Lisa Fingleton: When I came out to my parents, marriage never seemed possible
Broadside: A year to the day since the Yes vote for marriage equality, the film-maker recounts the excitement that accompanied the result, and her subsequent wedding day
May 23rd, 2015
We are standing at the count centre in Tralee, watching as the votes of our neighbours, families and colleagues topple from the ballot boxes on to the tables. We are the Yes Equality Kerry volunteer team and we have been campaigning for months.
Word comes through that David Quinn of the Iona Institute has conceded defeat on Twitter. Tears come but we don’t dare to let our guard down. It is not time for celebration just yet.
Something else is going on that is deeper than the national response to the gay-marriage question. We are all waiting for our own villages to deliver their verdicts. Never has the political felt so personal and local. It feels like we are standing in the heart of history. It is a privilege to be here in this moment of pure potential and hope. Here in the Kerry Diocesan Youth Service hall in Tralee it almost seems incredible that Ireland could become the first country in the world to vote for gay marriage by public vote.
We are standing here in solidarity, watching and waiting as each of our home boxes is counted. Yes, Yes, No, Yes, Yes, Yes. Ballybunion delivers 63 per cent, Listowel 73 per cent. Castlemaine and Castlegregory follow suit. We feel sorry for our friends in Knocknagoshel and Brosna, where the Yes votes are outnumbered.
As thousands of people gather at Dublin Castle, 20 of us stand in the corner of the hall, crying, laughing, hugging and kissing as the presiding offers tells the room that North Kerry has voted yes. We are so proud of our county, our country, our people. We are bursting with pride and we know the world will never be the same again.
I am standing opposite Rena, the woman I love, with 150 wedding guests at the Listowel Arms Hotel. We have decided to go ahead with our wedding day, even though the state has yet to catch up with the paperwork. The people have voted and that is enough for us. I look around the room, smiling at all the love. Everyone in the room has played a part in making this day possible, and there is a shared sense of pride and joy.
I twirl around in my dress with the children. I find it hard to believe how much I love the dress. I never imagined getting married. When I came out to my parents, none of us thought that this would ever be a possibility. When my sisters suggested taking me to look for a dress, I thought I would rather have a tooth extracted. I don’t like shopping or any related consumerist activities. Yet I found myself in a fitting-room and I couldn’t get enough of dresses.
Still, despite the euphoria of the dressing room, I couldn’t make up my mind, so I decided to draw my perfect dress: Doris Day, off-the-shoulder with a full, flouncy skirt. The next day I found the dress waiting for me in the window of the Oxfam shop in Tralee. A wedding shop had donated what turned out to be the perfect ethical wedding dress for me. I love our wedding day. The banquet is organic, seasonal and local. We picked the beets and salads from our own garden. The kitchen staff are lined up against the wall, listening to the after-dinner speeches. This is the first gay marriage in the hotel, and everything feels extra special. My parents formally welcome Rena to our family and dad jokes about golf. Rena’s sister Sylvie has translated the words of our campaign anthem, Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien by Edith Piaf. We all sing and dance and celebrate love and people power.
We are signing the marriage register in the presence of the same registrar, with just our witnesses, one friend, and our photographer, Domnick. Yesterday we realised we were going to be the first official gay wedding in Kerry, so we decided to dress up in our clothes again – any excuse to wear the dress. We try to go to see The Queen of Ireland, but it is not showing tonight. We eat pizza and end up in the Grand nightclub, still in the wedding dress. It is so much fun.
February 14th, 2016
Rena says she can’t believe I have taken her on honeymoon to a country where there is a death penalty for being gay. I remind her that it is not technically a honeymoon and that we are visiting this part of southeast Asia only because my brother’s family are here and I really miss them.
It feels weird not to able to hold hands or show any affection. I look at Rena (a little bit too “lovey-dovey”, apparently) and for the first time in our lives together she asks me not to look at her “that way”.
We wonder what it must be like to live “this way” all the time? How must it feel to love another person and have to keep it absolutely secret or risk death? We don’t like how it makes us feel. Yet we are grateful for the reminder that, although Ireland has said Yes, this is a precious and privileged Yes and we must never take it for granted.
- Lisa Fingleton is a film-maker, artist and writer based in north Kerry. She and her wife, Rena Blake, have made a documentary film, The Day We Counted, about the Yes Equality Kerry campaign. The film is in post-production and is supported by Kerry County Council Arts Office and the Arts Council