Sunday, August 14, 2016

Marriage Equality in Ireland - a multigenre project.

Last year, one of the last courses of my Masters was a Teaching Literacy course. It was a hybrid course, half in-person and half online. The professor, Peter McDermott, had an interesting way of going about teaching teachers to teach literacy. He tasked us with projects leaving the subjects completely up to us and merely asked for a set of criteria to be met. In this way he was showing us that teaching skills is far more effective than teaching content and that to truly engage students, they should be allowed to drive when it comes to subject matter.

This performance task was our 'multi-genre project'. It could be about any historical event in the recent or distant past. It had to contain an introductory letter and a research paper with proper citations. It also had to contain visual and audio forms of representation as well as a self-selected form. I had been following the Marriage Referendum in Ireland closely on Twitter and thought it would make an interesting project that would meet these criteria. This is what I submitted. I got top marks and he asked could he keep it to show as an example. I was quite proud of it at the time as I was of Ireland. Thought I'd post it here for longevity sake.

Image by Fiona Hanley

Marriage Equality in Ireland - A multi-genre project by Jennifer Foxe

Dear Reader,

On the 22nd May 2015, Ireland became the first country in the world to put the issue of same sex marriage to a public vote. The referendum had the highest turnout since the early 1970s, as young and old alike voted for equality. Thousands even travelled home from abroad just to have their voice heard. The result was an overwhelming ‘Yes’. The recognition of the right to marriage regardless of gender was a seismic change in a country where the constitution was largely constructed around the catechism of the Catholic Church and homosexuality was illegal until 1993. The vote has international ramifications as it provides a snapshot of how attitudes are changing. Coverage of the referendum was worldwide and intense. This project covers some of the highlights of the road to marriage equality.
            The visual form of representation I chose was a photograph of the rainbows that formed over Dublin as the results were announced. Although, most likely a coincidence, it was taken by some as a powerful sign from above. I also included a picture of the simultaneous celebrations in the city. The vote was not just taken as a win for gay rights but as a victory for inclusion and equality and celebrated by all.
            The audio representation I decided to include was an edit of some of the students of Trinity College Dublin who organized a campaign on social media known as #ringyourgranny. This highly emotional campaign invited students to call their older relatives and have a conversation about the personal importance to them of the upcoming referendum. Many of these relatives were brought up in a very different time and may have had hesitancies about voting yes on a subject that would not even have been spoken about in Irish society in the past. Some of the older generation are also known to vote no to anything the government supports. I found this campaign to be very powerful, not only for its ramifications in this particular campaign but the entire idea that the young can inform the old and how willing many of them were to change their minds in order to leave their descendants the world they want. This was the closest I have seen to an actual ‘national conversation’.
            My self-selected representation is Panti’s Noble Call which is a video of an Irish drag queen who went on the stage of the national theater to very eloquently speak her mind after she and the national broadcasting company were sued for defamation by a religious institute because she said on a chat show that members of the institute, which was actively campaigning against marriage equality, could be construed as being homophobic. Her thought-provoking reaction to the furore she found herself in went viral worldwide and it is thought that it contributed massively to the huge turnout in the huge turnout in the referendum.
            All in all, the entire campaign was thought-provoking, emotional and powerful. There were many more tear inducing images and videos I could have chosen to include. Although, I did not get to vote in it. I could not help but cry when the landslide results became apparent. For once, the people of Ireland really stood together and made it known that they have decided to be a tolerant, inclusive society. For the first time in a very long time, I was proud of my country. I hope this progressive attitude is catching to the rest of the world.
Yours faithfully,

Research Paper: The Rocky Road to Marriage Equality in Ireland
Under the law in Ireland, any changes to the wording of The Irish Constitution must be put to a national public vote. On 22nd May, 2015, there was a referendum to decide whether Article 41 should be amended by the insertion of the line ‘Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex’ This amendment would give a marriage of two people of the same sex the same legal status and protection under The Constitution as a marriage between a man and a woman.
Ireland has long been seen as a conservative Catholic country. Many Catholic teachings were written into the original Constitution in 1937. In fact, in an article which was amended in 1973, the Roman Catholic Church was originally recognized as having ‘a special position’. Despite this 5th amendment many Catholic values are still visible within Irish law. Divorce only became legal or recognized in 1996. Abortion is still illegal within the state and homosexuality was only decriminalized in 1993 after a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights. (Reiter & Suiter, 2015)
In 2010 a Civil Partnership Bill had been passed that allowed domestic partners of either sex many of the same rights as a married couple. Although an important step in the recognition of a homosexual relationship, according to Marriage Equality, a not-for-profit LGBT advocacy group, it fell short in many areas such as housing, family and taxation. Civil partners were simply not given the same protection afforded to a married couple by law. There were serious implications for the children of civil partners as guardianship was only granted to the biological or adoptive parent.  Unprotected by The Constitution, the legislation that had been put into place to allow Civil Partnerships could also potentially be taken away just as quickly.
The current coalition government which took office in 2011 held a Constitutional Convention to discuss proposed amendments to the Constitution, including that of a provision to extend constitutional marriage rights to same sex couples. The report, returned in April 2013, approved provisions to be discussed in the parliament (Oireachtas) and put to a public vote. ( The timeline was given as early 2015. The official date and wording was announced in January 2015.
In the run up to the referendum, all political parties supported a Yes vote. Many politicians, including ministers, came out as being gay mostly to words of encouragement and support. Polls seemed to show overwhelming support. The big issue in Ireland though is voter apathy. After years of budgetary austerity measures due to the European bailout following the disastrous bank guarantee scheme of 2008, many citizens have lost faith in the political system in general. Tens of thousands more have emigrated. The last referendum in 2013 to decide whether to abolish the senate, had a turnout of only 39%. Other recent referendums and elections had similarly low figures. The danger for the Yes campaign was simply that people would not turn out in high enough numbers to counter the minority that opposed equality.
The No campaign was largely fronted by a lay socially conservative Catholic group known as the Iona Institute. (CIA World Factbook) Notorious for their anti-abortion campaigns featuring distressing imagery, they take the view that the fabric of society is deteriorating as it moves away from traditional family values. The group had also previously opposed the Civil Partnership Bill. No campaign posters featuring the slogan ‘Children deserve a Mother and a Father, Vote No’ were largely criticized as being offensive to single and widowed parents. The Catholic Church itself played a very low-key role in the campaign. (Suiter, 2015)
On January 11th 2015, a drag queen known as Panti Bliss performed on a Saturday night chat show on RTE, the government funded national broadcasting channel, promoting her new tour. The performer, Rory O’ Neill then had a short interview where he discussed growing up gay in Ireland. During the interview, he commented on two journalists and mentioned the Iona Institute going out of their way to write opinion pieces arguing against the right to gay marriage. He argued that if anybody is actively campaigning against equal rights for gay people that they are homophobic. He stated that that does not mean they beat up gay people but that they subtly oppress them. (Saturday Night Show 01/11/2015) The following week, the chat show host issued a very stilted apology for those comments that he clearly disagreed with, stating that they were not the views of RTE. It later transpired that RTE had paid upwards of $100,000 of tax payers money to settle with the five complainants. Nothing was reported in the papers. Social media lit up. (The Story of PantiGate) The national discussion of the censorship of RTE spread to parliament. Panti appeared on the national stage and gave her Noble Call speech in reaction. The clip went viral worldwide and was translated into 16 languages and a mascot for the Yes campaign was born.
Suddenly, what may have been a low key referendum with the usual low turnout largely fought between LGBT activists and supporters and fundamental Catholics was a civil rights issue. Largely driven by social media, the youth of the country were suddenly engaged in political discourse. In large numbers, gay and straight youth went out and knocked on doors to campaign for a Yes vote. Students organized to call their elder relatives and ask them to vote Yes. The diaspora, not allowed to vote from abroad were mobilized. Group fares and transport was organized for people to return from abroad to vote under the social media hashtag #hometovote. The former president of Ireland, Mary McAleese, a practicing Catholic and mother to a gay son, referred to the 1916 proclamation in wanting ‘the children of the nation to be cherished equally’. The Yes campaign argued that this referendum was not about surrogacy or the undermining of the institution of marriage but about equality, about the right of recognition of love. The slogan Tá for Grá (Yes for Love) was utilized heavily. It was a campaign largely fueled by emotion and fought by a demographic who rarely engage in politics.
The referendum had a historic turnout of over 60% and of those 62% voted yes, with some constituencies reaching as high as 75%. (Irish Times, 05/23/2015) It was the largest turnout since the referendum to join the European Union (then the EEC) in 1975. Very early in the count it was obvious that the Yes side had won, with only two out of 43 constituencies returning a No vote. The grounds of Dublin Castle were opened to the public for the count, with a maximum occupancy of 2000. It was full to capacity all day with lines outside. An atmosphere of carnival reigned. Rainbow flags flew high all over the city. Ireland, that small conservative country, with a population of under 4 million was suddenly center stage again with coverage in mainstream media worldwide. This time it was for a good thing though. This time it was not a scandal or shameful uncovering of atrocities in the past. This time the people of Ireland had stood together and declared themselves modern, liberal and progressive, pro equality and pro love. The youth of Ireland had spoken and declared what kind of country they want to live in. This time the Irish had achieved something to be proud of. Support of the result was given by political leaders in Europe and the US. The first same sex marriages in Ireland are expected to take place in the late summer of 2015.

Visual Representation

Image posted on Twitter by @keysersoz_ie

Dublin Castle: 05/22/15

Rainbows over LGBT flag in Dublin as results of landslide referendum are officially confirmed. Meanwhile, thousands gather to celebrate in Dublin Castle.

Audio Representation

The #ringyourgranny Campaign. Initially organized by students of Trinity College Dublin, this powerful, emotional campaign encouraged the youngest generation of voters to open a conversation with the older generation about their desire for acceptance, tolerance and equality and to encourage them to vote Yes. There are many, many more videos of individuals having this awkward conversation but it proved to be very successful.


I couldn’t not include this short clip of a group of Irish emigrants on a boat home from the UK, going #hometovote singing She Moved Through The Fair. A traditional Irish folk song about two lovers whose parents object to their marriage. 

Self Selected Representation  

This is Panti Bliss’ Noble Call. Rory O’ Neill, AKA Drag Queen, Panti Bliss found herself caught in the middle of a media and parliamentary storm when she and the national broadcaster, RTE, were sued for defamation after she suggested in a casual interview on live television that members of a religious institute who were actively campaigning for a No vote could be construed as being homophobic. When it was found that RTE simply paid off the claimants with taxpayer money, she took to the stage of the national theater, The Abbey, to give her thoughts on the situation. This heartfelt, powerful video went viral worldwide, was translated into 16 languages and is thought to be the catalyst that led to such a strong Yes campaign. The performer, who considers herself an ‘accidental activist’ is now known, rather reluctantly, as a national treasure.

Note: Video contains some strong language in the last minute and may not be suitable in its entirety for all audiences, but taken in context, I consider it to be justified.  Sometimes strong feelings require strong language.

Rory O’ Neill (Panti Bliss) on the Saturday Night Show January 11th 2015
"Report calls for same-sex partnership scheme". RTÉ News. 28 November 2006.

Primary Sources
Irish Statute Book available at
Marriage Equality. "Marriage v Civil Partnership FAQs". Retrieved 21 June 2015.
Website on The Convention on the Constitution
News Articles
O’ Toole, , Ireland’s marriage equality movement, New York Times, May 18, 2015 Retrieved June 22, 2015.
"Referendum 2015 Results". The Irish Times. 23 May 2015. Retrieved June 22, 2015.
Reidy, T & Suiter, J Why Ireland is holding a same sex marriage referendum. BBC World News May 21, 2015 retrieved June 22, 2015
Suiter, J How equality campaigners got Ireland to vote for same sex marriage. 23 May 2015  The Washington Post retrieved 06/22/2015