Marriage equality: the LGBTQ+ community, canvassing and voting yes

On Friday May 22nd Irish people will vote on whether to extend civil marriage to same-sex couples. I hadn’t planned on writing a blog post this close to the referendum because, frankly, since the campaign officially began I’ve been too angry and wound up to write anything sensible. But having written two longer than usual Facebook updates recently, I decided to combine them and elaborate here.

Designed by Fiona Hanley
Designed by Fiona Hanley (@GreenClouds4)

I have written about marriage equality on this blog, and others, before. Since then I have questioned my sexuality, realised I was bisexual and fallen in love.

Two months ago I was lucky enough to get married. I say lucky not just because I am happily married to the man I love, but because the option of marriage has never been open to me before as my previous long term relationships were with women.

Paul and I had a small civil ceremony in Dublin. We invited family and close friends, chose two songs and a reading (you’ll find it here), said our vows and signed our marriage certificate. The entire ceremony took less than 30 minutes. But they were a wonderfully moving 30 minutes. Making that commitment to each other and having it recognised was important.

I want everyone to be able to do the same, should they choose to. It’s why I’m voting yes. That’s what the marriage referendum is about; the ability of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBTQ+) people to marry the person they love.

I deliberately wrote lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender because this referendum matters to the entire LGBTQ+ community. Presumably decisions were made to focus on gay and lesbian people for the sake of simplicity during a tough campaign. Understandably, focus narrows at a crucial point, but it is important to recognise that this has left other members of the LGBTQ+ community feeling; at worst that their personal stories aren’t welcome and at best like an ally in a campaign that directly affects them.

Yet, we each find our own way(s) of dealing with those frustrations. We show up. We canvass. We do everything we can to see that marriage equality passes. We know how important it is.

I’ve spent the last few weeks canvassing in North Kerry. The place I made my home two years ago.

Last week alone saw a team of canvassers out six days in a row. That included a mix of door to door, street canvassing and the Yes Equality Bus in Tralee and Killarney. On three of those days some of us canvassed in the morning and the evening.

We’ve had a small team canvassing in Listowel. Six people in total, but we didn’t manage to get all of us out together so mostly there have been two or three people canvassing at a time.

The response on the doors has been overwhelmingly positive and for the most part the no voters have been nothing but polite. There was an incident when I put a leaflet through a letterbox only for the man in the house to walk out of his garden, crumple up the leaflet and throw it on the road. We were around the corner so he couldn’t see us, but we could see him. I have a feeling words may have been had if he spotted us.

At another house I was talking to three women, in their late 20s and early 30s, who decided to vote no as a result of the No campaign poster. I explained the existing situation with regards to fostering and adoption, the Child and Family Relationships Bill and that regardless of the outcome of the referendum the Government intends to introduce legislation around surrogacy. They asked questions. I listened and did my best to answer them. By the end of the exchange, two of them were definite yeses (they took leaflets and badges to share with other family members) and the other woman was undecided.

The street canvassing has been more of a mixed experience. The no voters have been more numerous and much more vocal.

I’ve had the word queer said within earshot of me a couple of times. It wasn’t directed at me, specifically, more along the lines of “what do the queers want now?” This is me showing some of my privilege, I know, but that was the first time I’ve personally heard queer used as a slur. I’ve had fag, dyke and a whole lot more thrown at me over the years but never queer. Despite it being a word I and many people I know regularly use to describe ourselves it stopped me in my tracks and reminded me why many LGBTQ+ people don’t want to reclaim it.

On Friday an elderly woman stopped to chat to me and another canvasser; she thanked us for what we were doing and said she 100% agreed with us. As she walked away I heard her muttering about immorality, which confused me. Ten minutes later she returned to inform us that she was voting no and had mistaken us for no canvassers, despite our badges, leaflets and me wearing a Yes Equality T-shirt. She placed her hand on my shoulder and proceeded to tell us that we may have our ways, but she was a Catholic and someone once explained how two men have sex and it made her ill. I wanted to tell her to fuck off, but I resisted.

A while later another woman told us we should watch back the debate on The Late Late Show and listen and learn from what the gay men who were against same-sex marriage were saying. She agreed with them and honestly thought we just hadn’t heard their point of view yet.

My most frustrating experience was a couple of months ago, when a man spotted my badge while I was in the supermarket and decided to strike up a conversation. He was supportive and full of praise for my decision to wear the badge. This changed when he saw my wedding ring. He went from being supportive to wondering why I cared about “the gays”.

So, I told him. I explained that being married doesn’t automatically make someone straight and he shouldn’t make assumptions about people. I know I could have told him that you don’t have to be gay to care about marriage equality, but the way his manner changed so quickly annoyed me and this was my way of venting. He left looking baffled and I have no idea how he intends to vote.

Do you know what, though? It’s the indifference more than the vocal no voters that I’m finding it hardest to deal with. I’ve reached the stage where I can canvass in the street no bother and I can drop leaflets through letterboxes, but I can’t stay calm when someone shows little interest in this referendum. It means too much (to me and so many people I know) for me not to take that shrug and sigh personally.

Thank you to everyone who is out canvassing and to the people who couldn’t knock on doors, but found other ways of asking their neighbours to vote yes, you all have my respect. But especially LGBTQ+ canvassers because it is your lives being discussed and it is you having to ask the people of this country to grant you the right to civil marriage. It can be humiliating, even when canvassing is positive, so thank you for having the courage to knock on doors. And to those LGBTQ+ people who don’t feel able to canvass, I completely understand that feeling too.