LoveProudly: An interview with Stephen Donnan about the fight for Marriage Equality in Ireland (North and South)

Tomorrow Ireland votes on whether to allow equal marriage. I recently interviewed Stephen Donnan who is one of the founders of LoveProudly , a grassroots group dedicated to marriage equality across all of Ireland. He is also a former Chair of the LGBT group in the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland.

Mathew: Stephen, tell us a bit about this new initiative.

Stephen: Well, basically, Mathew loveproudly was set up by myself and a number of other activists from Belfast, Dublin and elsewhere in Ireland to facilitate and support the calls for Equal Marriage in both Northern Ireland and in the Republic.

We want to promote and campaign for Marriage Equality and highlight the existing inequalities in the law in both jurisdictions, but in a positive and constructive way.

We don’t want to indulge in the campaign of fear and division; that isn’t what loveproudly is about and we want to follow in the example set by MarriageEquality and Equal Marriage NI.

MH: It sounds great, Stephen, so is this a cross-party campaign?

SD: It’s strictly independent of endorsing or being endorsed by any one political party.

I am not doing this within the confines of a political party, however we have had input and support from various political representatives across the spectrum and across the border.

MH: So what campaigning have you done and will you be doing?

SD: Our first aim was to get the message out about who we are and what we are aiming to achieve and I think we did that successfully when we launched on Valentine’s Day.

Our next step is formulating a plan with the two campaigns.

There is a Marriage Equality referendum in the Republic of Ireland on May 22nd and while we are optimistic we are still very far from an assured Yes vote.

We will be canvassing with the YesEquality campaign in the south and getting the word out on why a Yes vote is so crucial.

MH: How’s it looking in the Republic…and what influence has Equal Marriage having become law in England, Scotland and Wales had on people there?

SD: It is clear that we are living in changed times.

The recognition of same sex marriage in the rest of the UK, and in places as unimaginable as Slovenia and North Carolina, has had a massive impact on the debate here.

If Ireland and NI want to be seen as part of Europe, part of a diverse future where same-sex couples can celebrate their relationships freely and safely, then there’s nothing to lose from a Yes vote in the referendum.

Polls are showing that it will pass but that could lead to complacency and that would be fatal for us.

MH: What role does religion play, on both sides of the argument?

SD: Ireland (north and south) is a lot more conservative than people (believe.)

Outside of the big cities-like Dublin and Belfast-it can be difficult to be visibly LGBT as the church still plays a massive role in the lives of ordinary people.

We have seen numerous attempts by the Catholic and Protestant churches to paint equal marriage as something to be feared, that it’ll be dangerous to children and erode the fabric of society but those are the same arguments used against legalisation of homosexuality and civil partnerships.

Those arguments looked ridiculous then and they look even more so now.

That being said, there are many religious people who are campaigning for a Yes vote in the referendum as well as those in the north/Northern Ireland who have long campaigned for Equal Marriage for LGBT couples.

MH: How much pressure would a Yes vote in the Republic pile on the politicians in the North?

SD: Massive. Absolutely massive. It would mean that NI would be the only constituent nation on these islands without Equal Marriage.

I actually can’t put into words how much that will squeeze the NI Assembly and potential court cases that go forward.

MH: I personally feel that the spread of LGBT Rights is unstoppable and that as more and more countries move forward on them it makes those that don’t seem very very backwards.

Do you agree?

SD: You have Equal Marriage in North Carolina now. I don’t think I need to say more.

MH: So, Stephen, is this the kind of work that you’d like to continue doing…outside of party politics; campaigning for causes?

SD: 100%! The campaigns I fight for aren’t about me of course.

I don’t think I could be comfortable taking a break from campaigning for important causes.

It’s how I was brought up.

I am surrounded by people who continually inspire me and who strive for better.

How can I respect them by not doing the same?

MH: I entirely agree, Stephen, and your enthusiasm, dedication and commitment to LGBT Rights is a constant inspiration to me and, I’m sure, many others.

SD: That’s very kind, Mathew, thank you.

MH: So, what can we Lib Dems and others here in the rest of the UK to help and to spread the message?

SD: Keep lobbying for us, don’t forget about us.

I’ve always said that as soon as Equal Marriage was written into law in England and Wales the mainland LGBT groups more or less agreed that the fight was over and NI had once again been left behind.

That’s always angered me but it has also taught us that we can’t rely on the outside World to rescue us.

We have to solve these problems ourselves and we will.

* Mathew Hulbert is Vice Chair of Bosworth Constituency Lib Dems and a former Councillor.

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3 Comments

  • Paul In Wokingham 23rd May '15 - 10:33am

    What a beautiful day for Ireland. Congratulations to the successful YES campaign. The levels of YES support are head-spinning.

    Enda Kenny’s tweet was particularly apt: For gay sons&daughters, brothers&sisters, family&friends, Yeats said it best “Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

  • I watched the last few days/weeks of the referendum in Ireland through the lenses of France 24 TV News as the UK media especially The BBC apparently think events in the republic of Ireland are beneath them.

    The apparent spread of support for YES was fascinating. One day the reporter said that he had hoped to provide a more “balanced” report but in the particular locality that he was reporting from he could not find a single member of the public who was anything other than an enthusiastic YES supporter.

    From an island where the President of Sinn Fein can rattle the tea cup of Prince Charles with a cheery shake of the hand it appears that the times are a-changing.

  • Paul In Wokingham 23rd May '15 - 11:23am

    The NO campaign made heavy use of an image of a young couple with a baby and the strapline “She deserves a mother and a father”. They were a real couple who had allowed a professional photographer to make the image available on public domain and were neither asked nor gave their permission for NO to use the image.

    Here is what that couple had to say about their own views on equal marriage:

    We are the real family in that photograph. So for the record, here is what we think. This family believes that every child deserves to be loved and cherished. This family believes that everyone has a right to marry the person they love regardless of their gender. This family believes that EVERY family matters. And this family would vote Yes.

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