The N11 road is one of my major routes. When I don’t take public transport, it’s my main road into Dublin, as it is for anyone travelling from Wicklow and Wexford to the City Centre, along with the caravan of southside commuters.
As such, it is a highly visible spot for poster campaigns and every election, the N11’s lamp posts are covered in exhortations to vote this way and that, though I doubt it has much effect on voters. Postering is a way of showing your political strength more than anything else.
Still, on the day we celebrated 20 years since Father Ted was aired on television, I got an uneasy feeling when I first saw the ‘No’ posters for the Marriage Equality Referendum.
The posters featured a man, a woman, and a baby, and the headline read “Say No to Surrogacy”.
Now, surrogacy has nothing to do with this vote, which I should probably explain for my international readers. Ireland is having a referendum on May 22 to decide whether or not to give the same rights to gay couples to get married as heterosexual couples have at the moment. That’s it. No more, no less.
Gay couples already have the right to civil partnerships, but marriage is a stronger union (as all married couples know) giving all sorts of rights which a civil partnership does not. It’s strange to think our laws discriminate even against our own government ministers, such as Leo Varadkar.
For that reason (and because the relationships people might want to pursue are none of my business) I decided a long time ago to vote ‘Yes’, and the majority of Irish people are expected to vote with me on that – to keep our noses out of other people’s business. But the hard-core religious people want to retain their hold on what other people do.
There is no real argument against the proposal, so the ‘No’ side have dreamed up all sorts of red herrings to distract from the fact that none of their arguments make sense.
Anyway, a few weeks ago, as I traveled down the N11, it was all “No, No, No” as the ‘Yes’ side didn’t appear to have a single poster. And almost all of those ‘No’ posters had misleading or prejudiced messages. They didn’t quite go so far as to say that the Gays will eat your children and destroy civil life as we know it, but the implication was there.
Thankfully, I live in a place that is reasonably (if sometimes only marginally) sane, and that sanity was returned when I got to University College Dublin. The University straddles the N11 and there is a walkway above the road to allow students to cross.
On the railings of this walkway, someone had put letters that spelled out the phrase “Careful Now”, and it made me laugh. The phrase is, of course, a Father Ted line that came from their protest at the cinema over a ‘dirty movie’. Their other great line was ‘Down with this sort of thing’ which has become a staple message at all Irish protests ever since.
The UCD students who had put up this sign in tribute to Father Ted were urging drivers to be careful, sure, but the phrase itself is the ultimate conservative viewpoint. It means, don’t try anything new. Be very afraid.
The irony for Ted, of course, was that his protest attracted a lot of people to the movie that wouldn’t have been interested otherwise, and so it was counter-productive.
I wish the same could have been said of the ‘No’ posters. “No, no, no”. They zip by. “No”. Change lanes. “No”. Pull up at the lights. “No”. “No, no, no, no, no.”
The road had become a journey into Ireland’s past. Negative. Hopeless. Rigidly sticking to out-dated formulas that didn’t work. It reminded me of the great Christy Moore line
“Everywhere I go, the answer’s always ‘No'”
And so, in today’s wonderful sunshine, I drove down the N11 again. It’s been a while now since I’ve done that and I noticed a variety of ‘Yes’ posters.
They were from a variety of organisations, yes, of all types and descriptions. They were of all colours, yes, rainbows, yes, and other plain colours too. They posed the question: “Discrimination damages lives”, and yes, of course it does. So, yes.
Another said ‘Let’s treat everyone equally” and yes, I thought, well, yes, of course. The Workers’ Party had less of the, um, gayness of the others with a simple “Civil Marriage is a Civil Right” but even there I thought ‘Yes’.
Another brightly coloured poster told me that “Together we can make 2015 a year of fairness and equality” and I thought, yes, I’m up for that. “We need you. Help us make history”. Yes. “Vote Yes for your friend”. Yes. “That’s an ‘Aye’ from Donegal. Yes. “Business for Yes”. Yes.
Driving along in the sunshine, it began to feel like a new day, yes, a new dawn. Yes. I thought of the many historical heroes once oppressed but now cherished, yes, like Wilde and Joyce, (Yes, certainly) and O’Casey, yes, Edna O’Brien, yes, and many more.
The ‘Yes’ posters have taken over. I drive along an avenue of ‘Yes’. Towards a new place, yes, perhaps a scary place for some, but yes, I will go down that road. Yes, I will vote yes.
If it saves one person the hurt of being different, yes, if it does what should have been done years ago, yes, if it stops people being defined by what they get up to in their own bedrooms, yes, or anywhere else, yes. I will vote Yes.
For all the people who have ever suffered discrimination in places where I couldn’t make a difference, yes, for the pink triangle, yes, for equality and for human rights, I will vote yes, yes, yes.
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