Friday 26 April 2019

The team behind the marriage equality campaign call it a day

Such has been its success that the campaign for civil marriage equality can now close. Chair Grainne Healy recalls the long fight

Plan of attack: 'A battle that was entirely worthwhile'. Photo: Paul Sharp/SHARPPIX
Plan of attack: 'A battle that was entirely worthwhile'. Photo: Paul Sharp/SHARPPIX

Grainne Healy

Few social change organisations manage to set up, achieve their goal and then close down - but that is exactly what Marriage Equality, the campaign for civil marriage equality in Ireland, will do next month.

While many readers can be forgiven for thinking the winning of the marriage equality referendum in 2015 happened over a six-month period of the Yes Equality campaign, the reality is that the movement to win equality took place over more than a decade.

Crossing The Threshold - The Story of the Marriage Equality Movement is the first of two Marriage Equality legacy products being published just over two years on from that historic result when 62pc of the electorate voted 'Yes'. It is a 'fusion of horizons', a history which features congruent and conflicting contributions from leading campaign insiders who broach everything from fundraising and political strategy to the personal efforts and sacrifices that drove them to campaign for this positive social change.

It is a colourful publication with more than 200 photographs chosen by Orla Howard which capture some of the roads which led to marriage equality. It tells a story which Ailbhe Smyth, in her foreword, proclaims "was a battle that was entirely worthwhile".

The first chapter is fittingly from the two women who lit the spark that set the marriage equality campaign alight in Ireland, Katherine Zappone and her beloved wife, Ann Louise Gilligan. Theirs is a love story that inspired a movement and the telling of that story here is all the more poignant given the recent death of Ann Louise.

"Ours is a love story," Gilligan tells us.

"Our story illustrates the significance of the feminist insight 'the personal is political'." They speak of the campaign as a "longing for a different Ireland… that fuelled hope for a more equal country for all".

The book contains stories of an earlier Ireland, an Ireland depicted by Andrew Hyland, the communications director and co-director of Marriage Equality, where he devised the communications strategies used in the early campaign - central were visibility of LGBT couples and the use of personal stories to bring the need for and an understanding of why marriage matters to the public attention. The use of digital media is discussed and how it became a key influencer in the campaign. These same strategies were used later in the Yes Equality campaign which won the hearts and minds of "the million in the middle".

Former director of Marriage Equality, Moninne Griffith, describes the strategy to win over TDs and Senators in the lead-up to the referendum - the 'Out to Your TD' campaign was an initiative which encouraged supporters to call to their local TD and express their wish for equality. This clever campaign brought into TDs' clinics the importance of securing their support for marriage equality. Griffith outlines the legal, communications, mobilisation and political strategies employed by Marriage Equality from its launch in 2008 up to the referendum vote in 2015 - she herself was the leading mobiliser of public and political support and was behind the brilliantly executed Yes Bus tour around Ireland.

Board members give their perspectives on the movement journey - Justine Schonfeld-Quinn details the KAL case [High Court case taken by Katherine and Ann Louise to have their Canadian marriage recognised in Ireland]. Anna MacCarthy tells how LGBT Noise formed and organised the annual march for marriage in Dublin. Olivia McEvoy describes the long time partnership between Marriage Equality and the National Lesbian and Gay Federation (now NXF).

Ronan Farren details his personal engagement with Marriage Equality and the role of the Labour Party in bringing the issue to the fore of Irish politics through the efforts of former party leader Eamon Gilmore. Fundraising and volunteer management strategies are laid out by Darina Brennan and Carol Armstrong respectively.

Ross Golden Bannon tells of his experiences, including some of the less positive experiences during the Yes Equality canvassing marathon in 2015. Likewise, Anthony Kinahan from Louth Marriage Equality describes encounters with those who opposed the extension of the civil right to marry and they make for upsetting reading.

Key partners and alliances are represented in the book including Kate Moynihan from Lesbians in Cork (LinC), Laura Harmon of USI (Union of Students in Ireland) who describes the student movement's register to vote campaign and Michael Barron reminds us of the huge efforts of BelongTo to get the youth sector and the parents and grandparents of LGBT people mobilised, and Richard O'Leary outlines the work of Faith in Marriage Equality which included a pilgrimage for Yes around Ireland.

The campaign took its personal toll on many key players. Orla Howard, deputy chair of Marriage Equality, speaks of how different strategies between Glen (Gay and Lesbian Equality Network) and Marriage Equality almost cost her the friendship of her beloved childhood pal, Brian Sheehan, who was leading Glen's Civil Partnership efforts, a move opposed by Marriage Equality.

On the strategic differences between those organisations before the coalition forming for Yes Equality, Sheehan and Kieran Rose put forth their views on how Glen took the path to marriage equality via civil partnership, a path not always appreciated by the broader LGBT movement.

My own contribution attempts to answer the question asked mostly by those not from Ireland, and by some who are: where did that 62pc vote come from? What were the socio-political changes that created the context for marriage equality in Ireland?

Marriage equality co-founder Denise Charlton and her partner, Paula Fagan, outline the importance of family and children to the vision of Marriage Equality and how they used research, media appearances and their own situation to help win hearts and minds.

The second legacy product is the work of Linda Cullen and Coco Television who have completed a documentary film The 34th: The Story of Marriage Equality In Ireland, a documentary depicting the key players from the organisation who led the movement for many years prior to joining with Irish Council for Civil Liberties and Gay and Lesbian Equality Network to form the Yes Equality campaign. The film opens this year's 25th anniversary GAZE festival at The Lighthouse, Dublin, on August 3.

Grainne Healy, co-founder and chairwoman of Marriage Equality, former co-director of the Yes Equality campaign, is the editor of Crossing The Threshold - The Story of the Marriage Equality Movement, with photographic editor Orla Howard (Merrion Press, €24.99)

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