Marriage Referendum: Time to hang out our brightest colours

Ireland has been redefined. We are all equals as citizens under the Constitution, writes Jerry Buttimer.          

Thank you to the people of Ireland for their generosity, courage, and affirmation of all us as people. It is in fact Ireland we redefined and not marriage, in voting yes. Today a small nation with a huge heart shines brightly across the world as one that cherishes all of its children equally. With this massive endorsement, the people have affirmed that we are all equals as citizens under our Constitution. We are now the first country in the world to democratically vote in favour of equal marriage. And we did so resoundingly. This says a huge amount about who we are and will change how the world views us. This is a statement that our country values all of us the same irrespective of who we are and who we love. It is a time to hang out our brightest colours.

It’s a day that gay people in Ireland had hoped for and dreamed of for decades, one that many of us who advocated and campaigned for thought may never come. Today as a gay, equal citizen, I can write with pride that the people cast their ballots for hope over isolation and fear, and for a truly equal and just society.

It’s been an emotional weekend for a lot of people, including myself. So many people have given so much of themselves in this campaign. What this referendum means is that we are no longer on the margins, that we are included, that our love is the same, that we are no different to our straight brothers and sisters.

The embrace of the majority, whose affirmation in voting to extend the right to marry towards those of us who are lesbian or gay, demonstrated a generosity of spirit. The older generation recognised that this referendum was about their families and the people they love.

Marriage Referendum: Time to hang out our brightest colours

Friday was about people making extraordinary journeys to come home to vote. It was about Kitty Hurley, 101 years old, who went to her polling station in West Cork wearing her rainbow-coloured cardigan to vote yes. It concluded that night, as I watched Cillian Fleming sprint towards the door in Rochestown at 9.59pm after a marathon journey to make it home to cast a vote.

This referendum was about the lives of people. It was a referendum which, over the past number of years, months, and specifically weeks, saw us hold a national conversation with the people of Ireland on marriage equality and what it means to us all. From the four provinces of our island, we on the yes campaign respectfully asked the people to join with us as we knocked on doors and spoke to the media and told our personal stories.

I was humbled to canvass with members of YesEquality Cork who, in their hundreds, strode across townlands, housing estates, shopping centres, and even city bridges to talk to voters. This referendum allowed people to see the humanity of us all. As one lady told me on Friday: “This referendum helped me to see that Joseph, my hairdresser of 20 years, was a real person and not my hairdresser.”

We were told time after time: “I’m voting for you as my son or daughter or grandchild because I want you all to be equal.”

I have spoken at meetings, schools, conferences, and events across 16 counties, 24 constituencies, in nine universities and institutes of technology. I also had the privilege of participating as a member of the Constitutional Convention when it considered this issue and ultimately recommended to Government to hold a referendum. It has been a pleasure to meet, to engage, and to talk with the Irish people.

Friday morning was very emotional, more so than in any other election and referendum, as I cast my most important vote ever. This referendum was personal to me, my relationship, my friends, my neighbours, my past pupils, my work colleagues, and to men and women across our great country whom I’ve never met. It is also personal to future generations.

The result, as seen by the euphoria in Dublin Castle, and on the streets across Ireland, will have a profound and positive impact on the lives of people. It was breathtaking to watch the joy and emotion of so many people on Saturday night.

Marriage Referendum: Time to hang out our brightest colours

Since I came out publicly, many more people have had the confidence to discuss very personal stories and experiences with me. By our vote on Friday, we have dispelled the fears of many who felt on the outside, excluded and marginalised. Now they can feel inclusiveness, acceptance, and affirmation.

To those who campaigned for a no vote, thank you for your engagement, I accept your right to have an opposing view. When the shadow of the campaign recedes you will see there is nothing to fear. This result is good for our people, our society, and our country.

Simply by voting yes we have made a change to our Constitution that will be personal and reaffirming for so many people. It will open the door to a new and better Ireland where we will be all cherished as equals. Today we together construct a new modern republic where liberty and equality shine brightly.

Jerry Buttimer TD is founder and chairperson of Fine Gael LGBT.

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