I went into a shop yesterday. City Centre Dublin. Almost six o’clock. I know the owner reasonably well. I know him to be a friendly, warm and intelligent man. We often exchange pleasantries. He let me in as he put up the ‘Closed’ sign. I went straight to the till, to speed things up, and noticed a ‘Yes Equality’ poster leaning on the counter. I pointed at it and joked that he had obviously made up his mind on this issue. At this he hummed and hawed a bit. He explained that a ‘Yes’ campaign team had come in the day before and he had left it there. I got the distinct sense that he wasn’t yet convinced.
We chatted some more and he made a general point that he reckoned a lot of people will give the impression they are voting ‘Yes’ but will in fact not do so. I sensed he was trying to tell me something. I listened to him. I said to him that I did feel that it was unfortunate that anyone who expressed doubts about the referendum were afraid to articulate these thoughts. We chatted some more. I felt an admission coming on and he duly told that as it stood he currently intended voting ‘No’.
I acknowledged his point of view. We continued to converse in a measured respectful way. I told him that I intended to vote ‘Yes’. I gave him my reasons- the fact that I see this amendment this as only a minor tweak to the Constitution. No big deal-no seismic shift in the social order as I see it. A no brainer for me personally.
At this point he asked about the actual change to the wording of the Constitution. I explained that to him, as I understand it. He then said that he had concerns about surrogacy and adoption and I clarified that they’d already been legislated for and wouldn’t be affected in any material way by this particular referendum.
He listened. We chatted. I explained that while a ‘Yes’ vote was no major thing for me I felt it may be for somebody being bullied in school or living fear of coming out to their family or friends. Another reason for me, for a ‘Yes’. With that he thanked me , told me that I’d clarified a few things and given him some food for thought. He said he’d talk to his wife later and we left it at that.
I reflected later on this exchange. It is a concern that the ‘Yes’ campaigners who’d visited him the day before had seemingly failed to address this man’s honestly held, if ill-informed and mis-informed views. It was apparent that he was afraid to publicly admit these doubts and ask the relevant questions. I feel it is important that people like this man- moderate ‘No’ voters are not afraid to be heard. It shouldn’t shock or surprise us that people who grew up in a theocratic, explicitly homophobic society may still have residual doubts and fears around such topics. Unless these lingering reservations are articulated they won’t be identified and potentially challenged.
The mainstream media discourse continues airing the same few polarising voices. In the midst of all this there is a confused middle ground keeping their heads below the parapet. An Irish version of the ‘Shy Tories’ who came out and voted in such numbers in the UK last week. I think it is vital to leave a space in the referendum debate for moderate ‘No’ voters to identify themselves. That way they can engage, without fear of vilification, in the type of conversation that I outlined above. Clarify some issues that are being deliberately obfuscated by the ‘No’ side. I think the resulting voter swing can and will only go one way.
Earlier: No Fear
(Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland)