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Laura Enright moved to Toronto in June 2014, and is originally from New Ross, Co Wexford.

Laura Enright moved to Toronto in June 2014, and is originally from New Ross, Co Wexford.

On May 22, 2015, the Republic of Ireland became the first country in the world to make same-sex marriage legal by public, popular vote.

I was lucky enough to be in Ireland to be one of the 62pc of our population who voted yes. I flew home from Toronto to exercise my right to vote, and support my community while campaigning with Yes Equality. I felt it was important to show my family, friends and the LGBTQ community that I, along with many others, cared enough to stand up and say yes, for and with them.

Watching the marriage equality campaign from abroad while knowing I was going home to vote was great. I felt very included as an expat, as there was such an international following for the cause. It seemed to me that a yes was a foregone conclusion. Public sentiment and polling seemed in favour of a constitutional change and I felt empowered to be headed home to such an open-minded country.

Picture: Catherine Brennan via @DistrictDublin

When I got home to Ireland, it was a somewhat different story. My dad drove me to the west for some family events, and the drive was intimidating to say the least.

Billboards lined the roads, both Yes and No canvassing signs, and the further west we drove, the more frequent the No posters became.

They had some pretty insulting tag lines, insinuating very hurtful things towards anyone who was not in a two-parent heterosexual household. ‘Children deserve a mother and a father’, and ‘A mother’s love is irreplaceable’ were among some of the slogans.

Sentiment in Roscommon was split. A lot of my family felt the vote wouldn’t carry, even though they themselves were voting yes.

As it turns out they were right in part, as Roscommon-South Leitrim was the only constituency to vote no. The local yes equality campaigners even reported being shouted off the grounds of GAA matches while campaigning.

I then travelled to Wexford, where the mood was quite different. While I was campaigning, most people smiled politely and took leaflets, or told us there was no need to give them any literature because they would of course be voting yes.

The only negative incident in Wexford was with a woman who drove after my sister, another campaigner and myself and handed us back a ripped up yes postcard, saying she “didn’t buy into sodomy”. That was a shock to me, I felt very affronted but simply said thank you and walked away.

The above print is available to buy here, with profits going to the Simon Community and BeLonGTo.

There was talk in the media about the worry of the ‘silent no’ contingent, a potential percentage of the population who may have said they were voting yes to avoid appearing homophobic, but were indeed actually voting no.

As it turns out the last thing the No side were was quiet. They campaigned very vocally and were present at most street corners with seemingly endless campaign funds.

On the day of the vote, everyone seemed to feel pretty happy. So much hard work had been done on the ground by ordinary volunteers who had even taken weeks of unpaid leave from their jobs to campaign. I think they really couldn’t have done any more, it was such an extraordinary effort.

I met a lot of people who said they couldn’t live with themselves if the campaign failed and they hadn’t done everything in their power to help. Being around the campaigners made me so proud to be Irish, there was such positivity on the ground in the last couple of days, one really felt it couldn’t go any other way.

The morning the votes were being tallied was amazing. I was in the car on the way to the airport listening to the radio and checking Twitter as they opened the boxes. There was such a feeling of relief as they were unofficially declaring an overwhelming yes, only an hour into counting!

I heard the Yes had officially won just before my flight boarded. People couldn’t believe I wasn’t sticking around for the celebrations but I was so glad I got to campaign, that to me, meant so much more.

To give it some perspective, a friend of mine who flew from London to Shannon told me she had met a woman in the airport who had flown in from New York to vote in the morning and had gone back to New York that same day.

My workplace, Lush, were very supportive of my trip home, asking me to write a piece for their own website about the experience. I received messages from strangers on social media thanking me for going home and voting, that was overwhelming for me.

There was a real atmosphere of genuine kindness following the vote, both at home and in Canada.

Canadian media also took a massive interest in the journeys of the Irish home. Many television channels asked to speak with me once the vote had passed. Canada really cared about the result, having been one of the first countries in the world to pass same sex marriage into law a decade ago.

Now the law has changed and the first marriages have taken place, I still feel so proud of the little country I’ve come from that has made such an impact on the global human rights community.

The USA ruled to make same sex marriage legal soon after Ireland, and it feels that Ireland has played an integral part in an international attitude change towards LGBTQ issues.

Where to next?

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Citation "My 2015: Why I flew home to support marriage equality." Moving2Canada. . Copy for Citation


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