I am from quite a rural (‘culchie’, ‘bogger’, ‘muck savage’) background. Hailing from a farming family in the West of Ireland and growing up in the nineties, the topic of homosexuality rarely raised its head. In fact, the only two times I remember it overtly being discussed were in reference to a neighbour up the road who was rumoured to have un-ironically attended a ‘Wham’ concert and a bull we had which seemed to have no interest in fathering progeny.
Although we like to think of ourselves as a modern, progressive and socially liberal society, a quick glance around the country town where I live gives an indication of the strength that Catholic conservatism still holds here. Up until a fortnight ago, I could count on one hand the amount of ‘Yes’ posters I saw, those being largely out-swarmed by the ‘Nos’. This contrasts with the fact that many of the 18-35 year olds who I know all appear to be voting yes. Indeed, during a sociable with about 8 people from that age group, not a single person (hopefully out of a genuine, sincere conviction and not out of peer pressure) said they would vote No. However….
Only three people at the table, including myself, said that they would be voting or be able to vote on the day of the referendum. Some were unable to make the trek home on the day to vote, while others had already made travel plans and would be out of the country. This, allied to the fact that in general, the older generations tend to be the more consistent voters and that, according to a recent article in the Irish Independent, 30% of under-25s are not registered to vote means that the likelihood of the bill passing relies largely on an older, and arguably more conservative generation – my mother’s generation. A regular church-goer of 59 years old and by no means old (I have to write that because she’ll beat me to death with a wooden-spoon if I don’t) but of a generation that held much less of the cynicism that mine does to the Catholic church, I decided to find out her thoughts about the referendum:
Me: So, Mam, you know I’m writing this article about gay marriage for this very fine publication and I just wanted your thoughts on the whole thing.
Mam: Yeah, go on so, hurry on would you I’ve to finish making the dinner. Did you post that letter?
Me: I did yeah. So Mam, would you describe yourself as a devout Catholic?
Mam: Well I don’t know, I suppose I would yes. I go to Knock every year and I go to mass.
Me: And would you say that religion is an important part of your life?
Mam: Oh it is. I pray for you and your brother every night…and for Granny and your father.
Me: And what’s your attitude to voting?
Mam: Ara, I don’t know, sure they come around every couple of years giving you letters…I just throw them in the bin. It’s mostly shite anyway sure. Would you put another sod of turf on the fire there?
Me: Okay, yeah. What about the referendum though? Are you going to vote in that?
Mam: Oh I think so, if your uncle is going down to Magee Hall (local polling station) I’ll go with him.
Me: And if you don’t mind my asking, how will you vote?
Mam: Well I think I’ll vote No. It’d be weird seeing two men being married to each other.
Me: Okay. And is there anything in particular you dislike about the concept?
Mam: Well that’s just how I feel about it now…I don’t know, it would just be a bit weird I suppose.
Me: But it will only affect gay people who are very much in love and who want to get married. Do you not think that maybe it’s a little bit unfair that two people who are very much in love would not be entitled to the same rights as any other couple?
Mam: Well, maybe it is…bring that cup down to the kitchen there would ya?
Me: Yeah, yeah in a second. What about your man off the telly who you really like? I presume he’s gay? Do you not think it’s unfair that he might feel a bit stigmatised because of our legislation?
Mam: Oh you mean [television personality whom I cannot name for legal reasons]. Oh yeah I love him he’s very good. He’s not gay though surely?!
Me: Well, I don’t know that he is for certain but I would assume based on his effeminate demeanour…
Mam: Ah, now that’s prejudice you’re using there! You don’t know that for sure!
Me: Okay, yeah you’re probably right. But do you not think that he, were he gay, should be entitled to get married like you and dad did?
Mam: Oh I don’t know, maybe I suppose. Will you leave me alone if I say yes?
Me: That’s not how democracy works Mam! You’re supposed to make an informed decision based on your own morality and point of view as well as the information available to you on the issue!
Mam: Oh the bacon is burning! Look, I’m in a hurry, bring in some more turf!
So, there you have it. I will accept that a sample number of 1 does not necessarily a sound statistical study make, but that is the opinion of one 59 year old woman from the West of Ireland, and I would say it’s pretty reflective. In my experience, it seems to be the way most people vote. They listen to their friends and family and gauge their opinion based on that. Most people are often too mithered worrying about bills and other minutia to think too profoundly about how to vote. My mother has won poetry competitions and was a ward sister in England so she is not by any means unintelligent – just worried about bacon.
So my suggestion to you, dear reader, is that if you really want the gay men and women of Ireland to have the constitutional right to civil marriage, annoy, I mean, persuade, your parents into voting Yes using logical and moral reasoning and more importantly… go out and vote yourself!