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‘Today, Ireland is a global leader in equality’

Our vote for same-sex marriage was the first introduction of marriage equality by popular vote on earth, says Dr Katherine Zappone, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs

The late Ann Louise Gilligan and Katherine Zappone celebrate the passage of the Marriage Bill 2015 through all stages in the Houses of the Oireachtas in November 2015. Photograph: Alan Betson

The late Ann Louise Gilligan and Katherine Zappone celebrate the passage of the Marriage Bill 2015 through all stages in the Houses of the Oireachtas in November 2015. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The sea of waving rainbow flags and tri-colours beamed around the world from the courtyard of Dublin Castle in 2015 remains a beacon of hope and solidarity for those still denied their rights.

It was not only a historic moment, it was a hugely emotional and personal moment for those of us who had been campaigning for decades. For my late spouse, my beloved Ann Louise and I, it marked the successful end to a journey which started in the highest courts in the land 12 years earlier.

Then we decided to open up our personal lives together to the world in a bid to get our marriage in Canada recognised here, the country which we both loved and called home.

That legal battle put us in the spotlight. Our photograph outside the court appeared in print around the world, it led to us sharing our love and our experience with the Irish people on the Late Late Show.

It was nerve-wrecking, it was at times scary and it did lead to many sleepless nights as we worried about the consequences of what we had embarked upon.

Despite these fears, we were always hopeful that when we spoke of our deep love for one another that our friends, our neighbours and the Irish people would respond in the same positive way as our families had.

On the Late Late, then presenter Pat Kenny remarked that then taoiseach Bertie Ahern did not believe a referendum on equal marriage would pass before asking for a show of hands from the studio audience. As the hands went up, Pat said ‘Bertie I think you are wrong’.

About that time, we were also gathering friends and supporters – mostly around our kitchen table – to form the Marriage Equality organisation. It was the beginning of a long journey.

Over the next decade, we worked so that people felt increasing confident about sharing their love stories with their family and friends. This is the approach that was changing minds, the realisation that equality made life better for your gay or lesbian brother, sister, daughter, son, workmate and neighbour.

We saw this too when people shared their real-life experiences at a Constitutional Convention which paved the way for the referendum. During the campaign, it was those personal stories which were key.

Today, Ireland is a global leader in equality. Our vote was the first introduction of marriage equality by popular vote on earth. As Minister, I have overseen an LGBTI+ National Youth Strategy, another world first.

This work will be recognised at World Pride in New York. Then, on behalf of the Irish people I will accept a global luminary award. Fifty years on from the Stonewall Riots, on the same streets, our generosity and solidarity will be recognised. With it also comes responsibility to be a leader in an uncertain world, where once again minorities are under threat.”