Miriam Lord: Yes Equality seeks to start national conversation

‘I’m Voting Yes – Ask Me Why’ initiative runs risk of speaking to the converted

Here’s an unexpected traditional twist: if same-sex couples want to marry, they should rush out and become engaged.

If they don’t – no matter how much in love or how long together or how dear their wish to get married – they could face losing out on their hearts’ desire.

Actually, this advice applies to anyone who supports the passing of the marriage equality referendum.

It’ll only be a short engagement. Just six weeks away. But it could make all the difference.

The Yes people didn’t actually talk about an engagement on Thursday, but it’s what they meant. Instead, they launched “a national conversation”.

National conversations are rolled out with tiresome regularity by politicians and forums for this, that and the other. They usually end up talking to the wall.

Personal reasons

But this referendum initiative is aimed at people who have something to say and want others to hear them. The Yes Equality campaign – which is co-ordinating a nationwide drive to secure a Yes vote in next month’s referendum – wants real conversation, nationally.

The group wants to hear people’s personal reasons for voting in favour of the amendment.

"I'm Voting Yes – Ask Me Why" held its first event in the National Library's Cafe Joly. Among the speakers were food writer and actor Biddy White Lennon, Jack and Jill Foundation co-founder and Renua recruit Jonathan Irwin and Union of Students in Ireland president Laura Harmon.

In the coming weeks, events will be held across Ireland as part of an “open-mic tour”.

At the launch there was sense that the Yes side is at pains to assure the electorate they find it perfectly all right that others might hold a dissenting view.

Charlie Bird chaired the proceedings and will be acting as facilitator for most of the meetings around the country. "It's simple. It's just about people telling their stories. It's a conversation and it's non-confrontational," he said.

Irwin, a self-confessed grumpy old man, wholeheartedly supports the amendment. “But when I look around at my male contemporaries, I would be very concerned that they either won’t turn up in the polling stations or when they get there they mightn’t have the courage to tick the Yes box.”

Irwin is in his 70s now. "You have to forgive us mature men because we were brought up in a very, very different climate . . . there were us chaps and then there were other people to be sniggered about," he said of his boarding school days in England. "I think, we, the chaps, were frightened, which is pathetic, really."

He made “a heartfelt plea” to men of his era. (The “over-40s”, as he put it, to the horror of some very cool looking 40-somethings in the room.)

White Lennon, latterly of the Great Irish Bake-Off and Maggie from The Riordans to the older generation, spoke from a granny's perspective. "I will be married 45 years in August. I don't know that we would necessarily have stuck it out through thick and thin, good times and bad times, without the fact that we were married."

She remembered when her son was very small. “And I often thought: what happens if he turns out to be homosexual? I would have feared it for one reason only: that he would have had a much more difficult life than if he was heterosexual.”

As it turned out, he wasn’t gay, but “he took his time getting married and produced a lovely granddaughter”. Which goes to show that when it comes to embarrassing their children, mammies are gender-neutral.

But, wondered Biddy, what about her son’s children, and his children’s children.

“I want them to grow up, with the same possibilities, should they be homosexual, or lesbian or transgender or any of these different minorities that the natural world brings to us.”

She is voting Yes. “It does no harm and all it can do is good.”

Harmon isn’t thinking of getting married any time soon, but if the right woman comes along, that might change.

“I do think this referendum is about rights, of course, but it is also about love. It’s a very simple thing.” One reason she is voting Yes is for “older couples who have been together for many, many years or many, many decades and they have been waiting for all of their lives for this recognition”.

Same rights

Anne Rigney from Roscommon spoke as the mother of a gay son. She wants him to have the same rights as her daughter and to be able to marry the person he loves. She read out a poem she has written: Imagine It's Your Child . . . (and How Would You Feel).

In some ways, there was a sense of people preaching to the converted. The organisers say they hope to get good engagement at their road shows with Bird at the helm.

If they ever feel the need to change the name of their “I’m Voting Yes – Ask Me Why” tour, they could do worse than “I’m Voting Yes – Ask Me Granny”.