Unsung heroes of marriage equality vote – three months on

‘Many parents who became involved in the referendum understood the implications of homophobia on their children’s lives for the first time’

The Yes vote in the Marriage Equality Referendum, three months ago, brought with it a healing that was felt deeply in every county in Ireland. The healing travelled far beyond our island: it has been life-altering, has affected countless numbers and is still unfolding.

The healing was experienced by LGBT people at a profound level, but has also touched grandparents and parents, siblings and extended families, canvassers, neighbours, old school friends, teachers and every person who voted Yes.

I felt the healing personally, but the magnitude and magnificence of the healing shone through with the personal stories that friends and strangers shared with me. I’ve been overwhelmed many times when people stop to thank me, or just simply to talk, and end up in tears or lost for words with a lump in their throat.

The healing occurred because campaigners and supporters literally put their hearts into the outcome – they put their hearts on the line.


It was the experiences on the journey we travelled during the referendum campaign that led to the healing. Ultimately the experiences unified us, strengthened connections, forgave the past and uncloaked a loving nation.

There were many who felt wronged at having to ask for equality and some became intensely angry because of it. Every door knocked on, every request for a Yes vote was a forced coming out. We lay our lives, loves, hopes, dreams and aspirations at the mercy of others reminiscent of Yeats’s tender words, “I have spread my dreams under your feet/Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

On a number of occasions, friends shared their experience of feeling shame during the course of the referendum. It was a throwback to their youth, before they came out, the sense of being different and somehow wrong, not fitting with the expectation of society that had been shaped by the Church and its teachings of homosexuality as sin. The referendum brought these long forgotten but not distant feelings to the surface. The positive result on May 23rd cleansed the shame and set people free.

Many parents who became involved in the referendum understood the implications of homophobia on their children’s lives for the first time. They witnessed and felt the devastation homophobia inflicted – the violence and the oppression. Some parents expressed guilt at never really connecting with this side of their children’s lives.

Unsung heroes

They involved themselves in the campaign as a form of absolution perhaps, some in simple ways, others profoundly.

Tom Curran

became my unsung hero of the campaign. A father who stood up for his son’s right to love and marry because Tom loved his son so much.

My referendum hero is my mum Eithna who publicly linked her faith in God and her love for me as the reason she was voting Yes. She changed a lot of hearts and minds. Mum and Tom gave permission for people to vote Yes as a link to their faith. They and other parents created a space for healing due to their commitment to their children, their “womb love” as mum says.

Lisa, my sister, dedicated herself to the campaign, working long hours without pay in HQ. My brother John wrote me a beautiful note reflecting his recognition of the LGBT struggle. The entire family fed me, watched after me, did my laundry and ironing – whatever was needed they did it because they love me and felt a deep conviction the referendum needed to pass.

Many families supported their children with these acts of love. Families voted together, travelling a great distance to be reunited in their hometown to ensure this hurdle was overcome. It is all part of the healing energy abounding in Ireland, forgiving the past and forging a new narrative.

Friends did the job of families for some. My own dropped in dinners, drove me around the country when the campaign became all-encompassing, sent daily motivational texts. It all adds up to feeling totally held, to being part of something bigger.

The Boat to Vote campaign was mesmerising – watching people travel home in colossal waves of support became overwhelming. I spoke to people whose friends had gone as far as raising the funds for them to travel home to be part of this great break with the past. Ireland had never witnessed these acts in such a mass scale.

A number of months ago, I received a letter from an elderly man living in rural Ireland that moved me to tears. He explained that as a gay man, invisible for most of his long life, while marriage equality was probably too late for him, a Yes would mean he could die knowing his country men and women finally accepted him.

The letter captures the essence of what the referendum was really about. The Yes carried a message in the winds of change that whispered to this man and others: you’re accepted, cherished, and most definitely loved. I hope he especially knows this.

New dawn

On May 24th, waking up after a day of allowing the beauty of the result to settle, I didn’t have the words to express the joy I felt thanks to the 1,201,607 people who said Yes.

Nina Simone

did have the words and, as I lay in bed, looking out at the dawn, I cranked her to full volume, ‘It’s a new dawn/It’s a new day/It’s a new life for me . . . /Stars when you shine you know how I feel/Oh freedom is mine.”

Without knowing or understanding, we in Yes Equality HQ and other groups began a political campaign that transformed into a campaign that brought healing to a great many people in Ireland and abroad. For that we should be deeply proud. Every campaigner, every person who voted Yes is party to a seismic shift in Ireland’s social fabric. Nothing could be more beautiful. The healing, the possibility contained in its potential and its impact has only started to bloom and I’ve no doubt will continue to flourish.

Andrew Hyland was co-director of Marriage Equality and a founding member and director of communications for Yes Equality. He is a mentor and yoga teacher