Sunday 25 September 2016

There's a danger in leaving it to others to decide, so make sure you go out and vote

Published 19/05/2015 | 02:00

Former Fianna Fáil minister Pat Carey, who came out earlier this year, campaigns for a ‘Yes’ vote in the marriage referendum in Tralee, Co Kerry
Former Fianna Fáil minister Pat Carey, who came out earlier this year, campaigns for a ‘Yes’ vote in the marriage referendum in Tralee, Co Kerry

Everyone is coming out these days! From former and serving government ministers, to political reporters and celebrities, the forthcoming referendum on same-sex marriage has promoted a slew of high-profile closet exits. The theory is, that by publically sharing experiences of life in Ireland as a gay man or woman, advocates for a 'Yes' vote will encourage others to lend their support and secure a change in the Constitution.

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Opinion polls indicate that there is still a sizable, albeit narrowing majority of people who will vote 'Yes'. As the recent election in the UK has proved, very often polls can be very wrong. It also seems as though we have a predilection for telling porkies to polling companies.

With so many variables still to be determined, before we bask in a big, pink glow and pat ourselves on the back for being such an uber-liberal society, there is still a job of work to be done to deliver a win.

If this referendum is to pass, there is one more person who needs to come out - and that person is you. You need to come out and vote.

For the most part, the campaign itself has been dignified, respectful and balanced. Aside from the usual social media bullies who are brave in a vacuum of anonymity, the public debate has been reasoned and calm, so far. The biggest problem for the 'Yes' vote now is the demographic that comes out to vote on Friday. The latest opinion polls say that although the gap is reducing, there is still almost two to one in favour of a 'Yes' vote. While the 'No' campaign is gaining traction, the gains may prove to be too little too late. With such a sizeable margin of positive support, the danger is twofold.

The first danger is that people will think that they do not need to vote at all. Second, there needs to be a concentrated effort to secure a more solid vote from beyond the gay community, their families and friends in order for this vote to pass.

People in Middle Ireland are the ones who vote in referenda. They are largely rural and tend to be from an older generation.

They are a more conservative voter. If that trend continues, the 'Yes' vote could suffer somewhat; probably not enough to put a 'Yes' result in jeopardy, but attention must be paid.

While the margin seems safe enough to secure a victory, campaigners must spend the coming days advising people who support the change that they must actually take the time to get out and vote. Photocalls and public rallies are all well and good, but wearing a 'Vote Yes' pin while playing bingo down in PantiBar will not deliver change - only votes will make a difference.

There has been no game-changing moment so far in the campaign and some of the tactics of both the 'Yes' and 'No' sides have been questionable, and have strayed from the fundamental issue of equality.

Those people who are favourably disposed to a 'Yes' vote but not committed, could easily stay home to avoid making a decision at all.

The 'No' side has made its arguments around perhaps the most sensitive and certainly most contentious consequential element of the changes: how it might change the structure of families in the future. In responding to this, the 'Yes' campaign has done little to win over people who have concerns. Its antidote to the arguments around the family has been to offer gay spokespersons who are in committed relationships with children to take to the airwaves to explain the normality of their situation, while pleading the case for equality.

It is usually a man or a woman from a same-sex couple, with an already functioning family who want civic recognition. However, these are the wrong people to convince those conservative voters who are on the edge of making a decision.

Instead of relying on people from within the gay community to refute claims, more consideration should have been given to securing representatives from outside the gay and lesbian community. It is important to hear impartial support from beyond those with their own vested interest. At times, the 'Yes' campaign has looked a tad self-serving, and in danger of stereotyping itself.

The high-profile figures who have tried to help secure a 'Yes' vote by publically declaring their sexuality, no matter what the outcome, are to be commended. They have correctly received overwhelming support and encouragement and they have made a valuable contribution to the public debate. The word "brave" has been used to applaud their efforts, but ironically they are all striving for a day when saying you are gay will not require courage, but will just be a statement of fact.

However, before we start waving our rainbow flags, remember that if you want to change things, you actually need to vote. Don't leave it to others.

Irish Independent

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