The day that changed Ireland forever: Colm O'Gorman looks back at five years since the marriage referendum

The day that changed Ireland forever: Colm O'Gorman looks back at five years since the marriage referendum
Colm O’Gorman: “People danced on the streets all day and all night.”

As Dublin Gay Pride is celebrated tomorrow with a virtual parade, Colm O’Gorman recalls the day five years ago when we voted for marriage equality.

Do you remember the way the world reacted that day in May 2015? 

Ireland had become the first country in the world to provide for civil marriage equality for same-sex couples by a popular vote and the world did a collective double take. 

Ireland, and by a landslide? Our vote sent a message around the world, and helped spur on advances in LGBT rights in many countries.

I was on Morning Ireland that day, just after 9am, before heading to the count centre. 

The ballot boxes had just been opened and within less than an hour, it became clear that the Yes side were heading to a huge victory. 

Before 10am, David Quinn, one of the lead campaigners against marriage equality, gracefully conceded defeat. 

I remember the presenter asking me about the significance of the victory. 

Was this a manifestation of a new and outward looking Ireland, one that was embracing modernity and casting off older conservative attitudes? I did not agree. 

The result was not evidence of us casting aside traditional values; rather it was deeply grounded in those values. 

In a commitment to the idea that our loving, intimate relationships are the foundations upon which we build our lives, our families, our communities and our society.

Family matters to us. Family cannot be defined by the norms of religion or any other dogma. 

It is not a narrow, restrictive construct. 

We know that all kinds of families exist, we grew up with them and in them, and we went on to form our own. 

None are perfect, but the notion that only one type of family was worthy of protection and respect was deeply offensive to a great many people. 

The vote showed not just our rejection of such disrespect but our desire to cherish all families equally. 

It was a remarkable moment in a country that had decriminalised homosexuality just 22 years earlier.

I had grown up in that Ireland. A country that branded me a criminal because of who I loved. 

I remember the shame and fear I felt as a teenager when I realised I was different, that sense that there was something wrong with me. 

Thankfully, I cast that off a long time ago.

The day that changed Ireland forever: Colm O'Gorman looks back at five years since the marriage referendum
Colm O’Gorman with his children on the morning of the vote.

I came to learn that it is the quality of my loving relationships that define me, not the gender of the person I love. 

It took me more than 30 years to realise that, and to throw off the judgments I carried about myself because of the things I had been taught when I was younger. 

The best of who I am is not the work I do, the professional successes I might achieve, but the integrity and decency with which I love. 

That, more than anything else, defines me.

I love fiercely. Like many other people, the centre of my life has been my family. My husband and our two children. 

I love them with a power that I could never fully understand had I not been blessed to know them. 

We are a family. No better, nor no worse than most every other family we know. 

But as things stood before that day in May, we were not like all other families, because we were denied all the rights, privileges and responsibilities exclusively limited to and guaranteed by, civil marriage.

It changed that day, and it was joyous.

It should be acknowledged however, that it came with a cost. 

It demanded a lot of many of us. We had to offer up the most intimate, precious aspects of our lives for public discussion.

To participate as the quality and integrity of our loving relationships and of our families were debated and discussed. 

We had to listen politely as those who opposed us denigrated and disrespected us. 

We could not name or call out their prejudice; that was prohibited. 

Instead, we had to do whatever we could to protect each other and ourselves from the injury such ‘debate’ does to the well-being of those who are the subject of it. 

Just as I will never forget the joy of the outcome, or the love and solidarity so many of us found as we went around the country during the campaign, neither will I forget the trauma caused to so many people by the ‘debate’ itself. 

No one should ever have their rights and their dignity made the subject of a public ballot. 

It is a bruising and damaging experience, even when it goes right. 

The joy we expressed that day was of course an expression of our delight at the result, but it was also joyous relief that the campaign was over.

People danced in the streets all day and all night. 

I was not able to go anywhere for weeks afterwards without someone approaching me to celebrate, to share a story and a hug. 

The day that changed Ireland forever: Colm O'Gorman looks back at five years since the marriage referendum
"The joy we expressed that day was of course an expression of our delight at the result, but it was also joyous relief that the campaign was over."

It was a day of liberation, and not just for LGBT people. 

I remember reading a post on Twitter the next day where a woman celebrated the fact that a gay couple who lived a few doors up from her were walking down the street holding hands. 

She did not really know them, but she was delighted to see them be so free. I loved that. Her joy in their liberation. 

None of us is truly free, unless all of us are free. None of us is equal, unless all of us are.

We made a big statement that day about the kind of republic we aspire to be. 

A republic committed to equality and to human rights. 

The boy that I was could never have imagined such change. 

When we first began to campaign for marriage equality, we were told that it was impossible, that it would never secure sufficient political and public support. 

However, what is simply right is never impossible. 

We changed our constitution that day, and we changed lives. We were powerful.

We need more of that now. We face uncertain times. 

Our lives will change radically because of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

A ‘new normal’ will emerge. Who will shape it? Whom will it benefit? 

Will it address the deep inequalities within our society and our world, inequalities made even starker by this pandemic, or will it deepen them? 

We have seen extraordinary acts of solidarity in the face of this crisis. 

The pandemic has shown how none of us is safe unless all of us are safe. 

If we are to progress, to build a better world post this pandemic, powerful institutions will have to change. 

Some will say that too is impossible. It is not. 

The limits of progress are dictated not by the refusal of powerful institutions to change, but by our refusal to manifest our own power and change them. 

What is right is always possible.

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