Bridgend woman Maria McLaughlin has a “long list of reasons” why she believes a ‘yes’ vote is “vital” in Friday’s marriage equality referendum.
The 41-year-old said a ‘yes’ would not only send a positive message to young people about being accepted in society, it would also provide security to families, show a progressive Ireland and give a “feeling of protection and safety” to gay men and women “going about their daily lives.”
Maria told how, for many years, she did not feel ready or able to come out and only received the “space” to do so by moving to Dublin.
She said: “We moved and I changed secondary schools. I was the new kid in school and felt like the environment at that time did not really create a space to even contemplate that as an idea.
“I went on to study at Magee in Derry but I felt a lot of pressure. I was still close to my community of origin and knew I wanted to do youth and community work. I felt I might not be able to do that with the ‘gay’ label. I suppose I had to choose.
She added: “I worked for the Donegal Youth Service, with wonderful, lovely people. But I always had that fear. I suppose the way I dealt with it was to move away.”
Maria said she now feels there has been a shift in attitudes over the years, something which has had a positive effect for younger people.
She said: “My brother is 14 years younger than me and is also gay. There has been a huge difference in his process. I don’t want to speak on his behalf, but for me, I was always second guessing my friends, who were ultimately hugely supportive. But, he doesn’t seem to have that worry. There was a huge sense back in the day that you were going to be the “only gay in the village”. That could be really isolating - to be put in that box.”
Maria said a yes vote would send a message to young, gay people about how they are accepted in Donegal and Irish society.
She said: “It would make a huge difference in comparison to how people like myself grew up and came out. You have so much to be dealing with yourself and this yes vote would let you get on with your life, your daily life, knowing you have that acceptance. It wouldn’t be there to worry about.”
Maria said she believes the referendum and the debate around it has provided a platform for people to think about and express what kind of Ireland they want to live in.
She said: “I think this campaign has been a really positive thing.
Some people are sticking to their guns, which they are entitled to do but others are having a think and are questioning themselves. I have the feeling a lot of people have been waiting for the moment to declare their position on this and have been pro-gay for a long time - many have friends and family who are gay- but have not really had the chance to express this.
She added: “Some people don’t get how two women or two men could love each other and that’s where they stand. But, there’s a really strong side of people who believe love is love and this is their chance to say this. It would also show how we want to be seen internationally. I do feel this country has been through an awful lot over the past 20 years. We’re at a stage where we’re coming out of recession and the traditional institutions of church and politics maybe aren’t as powerful. People are making up their own mind about things.”
In response to claims that civil partnership is already in place and marriage is not needed, Maria said the former “doesn’t give the same rights” for couples.
She said: “My sister married a man from a different country and there were no problems with him coming to Ireland. If I had a partner from a different country I wouldn’t be able to do that. There are also concerns over things like next of kin rights in a hospital situation.
“A lot of young families went for civil partnership because it was the best on offer, but they would love to have the security for their family and children. I have a number of lesbian friends, who said their children never realised there was anything different about their family until they saw the posters. A no vote would be hurtful to those families.”
She said she understands that any change to the constitution might make some people nervous and “respects that hesitation.”
“But, the constitution is a living document and has been amended overtime to reflect the people who live here,” she said.
Maria said that for her, a no vote would not only be “hurtful, personally,” but would also represent that the country “is not as ready as we think we are for a new kind of Ireland.”
She said: “It would be very disappointing as we are on the cusp of it. If we didn’t push it over that line then it would be a representation of where we are going as a country. Many gay people who have come out in the last 10 or 15 years have come of age in an Ireland which is moving forward and are working to the assumption that progress will keep going. A no vote would make many question their situation and identity in this country. Personally, I’d be really hurt. For many of us involved in this campaign, there’s a feeling we’ve let out guard down and if there’s a no vote, then you’d be left high and dry. If we got a no vote it would say to us all that ‘you’ve had your moment in the sunshine,’ now get back in your box and get on with your parallel existence.
“A yes vote would just provide that feeling of safety and going about your daily life protected in your country and give that feeling that this allows you to be more confident in going about your daily life.”