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#LetsMakeHistory on #marriageequality - for Ireland and the world

The Republic of Ireland gets the chance to make history on Friday.

That’s when people go to the polls in a referendum on changing the Irish constitution to allow same-sex marriage. If a majority opt for Yes, then Ireland will become the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote.

The opinion polls are showing strong support for Yes. An Irish Times survey, taken last week, shows that, excluding undecided voters, 70% of people intend to vote Yes, while 30% say they will vote No.

Yes campaigners are warning against complacency, advising that the outcome is likely to come down to which side can ‘get the vote out’. Older voters, who are more likely to oppose the change, constitute the demographic which is traditionally most likely to vote. However, there are reports of a surge of late voter registration among first-time and younger voters, who have been energised by the prospect of shaping Ireland as a forward-looking place to live.

While all the main political parties are, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, backing a Yes vote, it is the civil society Yes Equality coalition which has led the campaign. Amnesty International has been prominent among the campaign groups pressing for a Yes vote.

Amnesty’s hugely positive Let’s Make History campaign was launched in March to a crowd of thousands gathered in front of the historic GPO building in Dublin. 

Irish section director Colm O’Gorman (check out this powerful speech) has been one of the key Yes campaigners, touring the country and taking part in primetime live TV debates.

Amnesty has set out a strong case for marriage equality as a human rights issue and countered arguments put forward by religious groups that same-sex marriage would lead to poor outcomes for children or devalue heterosexual marriages.

On the face of it, the level of popular support for same-sex marriage is extraordinary, when one considers that the country only decriminalised homosexuality in 1993, five years after a finding by the European Court of Human Rights that Ireland’s laws were in breach of the ECHR.

But the country has been changing rapidly over recent decades. The country has become increasingly secular, with the influence of the Catholic Church – moral authority tarnished by scandal - in decline.

If the opinion polls translate into a Yes vote in the referendum, the Republic of Ireland will join England, Scotland and Wales on these islands in legislating for same-sex marriage.

Of course, that means that Northern Ireland will be left as the only place where gay couples will not have the right to get married. That is because Northern Ireland’s politicians (primarily, but not only, members of the Democratic Unionist Party and Ulster Unionist Party) have voted on four occasions to reject same-sex marriage in the region’s Assembly. The DUP has vowed to use its power to veto any same-sex marriage Bill, even if it has majority support in the Assembly.

For now, it seems that recognition of same-sex marriages will only happen in Northern Ireland via the courts, a move which Amnesty has backed.

However, same-sex marriage campaigners in Northern Ireland are calling for southern voters to vote Yes, knowing that success will build momentum north of the border too.  The 2013 NI Life and Times Survey showed 59% to 29% support for same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, even before the measure was introduced in the rest of the UK. With same-sex marriages increasingly commonplace elsewhere, those figures would likely be higher now.

Right now, though, the campaign is focused south of the Irish border – and you can play your part. A resounding yes vote in Ireland, will echo around the world - of how a once socially conservative country can choose to cherish, in the words of Ireland's independence proclamation, "all the children of the nation equally". In a world where prejudice against and persecution of LGBTI people is still commonplace, the power of that message should not be underestimated.

Amnesty is asking people around the world to join in a solidarity action to support the yes campaign in Ireland. Take a photo with the Amnesty campaign logo (download here or use the image above) and something to situate you in your city or country (e.g. at a landmark or with a flag or banner). Send your pics and solidarity messages to aseely@amnesty.ieand post them on twitter with the hashtags #letsmakehistory and #MarRef and tag @AmnestyIreland.

Come on - let's make history!


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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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