Irish LGBT groups have warned Australia against choosing a “harmful” public vote on equal marriage, after a referendum in Ireland last year.

Ireland was forced to hold a referendum in order to introduce same-sex marriage, as it required an amendment to the country’s constitution to define marriage as between “two persons without distinction as to their sex”.



Although ultimately Ireland saw a resounding victory for marriage equality, it came after months of attack ad campaigns and smears from anti-LGBT groups – many of which targeted gay families. The

The anti-gay Iona Institute led the charge, claiming that same-sex marriage is actually “inequality for children”.

Australia is now set to become the latest country to put the issue up to a direct public vote – with right-wing Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull planning to hold a plebiscite (public vote) on the issue.

Unlike in Ireland, the plebiscite is not constitutionally required, instead serving as a non-binding advisory measure in order to avoid a rift between Turnbull and his ultra-conservative government MPs.

But Irish activists who fought the marriage campaign have come out against the plans, warning Australia’s PM not to put basic LGBT rights up to a public vote when the matter could easily be solved in Parliament instead.

Dr Grainne Healy, the former co-director of Ireland’s Yes Equality campaign, wrote to all federal Australian politicians warning them  that the Irish referendum was “brutal”.

She wrote: “The No side posters which declared that ‘every child deserves a mother and a father’ were deeply hurtful and upsetting for LGBT headed families – explaining to our children that they were ok and trying to hide the posters from them was awful for LGBT parenting families.

“The nature of plebiscites is that they allow negative hurtful images and comments to be published in the name of ‘fair canvassing’.

“Likewise, listening to the untruths and ill informed hate speech on radio or tv during the campaign was damaging and unforgettable for some. Dr Glenda Russell (2000) has studied the damaging psychological impact that anti-lgbt actions have on the LGBT community.”

Dr Healy also said counselling was required for Yes Equality canvassers because of the prejudice they encountered going door to door.

The Irish campaigner continued: “To hold a non-binding plebiscite seems to be at the least insensitive to the LGBT community who will bear the brunt of the negative campaigning and at best will lead to an experience of divisive, hurtful campaigning, with no guarantee of progressing marriage equality.”

“As a civil and human rights issue of equality, as a matter of family equality and as a matter of equality for our sons and daughters and our friends and workmates – legislation to introduce marriage equality is what is needed in Australia and those who support marriage equality rights must move to see that legislation introduced as quickly as possible and the proposed divisive plebiscite should not take place.”

Ivan Hinton-Teoh, spokesperson for Australian LGBTI rights group, just.equal, said: “In Australia we saw the rainbow flags being waved on Ireland’s referendum day, but not the hidden damage to LGBTI people, our families and allies that Grainne Healy highlights.

“Dr Healy’s message to Australia is to consider the cost of the Irish battle, not just the relief of the victory.

“The Irish situation was very different to Australia’s because they had to have a referendum to change their Constitution, the result was binding, there are clear rules governing referenda in Ireland, the parties were all united in support and the main opponent of reform – the Catholic Church – was compromised by child abuse scandals.

“With senior Irish campaigners urging us not to go down the plebiscite path we need must abandon the idea.”

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Dr Healy’s full letter is below.

Dear Sir or Madam:

I write as the Co-Director of the Yes Equality campaign in Ireland mindful of the 62% Yes vote of the binding referendum in May 2015 which gave constitutional protection to same-sex couples. As Chairwoman of Marriage Equality Ireland for over a decade we are delighted that we were able to see our goal achieved, however, a referendum campaign, even one as positive and successful as Yes Equality’s was a brutal affair at times, for LGBT people, our families and even for our mobilised straight allies.

The No side posters which declared that ‘every child deserves a mother and a father’ were deeply hurtful and upsetting for LGBT headed families as they passed the posters on lamp posts and bill boards across the country – explaining to our children that they were ok and trying to hide the posters from them was awful for LGBT parenting families. The nature of plebiscites is that they allow negative hurtful images and comments to be published in the name of ‘fair canvassing’. Likewise, listening to the untruths and ill informed hate speech on radio or tv during the campaign was damaging and unforgettable for some. Dr Glenda Russell (2000) has studied the damaging psychological impact that anti-lgbt actions have on the LGBT community.

For those canvassing for a Yes, knocking on doors and asking for a Yes vote was not always a positive experience. In fact, during the campaign canvass, we at Yes Equality HQ, made the decision to offer counselling supports to canvas teams – some of those most upset by the negative comments made to them about LGBT people were straight allies – they were appalled at the awful comments made and required psychological counselling. Likewise, some LGBT canvassers who were out asking for rights for themselves suffered greatly from the hateful comments they heard on doorsteps and in train or bus stations while canvassing.

For our friends in Australia, I would ask that you do not underestimate how horrible and damaging an experience canvassing in such a campaign can be – even in a campaign like ours which was predicated on positive messaging and upbeat imagery and hugely successful social media campaign with national champions for marriage equality coming out – it was a gruelling experience – at least we knew that at the end of it, if we won, we would have full constitutional equality for LGBT marriage rights. To hold a non-binding plebiscite seems to be at the least insensitive to the LGBT community who will bear the brunt of the negative campaigning and at best will lead to an experience of divisive, hurtful campaigning, with no guarantee of progressing marriage equality.

As a civil and human rights issue of equality, as a matter of family equality and as a matter of equality for our sons and daughters and our friends and workmates – legislation to introduce marriage equality is what is needed in Australia and those who support marriage equality rights must move to see that legislation introduced as quickly as possible and the proposed divisive plebiscite should not take place.

Yours Sincerely

Dr Grainne Healy Co Director of Yes Equality Chairwoman Marriage Equality




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