WITH just a day to go before Ireland goes to the polls on the issue of marriage equality, both the Yes and No sides have been out hitting the streets in a bid to secure the crucial votes which may make all the difference.
Both Yes Equality Limerick and the various groups encouraging people to vote No to allowing same-sex marriage have been ramping up their campaigns this week ahead of Friday’s polling day.
An emotive issue, the feelings of canvassers and members of the public have varied wildly.
City singer Rachel Prior, who is part of the Yes Equality Limerick movement, urged people to “make history” on polling day and vote yes to the 34th amendment.
“The way it is at the moment, we just don’t know which way it is going to go,” she said. “I think the thing we really need to do is get as many Yes voters out on the day.”
But Brother Charles, one of the Franciscan Friars of Moyross who have actively campaigned for a No vote, said allowing marriage equality could “open the floodgates”.
“The bible is very clear on such things. Where do you stop? The question is, let’s say there is a brother and a sister and they love each other, so why can’t they get married? This is a reality. On that principle, do you say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to one situation, but not another?” Br Charles asked.
On a canvass in city this week, many people declined to reveal their voting intentions, with one lady saying: “I most certainly am voting, I just have not made my mind up yet.”
Some are more certain, with one person in the Ballynanty area saying: “I will definitely be voting Yes, don’t worry about that.”
Another middle-aged lady added: “Myself and all my family are going to vote Yes. You can guarantee that.”
But there are plenty of others with opposing views.
The Leader witnessed a canvasser attempting to post a leaflet calling for a Yes vote through a letterbox, only to be told: “Take it away. I am voting No, and that is my business”.
A neighbour added: “I don’t like that carry on. I’ll be voting No.” Both the Yes and No campaigns in Limerick have attracted people from different backgrounds.
Farranshone man Thomas Bibby, who is married, is campaigning for a Yes vote, and is maintaining an online blog charting his experiences.
He said: “My marriage was the happiest day of my life, and I think it is really tough for people in same-sex relationships to knock on doors and ask for rights for themselves. It is equally important that people who do have the right to marry should stand beside those who are asking for that right”.
Paddy Manning, on the other hand, is an openly gay man, who is calling on people to vote No.
“I’m asking people not to misplace their wonderful compassion and kindness. You can’t change or undo the past for how gay people were treated in this country by depriving children of rights now. This referendum isn’t about signals or being nice to gay people like me, it’s about protecting what the purpose of marriage has always been, encouraging mums and dads to stay together, where possible to raise their children,” he said.
Mr Manning feels the civil partnership legislation introduced in 2010 should be sufficient for same-sex couples.
It is a view shared by former Fianna Fail local election candidate Jim Hickey, who has been campaigning across the city on a No platform.
“Civil partnerships give same sex couples the same rights as married couples. They have inheritance, social welfare, income tax, without redefining marriage and the family at the expense of children. There is no need to redefine marriage and the family in our constitution in order to treat same-sex couples fairly,” he said.
For some people, there is a great personal benefit in the country voting Yes this Friday.
Cappamore man Donncha Hayes, 32, for example, is hoping to marry his partner this September.
Richard Keane, 40, from Castletroy added: “I am a gay man, and I feel it is my right to have equal status in the country where I am living. I feel they [the No side] seem to be dragging the family into it, children and all that. It is not about that. It is about equality.”
But John O’Gorman, of Mothers and Fathers Matter, says there is an element of bewilderment among some of the electorate.
Ballylanders man John has been canvassing around rural Co Limerick, including Bruff, Bruree and his home village.
“It is alien to a lot of people. People wonder why has it come to this? Why has the government brought this out. It should not have come to this. Marriage has already been undermined so much over the last 30 years, and fathers have difficulty getting access to their children already.”
The atmosphere has been cordial among each side in the referendum debate in Limerick, with reports that advice has been passed among rival canvassers about which houses to visit, and which ones to avoid for fear of negative responses for either.
There have been isolated incidents of verbal abuse.
One lady, who gave her name only as ‘Mir’ from Thomondgate, said she was accosted while campaigning for a Yes vote in the heart of O’Connell Street.
“I just graciously backed off, and thanked them for their time. That is all you can do. We are not here to push an opinion, we are just trying to explain and answer the questions that people have, and make sure they have all the facts before they go to the polling station on Friday,” she explained.
Even while out on canvass on Monday this week, a man shouted from his car window: “It’s not natural” Pushed further, he said: “I am voting No. Every child deserves a mother and a father, a female and a man.”
However, Edel McNamara, who lives in Kileely, and whose son is Mr Gay Limerick Shane Guerin, said: “I think everyone is entitled to the same rights as a straight couple. It is as simple as that. Each person has the right to live their life in the way they want to.”
Canvassers on each side are sceptical about opinion polls which suggested the Yes side had a healthy lead.
For Allsún Ní Fhlaitheartaigh, who hails from Hilltop, who is seeking a Yes vote, it would be a source of huge regret if she did not canvass:
“I did not want to wake up on May 23 and ask myself what if I had not got up and participated in something which directly affects me and future generations,” she concluded.