This piece won’t try to convince you that, assuming you vote in the marriage equality referendum, you should vote yes. If you are in favour of the referendum, then it’s not enough just to agree with the Yes side: you also need to actually vote. TheJournal.ie’s recent polls say the Yes side has the vast majority of people’s support. You may think that means we shouldn’t be worried, but they thought the divorce referendum would pass by a landslide. Support plummeted at the last minute because the No side made people afraid for society. They scared people with questions of land and tax law, but also with the idea that divorce would irreparably damage the public good of marriage. Undecided voters were scared into thinking it was too big a change, something that could uproot their lives. We may all think marriage equality is a sure thing, but that attitude could cause problems.
Referendums are hard to win in Ireland. Why? People are afraid of change. The status quo suits them, especially if they themselves aren’t affected by the lack of rights for LGBT families. It’s easy to be swayed by statements like ‘Marriage works. Why redefine it?’ Marriage does work for the people we’re talking about, and many of them don’t know any LGBT families. When every piece of news and media you see depicts marriage as something for men and women, when every family you know is a straight one and when people are making subtle suggestions that lesbians are worse for children than straight parents, it’s easy for you to be ignorant of the facts.
The No campaign are well funded, and they have the idea of ‘normality’ on their side. Most of the arguments I hear against marriage equality have little to do with people thinking gay people don’t deserve to get married; it’s far more common to hear things like ‘I just don’t think it’s fair on the kids.’ People aren’t aware of the fact that children from LGBT families are fine, and why should they make themselves aware? Equal representation of both sides in the media means they’ll get plenty of opinion pieces that back up the biases they already have.
It’s easy to sway undecided voters at the last minute; look at the Children’s Referendum, an easy win that became narrow towards the end when people panicked at the idea that it might make things worse for disabled children or undermine families. People panic at the last minute and vote for what they know. Government involvement can also break a referendum campaign when people are unhappy with the current state of things. Every political party will use marriage equality to get votes, but they may end up damaging the Yes campaign if people view marriage equality as something Enda’s poisonous, elitist government is trying to force on them.
Of course we can win, we just need to remember what we’re dealing with. The No side have their issues as well. As Panti Bliss wisely said in Trinity last year, they have no emotional truth on their side. I have no doubt that we have the majority of Irish people on our side, but how much do most people care? Does the average person who ticked the Yes box in TheJournal.ie’s poll really mind whether marriage equality passes? Voting is a hassle for some people – getting to the polling station, taking time out of their day, and what if it rains? Simple, everyday things like rain and traffic decrease turnout, particularly with an issue that affects a minority of the population.
I’ve spoken to quite a few students who believe in marriage equality, but aren’t registered. Students could be a big help in passing this referendum, but they are far less likely to vote than older people. Some of that is down to referendums being scheduled on weekdays, when students studying away from home can’t go back to vote, but that didn’t apply to the children’s referendum and turnout was still abysmal. The No voters will get out and vote, because they believe that a Yes will affect them negatively. But Yes voters, amidst the polls and campaigns, will believe the referendum will pass, and then why should they bother voting? One vote won’t make a difference, and it will pass anyway. If enough voters think like that, we could lose.
If you care at all about the result of this referendum, don’t get complacent. Register; it’s easy. The SU will be having several drives throughout the year. And vote. Your vote does matter, because this isn’t as sure as you think it is. And why should you care? Do you have any LGBT friends? Friends whose parents are LGBT? I guarantee you this matters to at least some of them. And even if you don’t, you should want Ireland to be more equal. Equal rights for families means more children are better off; it means schools have to become more welcoming and it means a better society.
This isn’t about trying to convince you that the Yes side is right. I’m trying to convince you that you need to vote. Imagine if the referendum didn’t pass and we had to wait another four years, maybe more, for a government to decide it’s time for another. There are other issues that LGBT rights advocates need to focus on: youth homelessness, bullying, transgender rights. Failure to pass this referendum means putting these issues off more. It means more time for families without adequate protection. Don’t let that happen. Register and vote.
Illustration: Maria Kavanagh