Wednesday 24 July 2019

The day that conservative Ireland voted to embrace the excluded

It was a pleasure to play a small part, says Jason Kennedy, who actively campaigned for a Yes vote

Rory O’Neill as Panti Bliss as the result of the same-sex marriage referendum unfolded at Dublin Castle. Inset: Jason Kennedy
Rory O’Neill as Panti Bliss as the result of the same-sex marriage referendum unfolded at Dublin Castle. Inset: Jason Kennedy

Jason Kennedy

"Hello. I'm campaigning for a Yes vote in the upcoming marriage equality referendum. Do you have a moment to have a chat?"

I must have said that a thousand times in the two months leading up to one of the most iconic and important dates in contemporary Irish history.

My dedication to canvassing people online and alongside campaign groups led many of my friends to assume I was scoping out a career in politics, even though I can't think of anything less desirable.

The rare evening I didn't go knocking on doors or leafleting matches, train stations or streets I spent trying to twist people's arms online to make sure they were canvassing their families and friends too.

There were times when I was deeply concerned by the negative experiences while knocking on doors and fighting the good fight. The doors slammed in faces, the dirty looks from seemingly decent-looking people and the name-calling did not make for fun canvassing.

But they pale in significance to those countless joyful moments encountered on the campaign trail. The high-fives, the hugs and tears from LGBT parents and the invitations in for tea and cake always made me go home feeling like we were doing something good.

One of my favourite moments from my fleeting time as an activist was my encounter with an elderly lady living on her own in the south inner city.

She told me she was deeply Catholic and the Lord would tell her which way to cast her vote on May 22. I spent around 15 minutes at her doorstep desperately trying to persuade her to vote Yes. I told her it allowed for secular marriages, could only strengthen the family and debunked the surrogacy chestnut the No side loved to churn out.

"You know what," she eventually said to me, "I believe everyone has the right to live a happy life."

Weeks after the referendum, I bumped into the same lady along the quays. She told me that not alone did she vote Yes, but she convinced all her children to do the same.

That defined the entire referendum campaign for me. It defied the idea that elderly, conservative, Catholic Ireland would never allow such a carry-on. Not alone did they allow it, they embraced it.

In the campaign's final thrusts, when it came time to put pen to paper in a quiet polling station, the magnitude hit.

This was a vote for people who have been rejected for who they are - and for those who lived and died afraid of showing the world who they are.

The message had to be clear: Ireland has your back.

The weekend that followed was a celebration to end all celebrations. What a privilege it was to line the streets of Dublin along with hundreds of referendum heroes.

It was a pleasure to play a small part.

Irish Independent

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