On this day in 2015, voters in Ireland were going to the polls to pass marriage equality in a landmark referendum. To mark this auspicious anniversary, I recently eloped and got married on the back of a pink Cadillac at a drive-through wedding chapel in Las Vegas. Thankfully, given that anything can happen in that city, the second person present was the woman I was already engaged to, my partner Sarah.
“This is what they meant when they said the gays will ruin the sanctity of marriage,” a friend texted me, when I sent her a photo of the venue, which happened to be opposite a large STRIPPERS sign. More power to the hardworking women and men of Las Vegas, I say. “I’ll tell you something interesting about the cherubs,” the officiant, a wonderful gregarious woman named Diane, whispered conspiratorially pointing to the dramatic angel-filled painted ceiling scene that ran the length of The Tunnel Of Love, “the woman who founded the chapel, they all have her face.” This was the sort of fabulousness we had travelled to Vegas for.
The ceremony was short and incredibly sweet. Our four friends who had accompanied us, sworn to secrecy (although one did blurt out the details to her taxi driver on the way to Dublin Airport), presented us with “something old”. It was a small box containing a TÁ badge. I pinned it to Sarah’s backpack and was immediately transported back to the estates of Dublin, canvassing, with Sarah carrying bundles of leaflets in that same backpack. Eight years is a long time, and eight years is nothing at all.
I was just happy to be there. I mean that in the most serious sense. Back on that day in 2015, the 22nd of May, I went from voting to the hospital for my final radiation session and to have my chemotherapy line removed. It was one of many strange rhymes between the campaign and the stage-three cancer I was fighting, all these weird coincidences and synchronicities that followed me around during that time. “You couldn’t make it up,” Kathy Sheridan said to me in the pub in the middle of it all.
I wrote about having cancer in this newspaper at that time in a way that feels alien to me now. I wrote about how I stuttered when I named Sarah as my next of kin, internalised homophobia, or just general fear of homophobia, leaking out as I awaited what I thought would be a routine test, not something that would tear my life apart, not something that would entangle one battle with another in such an impossible way.
I felt deeply, deliriously, spiritually, that if the referendum got over the line, I would have something to live for
But never underestimate the power of fighting one battle through another. We project all the time. We misdirect. We create ciphers through which we can alleviate our own pain. In 2015, I felt that to heal myself, I had to participate in the healing of a much broader, much more insidious disease of social homophobia. I felt deeply, deliriously, spiritually, that if the referendum got over the line, I would have something to live for, that if a simultaneously impenetrable and diffuse social ailment could be cured, then so could I. I talked myself into believing the synchronicity was not a foreboding omen, but a sliver of magic I had to traverse. Well, it worked, although not without tremendous pain and lifelong complications.
In 2015, queer people had to assume a particular stance. We had to sing from the same hymn sheet. We had to be good. Suppressing your rage and choosing calmness over and over again when you wanted to scream took a toll. It was a stifling point of strategy. That stance is not a point of pride for me, but I understand why I, personally, took it. While a movement is built broad, a campaign is won focused. But I don’t recognise the person who stuttered in hospital any more. I’ve changed, and so has the context. There is so much to praise about how 2015 gave us the confidence to express our love towards each other, our appreciation, and solidarity. That kind of stuff changes people. It changed me. It changed Ireland.
In Vegas I was thinking about 2015 and all it contained: that horrible, life-affirming, traumatising, beautiful, upsetting, joyous, galvanising, exhausting campaign, of surviving it and so much more, while stuck out the sunroof of a pink limousine, speeding down the strip, protecting my drink from the desert wind, a surprisingly effective location for deep contemplation.
Pride is next month, and it will feel potent. Bigotry is a hydra, it’s pro-active. It comes knocking in different contexts with different rhythms, but it’s the same old story. Many in the LGBTQ+ community in Ireland may feel embattled, particularly with regards to the current toxic wave of transphobia. But we are imbued with the memory of 2015. We know how to band together. We know that there are more people out there who support our community than ever. We know how to fight, and we know how to win. Most vitally, I thought, my mind drifting back to this day eight years ago, we know how to love each other.