• A protester at a same-sex marriage rally in Derry. (SBS Dateline)
As Australia decides which way to vote on same-sex marriage, we visit Ireland, where it was legalised by public vote two years ago. What lessons we can learn from their experience?
Airdate: 
Tuesday, September 12, 2017 - 21:30
Channel: 
SBS

Australia will vote on same-sex marriage with 16 million ballot papers delivered in coming weeks.

In the past decade and a half, a growing number of countries have legalised same-sex marriage, most through marriage reform bills.

This week Dateline goes to the Republic of Ireland, where in 2015 it became the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote.

“I think Irish people have a bit of an insight into, ‘what are the challenges that Australians are facing when they look at this issue?’” Grainne Healy, who was the co-director of Ireland’s ‘Yes’ campaign, tells reporter Dean Cornish.

She says much of the public debate leading up to the referendum in Ireland put traditional views to the test and made many question what they wanted for the future of Ireland, “are we a forward looking country? Are we a backwards looking country?”

Others in the ‘No’ camp believe the debate was a shutting down of diverse opinions.

Independent Irish Senator Rónán Mullen says the ‘No’ side was sidelined and made to feel like bigots during the campaign, regardless of how they expressed their perspective on the issue.

“We were almost encouraged to stay at home rather than go out and vote, ‘No’.” he says.

 “[There was a] mood that people will think I’m homophobic if I say that I’m against redefining marriage, because I think a child has a right to a father and mother.”

“This is supposed to be about diversity, but in the end it was actually a closing down of diversity. And I really hope that doesn't happen in Australia.”

Many in Ireland who campaigned for the ‘No’ vote say their decision was based on concerns for the wellbeing of children of same-sex couples.

Gerry O’Boyle is from Roscommon – the one county in all of Ireland that gave a majority no vote in the referendum – and says this is his main concern.

“People [here] are kind of old stock, they go by old beliefs,” he says. “It’s a big Catholic area.”

“I was brought up as a Roman Catholic and I was always a believer. It's Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, you know what I mean?”

Across the border Northern Ireland remains as the only country in the United Kingdom where same-sex marriage is illegal.

The Northern Irish assembly voted in favour of a same-sex marriage bill two years ago – but it was blocked by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) party, who triggered the “petition of concern”, a veto mechanism designed to protect minorities.

DUP member Sir Jeffrey Donaldson says his party is against changing the law: “Our position is that we believe in the traditional concept of marriage as being between one man and one woman.”

As it stands, recent polls show the majority of people in Northern Ireland are for same-sex marriage. Many same-sex couples believe it’s only a matter of time before the government will reach a decision rather than go down the path of a referendum. But like Australia, gay couples in Northern Ireland still face an uncertain future.

South of the border many same-sex couples are looking forward to their future with thousands of same-sex weddings taking place since the change in law.

Daragh Doyle is the first same-sex wedding planner in Ireland – and he recently married his partner Neil: “when the actual wedding day came, it was a day I never thought I would see in my life,” he reflects.

Dateline met Daragh as he planned a wedding for lesbian couple, Sinead and Aidene.

For Sinead, allowing same-sex couples to marry gave her and her partner official recognition in their relationship just like heterosexual couples – “we feel like we’re not different, we have the same rights.”

Aidene agrees; “Equal. Equality. That’s what it means, in one word.”

But not everyone sees same-sex marriage as an equality issue – with many in the church seeing marriage reform as the redefinition of a centuries-old tradition. 

As Kathryn Orr, a young girl we spoke to at a Protestant church in Belfast, said: “Why does redefining marriage mean that you are giving people equal rights”?

Watch the full story at the top of the page.

More

The Intern Diaries: Yes or No?
With Australians starting to vote in the same-sex marriage plebiscite, Dateline reporter Dean Cornish talks about his recent story from Ireland, which had a similar vote two years ago.
How has Ireland changed since its same-sex marriage referendum?
In Australia, as in Ireland, the same-sex marriage debate has ignited fervour on both sides. Reporter Dean Cornish visited the country two years after its referendum, to see what Australia can learn.
Would legalising same-sex marriage reduce the suicide rates of young people?
Same-sex-attracted young people are roughly twice as likely to be diagnosed with a mental health disorder and six times more likely to have thoughts of suicide.

Credits

Reporter: Dean Cornish

Producer: Joel Tozer, Ana Maria Quinn

Associate Producer: Hannah Berzins

Editor: Simon Phegan, Micah McGown

Transcript

DARAGH DOYLE, WEDDING PLANNER:  My name is Daragh Doyle, and I'm a wedding planner, primarily focussing on the same sex wedding market in Ireland.

Ireland voted yes to same-sex marriage two years ago and for the countries first gay wedding planner, business is booming.

DARAGH DOYLE: The market is really strong, 2016 saw the first year of full marriage equality in Ireland, so we had about 1100 weddings last year.

Ireland is full of same-sex couples tying the knot and today Daragh is helping two women with their plans.

DARAGH DOYLE:   I always say to couples it's your day and your way, so what theme or decoration do you have in mind for the wedding? 

SINEAD:  Like a rustic, kind of vintage theme.

DARAGH DOYLE:   Rustic vintage. 

Sinead and Aidene have been together for three years. They're both mid wives who met at work.

DARAGH DOYLE:  Now. The type of ceremony, have you decided on that?  

Over a home cooked meal, Sinead popped the question she wasn't sure she was able to ask.

AIDENE:  A normal day, just kind of felt like something we wanted to do for the rest of our lives so…

SINEAD:  Yep so. Um, I asked her, and she said …

AIDENE:   I said yes!

For them, the yes vote meant so much more than just the right to marry.

AIDENE:  Equal. Equality. That's what it means, in one word. You couldn't really say it any other way. 

SINEAD:   Just to say that we feel accepted and that, you know, we feel the same as straight couples here. You know, we feel like we're not different, we have the same rights.

AIDENE:   Yeah, it's a big change, especially in Ireland, we're seen as a very backward country, but actually we're very forward thinking. It makes you really proud.  Yeah.

Ireland decriminalised homosexuality in 1993 and then voted on same-sex marriage two years ago. The message from this small independent Republic to the entire world is one of dignity and freedom. Nearly 42 years after the first Australian State decriminalised being gay, Australia is new being asked to vote.

MALCOLM TURNBULL, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER:  Every Australian will have their say and that is as it should be.

Australia and Ireland are the only two countries in the world to put same-sex marriage to a public vote, so one person watching Australia with particular interest is the co-director of Ireland's Yes Campaign.

GRAINNE HEALY, CO-DIRECTOR OF ‘YES’ EQUALITY:  I think Irish people have a bit of an insight into what are the challenges that Australian's are facing when they look at this issue. So a lot of the issues are quite similar around what kind of an Australia do we want, we had to ask ourselves what kind of an Ireland do we want for our kids, for our grandkids, are we a forward looking country, are we a backward looking country?
Anyone who really is putting the child's interest first is supporting the legislation.

Changing the definition of marriage put long-held traditions to the test in Ireland.

PANELLIST:  Children being brought up in families that are very different.

Now it's Australia debating the meaning of love, marriage and family. But unlike Ireland, the political debate in Australia is allowed through ads on TV.

COALITION FOR MARRIAGE, AUSTRALIA AUGUST 2017:  School told my son he could wear a dress to school next year if he felt like it.

This ad, launched by the Coalition for Marriage in Australia, alleges there are unknown consequences for voting yes.

COALITION FOR MARRIAGE, AUSTRALIA AUGUST 2017:  When same-sex marriage passes as law overseas, this type of program become widespread and compulsory.

GRAINNE HEALY:   I think each of the assertions being made there are, you know they're easily countered. They're not true. The issue here is about trying to raise fears and if the fears are that people are afraid that their children are going to grow up and there will be more of a challenge around gender the clothes they wear, I mean, you know we're probably living in a time where this is happening. I don't think same sex marriage is something that is going to make that happen.

It's shaping up to be one of the most emotive debates of the year in Australia, and it was the same for Ireland.

REPORTER:  Beautiful day in Dublin.

SENATOR RONAN MULLEN, INDEPENDENT SENATOR:  Yes, by our standards very beautiful.

The leading political voice of the Irish No Campaign is Senator Ronan Mullen.

SENATOR RONAN MULLEN:  You had this sense of oh well if you're on the, if you're going to be portrayed as being on the wrong side of history, then you'd better just shut up.   I know of one case where a, a young person actually went to the school principle, just for a bit of support because he was feeling, um, um, basically isolated, outcaste by his, his fellow students, because it was this kind of mood generation in the country.

He says the no camp was shut down and made to feel like bigots when expressing their point of view. And this meant a variety of opinions were not heard.

SENATOR RONAN MULLEN:  You create a mood that people will think I’m homophobic if I say that I’m against redefining marriage, because I think a child has a right to a father and mother, then some people will quite understandably come to think that they don't have permission to think those thoughts.

He believes Ireland was overtaken by a "group think" which saw the majority of people voting yes.

SENATOR RONAN MULLEN:  We were almost encouraged to stay at home rather than go out and vote, no! This is not your day, you know.  There's been this sort of game on kind of momentum, around the social change, around deconstructing marriage, what it means. And I just don't hear much talk about the genuine rights of children in all of this.

REPORTER:  What are your main concerns about same sex couples raising children?

SENATOR RONAN MULLEN:  Well I think the issue is really one of what children are entitled to and I think, you know, all things considered, I think it is best, it's not always possible, you have, you have very heroic single parents bringing up children, and loving them, and make great sacrifices for them, but I think in the law, we should always be encouraging the upbringing of children within the family situation, ideally of their own father and mother or at least having a father and a mother.
If you were in theory deciding between you know, whether a child should be adopted to a single person, or a same sex couple, or you know, a heterosexual couple or a married couple, no distinction's now allowed. So it seems to have become very adult centred. It's almost as though adults must have what they want, and then we'll start talking about children's right.

REPORTER: So what advice would you give those campaigning on the No side in Australia?

SENATOR RONAN MULLEN:  This is supposed to be about diversity, but in the end it was actually a closing down of diversity. And I really hope that doesn't happen in Australia, and I suspect the way your debate is shaping up with kind of strong voices on both sides that you may have a healthier debate than we had.

THE ‘YES’ CAMPAIGN:  It’s about a fair go. Everyone should be treated equally. I'm doing it for my brother.

Australia's campaigning kicked off in August with both sides coming out firing. Posters and ad campaigns are being released every day.

THE ‘NO’ CAMPAIGN:  We should be allowed to discuss the public policy issue without being labelled a bigot or a homophobe.

Opponents to the government's survey in Australia failed to have it shut down in the High Court last week, and ballots are going out today. Even though Ireland voted yes, the process itself brought unexpected difficulties.

MONINNE GRIFFITH, DIRECTOR “BELONG TO’:  For a lot of young people, they'd never seen, they'd never witnessed firsthand the level of homophobia that's out there. And it was really quite upsetting, and, and shocking. Young people had falling outs with family members, who had said well we think that it's ok that your gay, but we won’t be voting yes. I mean that is quite difficult for anyone to process.

WOMAN:  When your own country doesn’t have your back, you are kind of standing on your own. You know?

In the lead-up to polling day, Ireland's LGBT helpline recorded a significant spike in calls from people in crisis. Some sought help here at Belong To, a safe space for young LGBTQI people.

WOMAN 2: Every day I was walking to school, I was seeing these vote No posters, and like, after seeing the Australian ones, our ones look so chill. Like I dunno if you guys have seen them, but they're like really horrible..  

People like Patrick wished the vote happened in a different way.

PATRICK:   Ideally I would have preferred a referendum didn't happen because I didn't feel that my life shouldn't have been up for discussion by other people, and for them to have a vote on it.  

But for Moninne, public approval gave her and her partner new confidence.

MONINNE GRIFFITH:   Two days after the referendum I was going to a conference in Washington DC and my partner left me off at the airport and we said goodbye, and we kissed goodbye and that's a very ordinary scene at airport all over the world, but I'd never done that with my partner before, without looking over my shoulder to see who was looking, and whether we'd get a smart comment, or some funny looks. But I felt I could do that for the first time ever and that's not a little thing, that's a huge thing, that's a huge thing that I thought no, 62% of people probably here in this airport voted yes.

Every county in Ireland voted yes to same-sex marriage... except one.  About two hours' drive from Dublin in the heart of Ireland lies the town of Roscommon. This county got a beating in the press after their no vote. Some even threatened to cancel their holidays here and it's still a touchy subject. So No voter Gerry O'Boyle has asked me to meet me in a quiet cafe at the edge of town.

GERRY O’BOYLE, NO VOTER:  The biggest concern that I would have is for the children...  because they rushed in a referendum here in this country and no one put any consideration or no thought into the children. Because I was… I was brought up as a Roman Catholic and I was always a believer. It's Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, you know what I mean? 

REPORTER: I've heard it said that some of these rural communities feel that the same-sex marriage agenda was thrown on them from Dublin - From the big city.

GERRY O’BOYLE: The population is a rural area, you know, people are kind of old stock. They go by old beliefs. It's a big Catholic area. They said to me that the time of the election was coming into Ireland. ‘Two prized bulls below in the field won't put you into stock.’

Just a few kilometres out of town is the farm of Will Keane. For him, the referendum was intensely personal.

WILL KEANE, ‘YES’ EQUALITY ROSCOMMON:   The genuine joy that we had for the 'yes' vote in the entire country was incredible. But, when your own County votes the opposites way- and is the only one to vote the opposite way- it's a bittersweet victory. We went to the pub that night- we're Irish, of course we did – and I put on such a happy face. I was genuinely happy. But there was still a bit of me looking over my shoulder…

The campaign pushed Will to do something he'd never done before - to persuade his neighbours to vote yes, he revealed his sexuality for the first time.

WILL KEANE:  We used to wear the 'yes' equality t-shirts and the badges and everything like that. So, we stuck out.  And there was one particular occasion where I was knocking on the door of this estate that I knew well.  It's kind of like coming out at every doorstep each time, and it starts to get intimidating. It sounds like intimidation in a way.  And I was three-quarters of the way towards this estate and I just kind of broke down. I had to go back to the car. But it was kind of like being outside looking in on me in this situation and the possibility that this wouldn't pass. That was worrying to me.

Will might not have won enough locals over before the vote, but he says afterwards opinions changed.

WILL KEANE:  The funny thing is, after the vote, several people came up to me in Roscommon town and said that they voted 'no'. But, after seeing the joy and elation in Dublin Castle on the day of the result, they would have voted 'yes'.

MAN: I'm happy that they're happy and we don't stand in the doorway of progress, we live and let live, and god bless them all, and we'll leave it at that.  

REPORTER: Can I, can I ask you - did you vote in the referendum of same sex marriage?

MAN I didn't, no, no no.  I'm fond of women myself. God bless you.

The marriage referendum was a defining moment in history for Ireland's gay community but across the border in Northern Ireland, the fight for marriage is still raging.
We're about to pass from the Republic of Ireland into Northern Ireland, which is still part of the UK. The border is just up here. And... That was it.  A very small sign, a money-changing stand and really no ceremony whatsoever. It essentially feels like exactly the same country, but there's one big difference - here in Northern Ireland, same-sex marriage is still illegal.
Northern Ireland is one of the last places in western Europe to still ban gay marriage.

CROWD:  What do we want? Marriage equality.

MARK BRADFIELD, PASTOR BETHEL BAPTIST:   Where are you going to go to, are you going to marry your sister, your brother, are you going to marry your dog, your granny, your aunty, you going to marry your mother or your father.

CATHERINE:   In the beginning of the bible, it lays out God's design for marriage, that it's between one man and one woman, and I think that that is the way it's supposed to be.

Same-sex couples here don't want the public vote like Australia - they want a government decision. They say they don't want 1.8 million people debating their rights.

STEPHEN DONNAN, THE RAINBOW PROJECT:  The majority of people are supportive of the campaign and they support the extension of marriage rights to same sex couples, much the same way they do in Australia so we're just there, we're not quite over the finish line yet…

Same-sex couples have the right to civil unions here, but some want more than that and are staging wedding-style protests.

STACEY: We might not have the piece of paper to show it others have but you’re my soul mate, and nothing can take that away.

PASTOR:  Do you Gemma take Stacey to be your wife, to love, honour, comfort and cherish her from this day forth…

GEMMA:  I do!

So why is same-sex marriage illegal in Northern Ireland? Northern Ireland is ruled by Britain, but it has the power to make its own laws. A majority of politicians are for same-sex marriage here, but the ruling party - the conservative DUP - continues to block it. To understand why, I've come to meet DUP Minister, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson.

REPORTER: As a party, what is the DUP's position on same-sex marriage?

SIR JEFFREY DONALDSON, DUP MP LAGAN VALLEY:  When this matter was discussed in the UK parliament, first of all, there was a proposal to introduce same-sex marriage in Great Britain and the DUP voted against that, as did many other MPs from other parts of the UK. Because our position is that we believe in the traditional concept of marriage as being between one man and one woman.

REPORTER: What do your constituents tell you about the issue?

SIR JEFFREY DONALDSON:   Well, I've just been re-elected for a sixth term in parliament with the largest ever majority that I've had. There are a number of reasons for that. But, the people who vote for me and the people who I represent are well aware of my views on these issues. I think that I speak for many people within our community in taking the stance that I do in support of traditional marriage.

Whilst the DUP seem determined to block same-sex marriage for as long as they can, there are others in the ‘no’ camp that go further.

CORE ISSUES TRUST:  This film particularly looks at the...

Mike Davidson doesn't agree with same-sex marriage because he believes you can change someone's sexual preferences.

REPORTER:  How many people have you cured of homosexuality?

MIKE DAVIDSON, CORE ISSUES TRUST:  I wouldn't call it 'cure'.  'Cure' is a kind of medical model. We are not medical practitioners so we don't treat people, we don't cure people. We simply stand with them and facilitate things to support their goals.

Mike admits many find his views controversial. His methods have been denounced by the UK Council of Psychotherapy and he's been suspended by the British Psychodrama Association.

ALLIA:  I have completely changed.

He won't say human people he's moved away from homosexuality, but Mike says his own sexual desires towards men have been dealt with and that he has helped others. Mike has protested against same-sex marriage across the UK and his charity has caught a lot of public attention.

MIKE DAVIDSON:    If fathers are consistently taken out of the equation, what is going to be the result in terms of the world that we live in and the children who inhabit that world?

REPORTER: How long have you been married for?

MIKE DAVIDSON: Thirty-five years.

REPORTER:   Wow. And so, what impact do you feel same-sex marriage has on your marriage with your wife? 

MIKE DAVIDSON:  I don't think that marriage...

REPORTER:  How does it change your marriage if same-sex people are allowed to marry?

MIKE DAVIDSON: It undervalues the achievement of two people who are so different, who are opposite have succeeded in building and bringing children up in that context of a different....

While Mike can't quite find an answer to this, the argument comes back to his perceived risk to children. But marriage equality or not, Northern Ireland already has same-sex couples raising kids.

DARRAGH TIBBS:  My parents have been together for 22 years, I've spent my whole life with them.

Darragh is an ordinary 17-year-old from Belfast. But unlike other teenagers, he spends a lot of time standing up for his family.

DARRAGH TIBBS:  Whether or not we're given marriage equality, whether or not we're actually seen as legitimate a family as heterosexual one, we are.

Darragh says public opinion is shifting in Northern Ireland but politicians are standing in the way of progress.

DARRAGH TIBBS:  At this stage the reason why it's not through, is because the people at the top don't want it to be through. And it's gonna happen, because it has to, you can't avoid that many people, you can't ignore that many people's wishes.

Despite the concerns of strangers, Darragh says his family unit is just fine out a father.

DARRAGH TIBBS:  To me it seems inherently sexist to say a child needs a mother and a father.    Those qualities that you assign in your head as inherently male, what you're saying is that a female can't do those things.  Somebody once said, 'the children of gay parents are more likely to be neglected or abused'.  That can make me angry sometimes, it's needless singling out, and it doesn't make any sense.  
You're talking about me here and this is, it's not acceptable.

MUM:   We're just this very ordinary wee family really, and it's kinda strange how worked up people get about families like ours and relationships like ours because we're clearly no threat to anybody. 

So what difference would marriage make to this family?

MUM 2:  It's a progression in our relationship, commitment to each other, a validation of us as a couple and our family as a unit. 

MUM:  We've been holding out for marriage in Northern Ireland.

DARRAGH TIBBS:  It's that whole progression, that whole, your parents are married, and you're stable and you're safe, and you're protected by the law. So when that's not given, then that is a problem for me, because it allows people to ignore all the wonderful things about my family.

The conservative Protestant church runs strong in Northern Ireland and many want marriage to remain unchanged.

PASTOR:  Within marriage, there is this balance between a man and a woman, two genders which complement each other, which is not achievable in male to male, or female to female.  

MAN:  Discussion is based on feelings and slogans – so like, love is love – which doesn’t really mean anything. It’s not people thinking, it’s people feeling…

GIRL: Why does redefining marriage mean that you are giving people equal rights?

Australia won't know the outcome until November and even then it's not legally binding. The vote may still leave us with uncertainty. But that's not the case back in Dublin for gay wedding planner Daragh, and his husband Neil, who are reveling in their knew status as a legally married couple.

DARAGH DOYLE:   Civil partnership, while it was a good things when it was introduced, and it was a step forward, it was something I was never going to do personally. Because to me it was only 80% of marriage, and I wasn’t interested in getting civil partnered, I was interested in getting married. So when the actual wedding day came, it was a day I never thought I would see in my life, and then you experience that day, you know, it's actually a phenomenal feeling, and a very special day.

Two years on from Ireland's referendum, emotions on same-sex marriage still run strong and both sides look with interest towards Australia's big decision.

reporter
dean cornish

story producer
joel tozer
ana maria quinn

associate producer
hannah berzins

story editor
simon phegan
micah mcgown

editors
micah mcgown
simon phegan
david potts

titles music
vicki hansen

12th September 2017