Today, Friday 22nd May in Ireland is a proud day for democracy. There surely must not be a need to clarify what referendum is being voted on, but just in case, it’s the same-sex marriage referendum. I’m feeling a little out in cold here despite living with soaring summer temperatures here in Qatar. Al the talk, debate, yes arguments, no arguments, about today’s referendum, and I can’t vote!
After a few years of living in the Middle East, Qatar not Kilbeggan, one becomes accustomed to the fact that we now live in a country ruled by a monarchy, and a Muslim monarchy at that. Qatari women must wear the abaya, men can have up to four wives, cousin can marry cousins, and guess what, nobody is gay, or at least nobody comes out and says they’re gay, I wonder why, when the penalty for same-sex sexual relations is only a fine, 7 years in prison and the death penalty if you are Muslim. No guy is worth that. Forget same-sex relationships, co-habitation of opposite-sex relationships is illegal, but this is a monarchy and there will be no referendum, no chance to vote on how you choose to live your life and no opportunity to get your voice heard. A few years in a dictatorship where my son, Qatari born has no rights, and we as residents have no rights, no input into the environment our children grow up in, gives one the urge to exercise ones vote.
So wasn’t I the proud woman when I first got wind that this same-sex marriage referendum was taking place in Ireland, win, lose or draw, for me, now, this was a triumph, to live in a country where your voice, despite the minority can get a fair and public hearing.
Surely it’s a massive achievement in only 40 years to have a referendum being held today throughout Ireland to alter the marriage constitution to include same-sex couples considering that the first public demo for gay rights was outside the Department of Justice back in 1974 was attended by only eight people. Nine years later, 1983, the first gay parade was held in Dublin, a brave couple of hundred people came out onto the street to represent the feelings of thousands, imaginably. It was another ten years, 1993, before homosexuality was decriminalized. A breakthrough and probably the point at which the likes of me would have said, ok it’s legal now, let’s leave it at that but these people meant business, they fought for what they wanted, equality not tolerance. July, 2010 saw the Civil Partnership and Cohabitants act being passed and since then three or four thousand same sex couples have ceremoniously and officially registered their relationship.
And that wasn’t the end of the line, although of lot us ‘marrieds’ would have thought that a dissolvable partnership, where adultery wasn’t frowned upon, would have been a good arrangement, but no, the LGBT society want the whole shebang, bells and whistles, the right to an ice sculpture on the day and a long drawn out divorce afterwards if desired – and if not why not?
Today is the day the votes will be in, and those eight people who first evoked and provoked, reaction and attention, sowing this seed which is flowering 41 years later, should be proud, because the homosexual youth of today are reaping the rewards of their hard work, which certainly wasn’t easy in 1970’s Ireland. A long hard slog no doubt, and a tough crowd for sure, but they got there, they’re getting there, if not today, then tomorrow (metaphor, couldn’t possibly afford another 20 mil tomorrow).
So yes or no, it feels like a win from where I’m sitting. Only twenty odd years since homosexuality was declared a criminal offence in Ireland and today, owing to the voice and determination of a handful of people, Ireland is on the verge of legalizing same sex marriage. Should the vote be passed today, I would urge a handful of those courageous campaigners to hop on a plane and come to Qatar and you never know by 2056 a husband and wife sorry, spouse and spouse, might be allowed hold hands in Doha.