Noel Whelan: Remember real people when you vote in marriage referendum

‘They and their families have a real and very human need to be recognised as equal’

Over recent months many have shared their stories and exposed their lives so that we might appreciate how much the marriage equality referendum means. This day next week I ask you to remember some of them.

Remember Enda, a wedding band musician and father of four who told us how he held his 25-year-old daughter Rachel shaking and sobbing in his arms for two hours on the “harrowing” night she told him she was gay. She had kept it within for years and paid a price in anxiety and panic attacks. His greatest wish now is to play at her wedding.

Remember Patrick from Clonmel, who told Tipp FM about how in the first few years after he and his boyfriend moved into their estate, the back windscreen of their car had been smashed seven times. Thankfully “attitudes are turning”, he says. People are more tolerant now. Mind you, recently when they had to go to the emergency department he got “40 different looks” when he introduced himself as the patient’s partner.

Remember James who posted a YouTube clip about ringing his nana to have “the first proper conversation with her ever” about his sexual orientation. He was doing so because he wanted to ask her to vote Yes on May 22nd. “You don’t need to ask me that question,” she said, “I have been behind you 100 per cent from the day you came out. I have always been your number one fan because you are so brave.” James wept as she told him emphatically that she is voting Yes.


Complete love

Remember Tom, a backroom political operative who stepped out on to the front line as the proud father of a gay son. He wrote about how one day Finian, then in his teens, bolted from the house and ran for ages through neighbouring fields. When he came back, he sat silently in front of his parents for more than an hour before he could find the words to tell them he was gay. Finian’s biggest fear was that his dad’s spirituality would drive him to reject him. Tom’s response was one of complete love, his only concern “was about what life would be like” for his son. There was a lot of “hugging and holding” that night. As a man of faith, Tom has urged all Catholics to do the right thing and vote Yes.

Remember Anthony, who having seen a No poster saying, “A Mother’s Love is Irreplaceable” posted an emotional piece on Facebook about his own irreplaceable mother. Shortly after she was first diagnosed with a fatal illness she said to him out of the blue one day, “I hope that you aren’t gay. Your life would be so much easier if you weren’t.” He hadn’t the courage to answer her. He didn’t have to. Just before she died she told him, “ I know. You be whatever you want to be and let nobody stand in your way.” If she was alive now, he says, she would be voting, probably even campaigning, for Yes.

Remember Colm, a Man Booker-nominated and bestselling author. He is one of the shrewdest observers of the nuances of Irish family life. He and his partner would love to be a married family in Ireland.

Remember Justin. Even though his mother once held the highest constitutional office in our Republic, he is a second-class citizen in our laws because he is denied constitutional equality.

Praying nightly

Remember Seán, a taxi driver who spent a trip I took in his cab this week telling me, what he has told very few. He is gay. He is in his 50s. He is in love. He is praying every night for the Yes side to win the marriage referendum.

Remember all of these names and those of the many other brave voices who have spoken out in this referendum campaign.

Keep them in your thoughts between now and polling day. They will have to endure the No side demonising gay parenting – and gay men in particular – in increasingly crude terms in a last desperate effort to deflect and defeat the momentum for equality.

Remember that those impacted by this referendum are real people whose real lives cannot be dismissed by false slogans. They are our brothers, sisters, daughters and sons, our family, our friends. They include some of our teachers, our shopkeepers, our nurses and our tradesmen. We meet them every day on our streets, in our work place, and everywhere we gather in our communities.

Remember they are the people with whom we share this country. They are of us. They and their families have a real and very human need to be recognised as equal.

Remember, they have real faces and real names. And then remember that you have the awesome power to give them real constitutional equality with a Yes vote next Friday.

Twitter: @noelwhelan