With what is hoped to be Ireland’s last march for marriage equality Ruth Murphy, PRO for UCD’s LGBTQ+ Society, explains the significance this march holds and the importance to vote in the upcoming marriage equality referendum.

Despite a train strike, thousands gathered at City Hall on Sunday to march for equal rights to marriage. A right already granted in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, Denmark, Brazil, France, Uruguay, New Zealand, Luxembourg, England, Wales and many States in the US.

Last year I joined this march and, despite my friend and I knowing nobody, we marched with pride as individuals supporting a common cause. We did not feel drowned out by the crowd or nervous marching with strangers, but felt proud that so many would come to support the rights of a minority. Among all those “equal” signs waving in the air, we felt truly equal and this is how LGBTQ+ people in this country should feel. This march should show people that there is support out there, that we are an accepting people and that we care about the rights of the individual. A scared teenager at home, afraid to tell people about themselves for fear of rejection, can flick on the TV and see thousands of people march for their rights and feel less scared and more accepted.

This march and this referendum are needed as at the moment we do not have equal rights. Civil partnership, though a great stepping stone, is not the same as marriage. Equal marriage can help same-sex couples across Ireland feel recognised, safer and more hopeful for the future.

“Marriage brings Constitutional protection to these relationships and protects the children who are part of those relationships. It names them as families with rights, entitlements and equality” as Gráinne Healy, Chairwoman of Marriage Equality stated. This march was not simply about changing a law but about making our society more equal, more tolerant and more accepting. As Laura Harmon, President of USI, put it “It is about raising the aspirations of LGBTQ+ young people and allowing them to dream for the same things in life as their peers, without fear or having to hide their true identities.”

Equal marriage would allow people today, who have wished to marry but couldn’t, transform their lives as well as opening more doors for Ireland’s future generations. This is not an issue simply for just LGBTQ+ people who want to marry, this is an issue for the entire population. If people outside of the minority don’t speak out and don’t help support marriage equality the constitutional changes to be set down by the referendum this spring will not be implemented.

Within UCD, as within most colleges in Ireland, there is great support for marriage equality. With so many students in Ireland’s largest university, our collective vote can and will have a huge impact on the upcoming referendum. With over 2.5 million people invited to the SU’s Facebook event for the March for Marriage, it is clear that there is great support for this campaign. A survey carried out in UCD two years ago found that 93% of students were in favour of marriage equality. The younger vote is central to the marriage equality campaign. It is the youths of today who can change the Ireland of tomorrow.

Unfortunately, it is also the young people, who tend to support marriage equality, who are typically those less likely to vote. The older generation make up a greater part of the voting population year after year. Citizens all need to log on to checktheregister.ie and see if they are registered to vote. If anyone goes to the polling station to find that they have not registered that’s a lost vote. A lost vote that could help hugely in this referendum. As a collective we hope that this will be our last march for marriage but we can’t realistically say it for definite as there is a chance that we will lose this referendum. There is a chance that not enough people will vote, that plenty of people who do not support the referendum will reach the polling stations and will keep away this right to equality. It is for this reason that we all need to vote this spring.

It is not just the passing of this law that can prove that we are a tolerant country but it is the effort of millions of people going to the polling stations and showing that yes, we do want equal marriage and we do support the LGBTQ+ people of Ireland. This expression of acceptance is extremely powerful and can have the effect of making LGBTQ+ people in Ireland feel accepted.

It is clear that homophobia still exists in Ireland and it brings fear to many who identify as LGBTQ+. This referendum can prove that we are all equal. It can reduce this fear. With the support of the majority of the population LGBTQ+ people can feel confident that they are accepted and that we are all one population regardless of the little differences between us.