Same-Sex Marriage Referendum: 89 Days Out

I’m not sure how much I will be writing about the same sex marriage referendum between now and the likely polling date of the 22nd of May. I’ve made my thoughts on “SSM” plain before in this post, where the brevity of my rebuttals to the standard points against SSM were a firm indication of the kind of respect I have for them. It would not take me too long to repeat those points, and I may attempt some elaboration in the future, close to the actual poll (and for the much less divisive amendment on Presidential matters likely to occur on the same day).

But I do feel like I should write something. The debate and narrative surrounding the SSM vote is already changing from “Landslide Yes likely” to  a much more close state of affairs, something bound to happen in a country where the need for “balance” (and, if we’re being honest, a media who prefer to orchestrate tighter contests) allows any kind of slim minority the chance to expound their flawed views, frighten people and generally blather on about all sort of nonsense with words like “child’s wellbeing”, “natural” and “protecting the family”. We’ll have to put up with a lot of the likes of Ronan Mullen on our TV screens and radio speakers, trying desperately to convince us that 2015 is still too early a year to be considering equality for the LGBT community, because children and family, and procreation and blah, blah, blah. If I was to spend my days rebutting this sort of stuff, I would run out of both free time and original words very quickly.

But I still feel like I should write something, be involved, try and change some minds or convince some of the apathetic. I fear for this amendment to the constitution, that it will go the same as the Seanad and Oireachtas Committees votes, just like the Children’s Referendum was nearly thrown away. This government has a lousy track record with these votes, even when they don’t have any kind of firm political opposition to deal with. They take the wrong approach (how much ground was lost with all the talk of how much the Seanad cost?), they don’t try hard enough to either convince voters or get the vote out (how few cared about that children’s vote or the Seanad?) and they generally just appear to sit at home and hope everything turns out OK, Labour especially.

And this is likely enough to be an election year as well, and you can well imagine that there are plenty of Fine Gael TD’s who might not be too gung ho about promoting this constitutional change to their conservative constituents. They may help to scupper this change. They may have far more interest in the Carlow-Kilkenny by-election being held on the same day (probably). I feel like I should be writing something, on at least a semi-regular basis, if only to add a little bit to the movement. I’m not a member of a political party, and I won’t be knocking on doors. But if I have even a small audience, here and on social media, I feel like I have to use that. If you follow.

I believe in this amendment, in a way that I have not really believed in much of this governments proposed changes to the constitution. But I also believe that it can all so easily be thrown away, and I can think of few things that would make me more disgusted in a political sense than if the wilful apathy of sections of the electorate combined with a sluggish approach from the government conspired to insure its failure.

Case in point: the likely referendum date, Friday the 22nd of May. This might be one of the only issues that could get the 18-25 bracket out voting in greater numbers than you can usually rely on them for, and yet the government is happy to hold the vote during the time when many college students will be having exams. I suppose this bracket has given the government little cause to think they might actually bother to vote – we all know people that age who wouldn’t go next door to vote, regardless of their opinions on the issue – but there is no need to make the process even harder. That’s the government’s problem. But it can be worked around.

For those caught in that trap, and unable to be in their own constituency, there are two options, all outlined here. The first is just to change your constituency, which can be done at any time, requiring a form to be filled out, witnessed by a guard, etc. Having gone through the process myself, I can state plainly that is not a great chore and it is a myth that the registering of electors has a set end date – go through the process at any time, and you’ll be updated in the pre-poll supplementary register.

The other option is postal voting, which can be signed up for via your local authority. Postal voting gives you the option to mail your vote before the actual polling day, and requires that you sign up for the process at least 22 working days before the vote itself.

I think it is fair to say that I have gone through varying approaches when it comes to encouraging voter participation, generally linked to the latest major voting patterns. I have no idea whether pleading, lecturing, positivity or negativity gets the best results. At the moment, after the last referendum and its shockingly low participation level, I’m inclined to take a sterner tone: go and register to vote if this issue actually matters to you. Don’t take it for granted, spare me the self-indulgent whining about disillusionment with the process, stop making excuses. The options to make this democratic liberty easier for you are all there. On the day that this vote takes place, I don’t want to hear “bad weather” or “the ballot was confusing” or “Exams” or any other explanation for why people decided that the fight for equality in Ireland wasn’t worth their time or effort, before or on the day of the vote. Just get it sorted. Because if the day comes that this amendment is rejected, God forbid, you don’t want to wonder if maybe you should have tried a bit harder. This is one of the major civil rights issues of our day and I really, really, really want you to be involved.

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