May 22nd 2015 was a big day.
It’s my sister’s birthday – well this is a yearly event, but the date remains the same. The deeds of transfer for my house sale were exchanging on that date. And Ireland was voting on whether marriage was meant for Adam and Steve, as well as Adam and Eve.
The house sale didn’t require my presence – I had signed over the power of attorney to the notary so he would be signing on my behalf. Just as well really – I think it would have been an upsetting event – letting my little flat go her own way in the big bad world (OK the building is 110 years old but I didn’t see it like that – in my mind some awful person was arriving to redecorate my beautiful home). I’d not be moving back to Ireland until August, but the flat sale meant the move was no longer an abstract concept. The train was in motion and I needed to buckle up for the ride.
In any case it wouldn’t have been possible to be present – I had to be in Ireland to vote. Unlike pretty much every other country in the world Ireland requires you to be physically present in the country in order to cast a vote – no postal votes or embassy voting if you’re a Mick or a Biddy abroad.
As it was a vote about gay people’s value as Irish citizens, I really had no choice but to go home. Oh we’d been told that this wasn’t a vote about our value as human beings, but it absolutely was. Never before had a population segment been put on trial, in the manner we had in the run up to the vote. The country was having a national conversation about us, and didn’t even warn us when it might be better to block our ears. Referendum rules state that both sides of the issue being voted on get equal airtime. Therefore it was illegal for some to say ‘Feck off, stay out of our lives, and give us equal civil rights’ without also giving some knuckle dragging troglodyte a chance to do some scaremongering about how we would destroy civilisation with our sodomitical ways.
And we couldn’t even call them bigots. We had to grin and bear it and pretend that a no vote was not necessarily motivated by hatred at worst or igmorance and stupidity at best.
The day before the vote I went on a street canvass. The Yes campaign had been doing these for months, but as I’d been in Amsterdam this was my first opportunity to attend. I was paired with a very friendly, pleasant woman – it was only later did I discover that she was a well known television actress. The street canvass was nerve wracking. Me in my orange hi-viz vest, campaigning on the street of my home town. I’d probably bump into my maths teacher who’d look at me and think ‘Well I always suspected he was a bit swishy’.
The highlight was the teenage queen with his two girlfriends taking loads of Yes stickers from me to give to their friends. They were too young to vote but wanted to be involved.
The man who insisted that I was in cahoots with Enda Kenny in a child abduction ring was the downside of that strange lunchtime.
The evening was spent knocking on doors in Kennedy Park. This was more intimidating than the street campaign. If you’ve rang someone’s bell then you can’t pretend they don’t see you when they answer the door. The highlight was the dangerous looking man with the tattooed face. When he opened the door I thought to myself ‘Oh merde’. When I told him my reason for interrupting his viewing of Fair City he replied ‘Oh my sister’s a lesbian, I’ve never voted before but will be voting yes tomorrow.’
As we finished the evening events the head volunteer burst into tears and said ‘There’s nothing more we can do now. We HAVE to win tomorrow.’
I climbed on the bus to go home thinking ‘You said it sister, I’m moving back to this country.’