’t sure at first, but that his daughter helped make up his mind for him.
She is thirty years old, and lives in London. She rang him and asked how he intended to vote. When he said he wasn’t sure she told him that she had never before told him what to think, or how to vote, but this time she was. She told him that he had to vote Yes.
Everywhere I went I met people who were been energised and impassioned by the referendum in a way I have never seen before. Queues of people outside Garda Stations and council offices, lining up to make sure they will be able to vote. Public meetings with standing room only, where people came to express their views, have their questions answered or volunteer to get involved in the Yes campaign. In a time when politics has little currency, it is an exercise in a kind of passionate democracy that is a powerful signal of how things could be. Of a society which can passionately and respectfully debate an issue that only a few years earlier would have divisive and fractious.
Reflecting on the result, I feel, perhaps for the first time in my life, like an equal citizen. I have felt affirmed, respected and valued in ways I have never felt before. I have felt this way because of the people I have met, people I do not know, who have told me in straightforward terms, that I am one of them. That I have the same dreams and aspirations, the same capacity for love and goodness, the same contribution to make to my community and my society as they do. And that is no small thing.
By Colm O’ Gorman