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Panti Bliss on Ireland’s marriage referendum: ‘We have a lot of work to do”

By Nick Bond

Writing exclusively for Attitude, Irish drag artist and LGBT activist Panti Bliss shares her thoughts on Ireland’s upcoming same-sex marriage referendum:

In May, Ireland will go to the polls to answer a simple question: do we want to allow gay couples to marry?

Well, as these things usually are, the actual wording will be even less romantic. Specifically, the citizens of Ireland will be asked if they want to amend the country’s constitution by adding this line: marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex. (I know, doesn’t that just make you melt? “Oh Daddy! Contract me without distinction as to my sex all night long!”)


Should the referendum pass, Ireland will become the first country in the world to bring in marriage equality by popular vote, as every other country has done it through parliamentary legislation. And believe me, the Irish government would love to do it that way too, without the hassle of an inevitably bitter and divisive referendum campaign, but unfortunately they’ve no choice. The constitution needs to be changed to allow same-sex marriage and in Ireland only the people can do that.

Of course you Brits would hardly recognise a referendum if it came in like a wrecking ball (What? I’m trying to make this accessible to the gay kids, alright?) you have them so rarely, but we Irish are constantly trotting off to the polls to wrestle with everything from new bail laws (yes) to abortion (no – go to heathen England, you slut!). Indeed, in May we’ll not only be deciding on marriage equality, we’ll also be deciding if we want to lower the age limit at which you can become president of Ireland from 35 to 21. Obviously I’m all for it because finally my youth won’t be against me and I’ll qualify (Shut up!).

Ireland has had Civil Partnerships for same-sex couples since 2010, but the proposed “upgrade” to full marriage equality is not just symbolic, as currently civil partnerships fall far short of marriage in a number of areas. If you were to believe the polls, a ‘yes’ vote is a shoo-in: the polls have consistently shown support for marriage equality to be about 75% or higher. However, that support is very soft, with about half of those harbouring “some reservations”.


The history of referendums in Ireland shows that as the campaign ratchets up before polling day, and the inevitable scaremongering and red herring-throwing begins in earnest, that poll lead will crumble. Indeed, the campaign began in earnest in mid-January (sparked off by the public coming out of our quite handsome, 36-year-old Minister of Health), and within days the airwaves and column inches were filled with the “won’t somebody please think of the children??!!” brigade.

It’s already clear that the “No” side have decided to run a campaign of fear and misinformation, attempting to make the campaign about same-sex parenting, adoption and surrogacy, even though all of that is outside the scope of the referendum and is dealt with by entirely separate legislation. Funded and aided by US right-wing religious groups, their tactic is to worry people by suggesting that allowing gay couples to marry will somehow “deprive children of a mother and a father”. It’s despicable fear mongering and an outright lie, but that has never stopped them before.

The campaign will be long, bitter, and hard fought, and we have a lot of work to do to get it over the line. However, I remain optimistic. In general, Irish people are decent and fair-minded and the “Yes” campaign has decency and fairness on our side, while the “No” campaign has to make do with fear and negativity.

If we do succeed in May and Ireland votes in favour of equality for its LGBT citizens, there will be an interesting knock-on effect. It would leave Northern Ireland isolated as the only only part of these islands without marriage equality. And that would be awkward.

-Panti Bliss. 

Panti Bliss: High Heels in Low Places will play for five night’s at London’s Soho Theatre in April, after receiving rave reviews and playing to packed-put venues in her native Ireland.