History is on my mind today. As I went to my local polling station, I glanced across Cork harbour at the beauty of Cobh and I thought of my grandparents, 3 of whom emigrated via Cobh (formerly Queenstown) to the USA over 100 years ago. Shipping and transatlantic traffic had advanced to a new level back then. As they left in the early 1900s, they were amongst the first wave of emigrants for whom returning to Ireland again was a possibility – albeit a very remote one.
All of this crossed my mind this morning because I had seen some earlier twitter traffic showing the huge numbers of Irish emigrants journeying back to Ireland – just for today – to vote in our historic marriage equality referendum - extending marriage to same-sex couples. I wondered if many emigrants over the generations felt they had to emigrate so they could live authentically and true to themselves? I felt the hand of history today – and hoped that this day would be a defining one in our nation’s evolution - a day to truly herald equality and inclusion.
It’s funny that my grandfather entered my mind again soon after. "There’s 2 sides to every story" he used to say. When I arrived at my polling station, I was met at the door with a powerful religious display of the virgin Mary surrounded by children. Given the significant issue of the day, the emphasis on children during the campaign, and the position adopted by the church, I felt the display was inappropriate for today. Irish law prohibits “participant” groups from having displays near to the polling station on polling day.
It made me feel uncomfortable – not because of the religious aspect but because of its juxtaposition to the civil referendum taking place. When I highlighted this to the polling station staff, they were very understanding and helpful in their explanation. This polling station happens to be a Catholic denomination school, this a school-related Confirmation display that’s been there for weeks – in this same location. They said they would address it with the school. I heard their reasonable explanation and I understood the celebration it was associated with. There are two sides to every story.
We’ve heard from both sides in this referendum debate. It’s been divisive for some. But what a healthy conversation we have had as a nation. Yes there’s been hurt aired and provoked – on both sides. But we’ve been extremely honest and passionate. We have led the way in terms of open discussion.
Ok, so already approx 18 countries have legalised gay marriage. But we are the first country in the world to put the issue to a democratic vote for our citizens to decide. We are the first country in the world to have had this open, healthy and honest discussion.
Well done us. It takes two sides to make History.
Tom Evans is a father, hubby, writer, counsellor, and psychotherapist based in Midleton, Cork.