This week Dateline hears from both sides of the Marriage Equality debate by looking at the experience in Ireland where the country voted for legalisation in 2015.
With Australians preparing for a national survey on same-sex marriage, Dateline visits Ireland – where it was legalised on one side of the border two years ago – to listen to different sides of the debate.
In 1992, it was still illegal to be gay in Ireland. In 2015, a popular vote made same sex marriage legal, and it was met with jubilation by many in the country.
“We are known as being a conservative Catholic country, quite closed”, Grainne Healy, co-director of Ireland’s ‘Yes’ Equality Campaign tells Dateline reporter Dean Cornish. “The truth is we’ve changed in the last thirty years. And the vote was a symbol of that change, rather than the cause or effect of the change … And people felt bloody good about it.”
Healy says she is watching the Australian debate around same sex marriage with interest. “There are real connections between Australia and Ireland culturally and historically … 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?’”
In Ireland, tackling this question put long held traditional views to the test.
Independent Senator Ronan Mullen was the leading political voice from the ‘No’ campaign in Ireland. He believes Ireland was overtaken by a “group think” which saw the majority of people voting ‘yes’.
“… 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’, Mullen tells Dateline. “Some people will quite understandably think that they don’t have permission to think those thoughts.
“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.”
But some in Ireland say the fact that the issue was debated at all took its toll emotionally. In the lead up to polling day, Ireland’s LGBT Helpline recorded a significant spike in calls for help.
The program also visits Roscommon – a town in the only county in Ireland that voted with a ‘No’ majority – and crosses the border to Northern Ireland, exploring why it’s one of the only places in western Europe where same-sex marriage is still illegal. Dateline examines the complexities of the Northern Irish situation and the similarities to the Australian debate.
Tuesday 12 September at 9.30pm on SBS.