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Whatever happens, government may regret activating so many young, idealistic voters

The result of the marriage referendum is far from a foregone conclusion. But one thing’s certain: we now have many more young and passionate voters in this country.

Donal O'Keeffe

A WEEK TO the Marriage Equality Referendum and the polls still say it’ll be a Yes. We all know how long a week is in politics.

I’ve been a campaigner for Yes Equality this last month or so and my reason for that is very simple: I have gay friends. I think I would be no class of a human being at all if I didn’t stand with those I love when my country is being asked, very simply, if we wish to extend to LGBT couples the same rights and guarantees enjoyed by civilly-married heterosexual couples. In other words, do we consider LGBT people to be equal Irish citizens and, very simply, do we believe in our hearts that love is love?

So close to the finish line…

I cautioned here – eight months ago now – that this is far from a foregone conclusion. So close to the finishing line, no matter what the polls say, I’m even more worried.

If there are alternate realities, there’s surely one where President Seán Gallagher has done a perfectly fine job for the last three and a half years (although some of us still roll our eyes at his Áras Entrepreneurial Breakfasts).

Far-fetched? Gallagher was leading opinion polls by a country mile at the start of the week of the 2011 presidential election. If not for a malicious tweet, Michael D Higgins might not have got the greatest mandate in the history of the State. Actually, there’s a good chance Michael D might now be Minister for Arts, Heritage and whatever else poor Heather Humphreys is making a hames of these days.

I would be very surprised if there isn’t an eleventh hour attempt by the No campaign at a Spectacular. This is, after all, a campaign which claims to believe that every leading children’s charity is engaged in a conspiracy, along with the country’s foremost authority on adoption, against the better interests of the nation’s children.

I worry too about the Bradley Effect. That’s – in essence – the phenomenon where voters tell pollsters what they think will present themselves in the best light. David Quinn tweeted after the UK general election that he believes the so-called “Shy Tory” effect will occur in the Marriage Equality referendum too.

Politics is a cynical game

If this referendum passes, it will surely be – in part, at least – because of the thousands of young people who have registered, specifically, to vote on 22 May. But it may be wrong to say that this will be won exclusively by the young and in many ways I hope that is so. After all, people my own age and far older recall an Ireland when those now demanding we vote No held sway. By God – their God – that was a grey and joyless Ireland and I pray they never, ever, rule us again.

If it is a Yes, the Government parties will almost certainly enjoy – however grudging and fleeting – increased respect and perhaps even support from those who voted Yes. They know this. Politics is a cynical game, after all.

Probably like you, I’m angry with the Government, but I’ll grant them their small moment in the sun as a trade-off for the great good done, not just for the 10% of Irish children who are gay, but for all Irish children if we can finally outgrow the evil notion of demeaning each other just for the way we were born. As Joe Higgins said, vote against austerity in 2016 but vote for equality in 2015.

Young, passionate and idealistic voters

The Taoiseach – despite not actually bothering to debate or in any meaningful way sell this referendum – said something recently which I thought was powerful. He said that if the marriage equality referendum is passed, “it could be the making of us as a nation”. I believe he’s right and I hope for the day that Ireland truly embraces its LGBT children.

That said, I also think the Taoiseach may well have accidentally created his own nemesis.
 
As columnist and Yes Equality activist Una Mullally has noted, voting is addictive. If or when this referendum passes Enda – and others – may live to regret having activated so many young, passionate and idealistic voters just in time for the next election.

If you’re 18 and voting for only the second time in your life, this government is probably the only one you’ve ever noticed. Brian Cowen and Bertie Ahern are probably to you what Charlie and Garret are to me.

A week to go

So, after all the deflection, the sex-obsessed scaremongering and the trawler-loads of red herrings about adoption, surrogacy – and whatever it is Senator Rónán Mullen actually means when he says primly “Elton John scenarios”– this referendum will be won or lost on one thing and one thing only: turnout. There’s a solid 25-35% No and every one of them will vote. Polls be damned: every single Yes will count.

To quote Senator David Norris, Ireland’s gay community is at most 10% of the population: “We can’t do this without you.”

If you believe that all Irish people are equal, if you believe that love is the only thing that might just keep us from the darkness, then there is only one thing you can do as an Irish citizen and as any class of a human being: get to that polling station and please vote YES.

Donal O’Keeffe is a writer, artist and columnist for TheJournal.ie. He tweets as @Donal_OKeeffe.

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