It’s a good thing I was born straight, because I’d never have had the courage to come out. Despite all my liberal beliefs and belief in Ireland’s progress, personally, I’d be a coward. I’d be one of those middle-aged men who just lived alone, and mumbled something about “being very busy with work” when people make inquiries about one’s love life. One of those fellas who never met the right girl, God love him.
But I’m not, although, as one friend pointed out, I might as well be. I am middle-aged and live alone, but that, I had to point out, is because I’m an arsehole, and being an arsehole, unlike being gay, is a lifestyle choice.
So for me, it’s not a personal thing. But it is for so many. It literally is their life. On Saturday the 23rd, as the votes are counted, for thousands of people in the country it is their actual happiness. The turnout in Dun Laoghaire or Donegal, interesting nuggets to political anoraks like me, will actually decide whether they are in tears on Saturday night. This is their life we’re talking about.
Both Ursula Halligan and Noel Whelan alluded, in pieces this week, to people praying for a Yes. Now, I’ve never prayed for a political result. All those referendums, even when I ran myself, I never prayed for a result, and I do pray in my private life. I pray for loved ones, for help solving problems, but I’ve never prayed for a political reason because it just seemed sordid. Yet I can’t help but be seriously moved by the fact that there are people praying for a Yes not as a theoretical win or political statement but because it will allow happiness into their personal lives. Because it will allow them yes, to marry, but also to know that a majority of their friends, relatives, work colleagues went into a polling booth and said Yes, my friend is as entitled to be happy too.
Of course, there are people praying for a No vote, but they’re praying in an abstract way, against a concept they regard as morally wrong. I doubt many of them are actually praying to actively block the personal happiness of a specific individual. Or, if they are, then the God they are praying to isn’t the same one I pray to. Indeed, if they genuinely believe that their God will smile down with pleasure and satisfaction at the brokenheartedness of actual individual people if there is a No vote, is it possible they’re accidentally praying in the wrong direction? To The Other Fella? But I digress.
It comes down to this. On May 22, you have the power of a king or a governor standing over a death warrant or a pardon. It’s your choice. The box you mark will decide whether, say, an old gay man who hid in the unhappy shadows his whole life can suddenly, for the first time in his life, feel part of us all, or you can tell him to get back in the shadows. You have that power. This referendum will be one of the most selfless things many of us will ever do because it’s in secret and it will cost us nothing. You won’t even have to justify your decision. The power to bestow happiness is in your pencil, and you have to choose to give that happiness, or for some other reason decide that someone else will be denied it and that is your will they be denied it. The happiness or the heartbreak we see on Saturday night will be our decision, our specific personal choice as individual voters. You will put a smile on a face, or tears in an eye. No one else.
This isn’t North Korea or Saudi Arabia. This is Ireland and on May 22 every one of us over 18 is The King with his quill hovering over the parchment. It’s your call.