The Australian – 30 June 2016
Rick Morton, Social Affairs reporter, Melbourne
The architect of Irish gay marriage referendum Yes campaign Tiernan Brady, in Australia helping on the effort here. Picture: Hollie Adams
One of the architects of Ireland’s overwhelming victory for “yes” in its same-sex marriage referendum has disputed Bill Shorten’s depiction of the Irish experience as ugly division.
Tiernan Brady, who is in Australia to advise the marriage equality campaign, said the lead up to the vote was mentally taxing for LGBT people but the vote itself was ultimately a “unifying moment for our country”.
Mr Brady said there was no doubt a plebiscite was “the more difficult” way to go about change but said the campaign “brought people together instead of tearing them apart”.
“But the approach of people in the campaign decides what the tone is and I think that is a critical point,” he said. “The referendum was an astounding and unifying moment for our country.”
The government’s plans for a national plebiscite in Australia have been criticised for lacking detail. Bill Shorten has said it could be used as a platform for homophobia. “When you look at the experience in Ireland, over a year ago, some of the arguments which emerged were really ugly and repugnant,” the Opposition Leader said yesterday.
Mr Brady, who was the political director for the Irish “yes” campaign, which won with more than 60 per cent of the vote on 60 per cent voter turnout, said “ugly conversations” were not the result of the process itself.
“No matter what the process is, it is difficult for lesbian and gay people or any minority to have their lives discussed in public,” he told The Australian. “In the Irish experience, a plebiscite is difficult, but our experience is that it also brought great rewards and it created a visibility of LGBT people and their families. It allowed the great cultural change in Ireland that flowed from the vote.”
Mr Brady said there was a “clarity” in Ireland that did not exist in Australia.
“A plebiscite is legally unnecessary (in Australia), so I can understand why people, especially LGBT people, are frustrated,” he said.
While “no” campaigners often used spurious and misleading arguments — such as unrelated adoption and surrogacy laws — Mr Brady said the key to success for the “yes” campaign was to remain positive and tell stories about people, not abstract arguments. “We have to set the tone that is respectful,” he said. “There will be other voices and that is always the way it is and, sadly, we have to endure those voices.”
While Mr Shorten defended his rejection of a plebiscite, saying attitudes had changed since 2013, polls have shown a mood for change since 2011. Labor did not attempt to legislate the issue when last in government.
Mr Brady said Catholic bishops came out for the “no” campaign in Ireland. The Association of Catholic Priests said it was acceptable to vote either way while imploring everyone to “cherish” LGBT people and to be cautious of the impact of their words. Ultimately, he said, many heterosexual families “saw through” arguments of anti-equality campaigners because they were offended by the idea the only good family was one with parents of the opposite sex.