George V. Reilly

Panel on Marriage Equality

Panelists and Irish Network members

There was supposed to be a second showing of The Queen of Ireland doc­u­men­tary this morning at the SIFF Uptown, preceded by a panel discussion on Marriage Equality. We attended the discussion, which was moderated by Phil Grant, the Consul General of Ireland. The three panelists were Rory O’Neill, aka Panti Bliss, out of drag, the accidental activist who became the face of marriage equality in Ireland; Mayor Ed Murray, an Irish-American and Washington state’s best-known gay politi­cian; and Gary Gates, an LGBT de­mog­ra­ph­er, married to an Irishman, who advised the Irish cam­paign­ers.

I have a strong interest in marriage equality, going back more than 20 years—I was wearing a HERMP shirt that I bought in 1993 at Thursday’s premiere. I worked on the technical teams for both the 2009 Approve Referendum 71 campaign, which saved Washington state’s domestic part­ner­ship bill, and the 2012 Approve Referendum 74 campaign, which saved Wash­ing­ton’s equal marriage bill. I hold treasured of winning those campaigns and of watching from afar as Ireland said Yes to Marriage Equality last year.

On principle, putting civil rights up to a popular vote didn’t sit well with the panel, or with me. Different cir­cum­stances forced such votes both in Ireland and in Washington in 2009 and 2012. In the Irish case, the language of the Irish Con­sti­tu­tion had to be changed, which required an amendment. In Washington, both referenda were ballot ini­tia­tives designed to repeal leg­is­la­tion previously enacted by state lawmakers. As Ed Murray reminded us, Ireland’s referendum passed with over­whelm­ing approval, winning in all but one con­stituen­cy, whereas Referendum 74 barely passed in Washington, where the more liberal cities around Puget Sound outvoted con­ser­v­a­tives in the rest of the state. He also reminded us that Marriage Equality had the support of all major Irish political parties, whereas there’s a major partisan divide in the US.

Ed said that he personally knew Republican politi­cians who supported equality, but who couldn’t be seen to do so by their voters. Gary said that part of his work had been to assemble economic arguments, which in some cases gave the necessary cover to such politi­cians to do the right thing.

Rory mentioned that he had assumed that after the Irish referendum, that life would go on much as before save that same-sex couples could get married. In fact, he found that gay couples had become much more willing to hold hands in public and that this continued a year after the referendum. In the Irish case, the Pantigate scandal in early 2014 had occasioned a major national con­ver­sa­tion around homophobia and censorship. This had benefited the 2015 equality campaign, as most people now realized that they knew LGBT people in their family or their neigh­bor­hood.

He also mentioned that he reminds Irish gays that it’s not so good elsewhere. Panti had appeared in Sarajevo a month ago and the theater there had to arrange extra security, as that part of the world remains virulently homophobic.

The topic of trans­pho­bic bathroom bills came up. It’s the opinion of both Ed Murray and Joe McDermott that Initiative 1515 will get enough signatures to be on the ballot in November. This would amend Wash­ing­ton’s 2006 anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion law. I asked later who was leading the fight against I-1515: answer, Washington Won’t Dis­crim­i­nate. I also asked about the state of marriage equality in Northern Ireland. Rory said that the DUP are misusing petitions of concern to veto progress.

Halfway through the panel discussion, the power abruptly went out in the cinema. It turned out that power would be out for several hours—de­spite City Light getting a prompt call from the mayor who was sitting right there—and the second showing of The Queen of Ireland is postponed until 10am Sunday. We continued the discussion in the near dark.

There was a photo session outside afterwards, as you can see above. I talked to Rory briefly and discovered that he’s known my cousin Tom for many years. Tom is gay and used to do drag, so this wasn’t a surprise.

I am heartened by the progress we’ve made in the US and Ireland in the last 20 years. But the struggle is not over yet. A trans­pho­bic backlash is underway around the US, and LGBT rights are still weak in much of the world.

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