Most people use vacation time to sit back and relax. Laura Enright is using hers to stand up for gay rights.
The 25-year-old began forming her plans as soon as she heard that her home country of Ireland was preparing to hold a constitutional referendum on the status of same-sex marriage.
Booking time off from the Toronto-based cosmetics company where she works posed no problem, nor did scheduling a flight to the home she left less than a year ago.
It was only when her vacation began that the hard work got under way.
Enright said she arrived home to a fraught atmosphere caused by pro- and anti-gay marriage factions trying to mobilize support ahead of Friday’s vote.
A simple majority “yes” vote would fly in the face of messages issued by the country’s once-dominant Roman Catholic church by legalizing weddings between “two persons without distinction as to their sex.”
For Enright, the cause she views as a simple matter of equality became personal when her sister and two close friends came out of the closet.
“It’s kind of hard to quantify when it’s something that you just assume that should be taken for granted,” Wexford said in an interview from her family home in County Wexford, Ireland. “We should all have equal rights. If I can get married, I don’t see why my sister can’t get married.”
Enright’s views, which once would have been frowned upon in a society accustomed to hearing anti-gay messages from the pulpit, are now far from novel. Prominent Irish citizens have been coming forward in droves to share their personal struggles and voice their support for same-sex unions since Prime Minister Enda Kenny announced the referendum in February.
“A yes vote costs the rest of us nothing. A no vote costs our gay children everything,” former President Mary McAleese told a gay rights event in Dublin this week after her 30-year-old son opened up about his sexual orientation.
McAleese, who served as the country’s head of state from 1997 to 2011, spoke of how her son experienced bullying and isolation as a teenager, and of friends who learned that their own children were gay only when they tried to kill themselves.
Other celebrities, from politicians to professional athletes, have voiced similar messages in recent months.
But recent public opinion polls have shown the “yes” camp clinging to a shrinking lead as the “no” faction ramps up its campaign.
Enright said evidence of their efforts was highly visible as she canvassed local neighbourhoods in support of her cause.
“On the streets, it’s all about the kids. They’re all about, ‘these children need a mother, these children need a father’,” she said.
Posters with slogans such as “Two men can’t replace a mother’s love” jockey for position alongside signs warning of a spike in surrogate pregnancies, Enright said.
Some observers outside of Ireland fear that such messages may still find enough receptive ears to tip the balance and prevent Ireland from joining Canada and the 18 other countries around the world that have legalized same-sex marriage.
Katie Bolger, development officer with LGBTQ-advocacy group Egale Canada, said many Irish youth have left the country in recent years in pursuit of better job opportunities.
The generations that remain may be more sympathetic to the no campaign, she said, adding Enright’s return trip home is a rarity.
“The people who are away from home are the people who would be voting yes if they could be home,” she said. “The truth is a lot of us are here for jobs and work. We can’t just up and leave to get home to vote for one day.”
Enright said her boyfriend was among those who couldn’t join her for referendum day.
Instead, he’ll be on hand to watch for results with her the day after the ballots are cast. Enright returns home on Saturday, and although she anticipates missing a historic moment, she said she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’d rather know that I put in a bit of effort on this side trying to get the yes than be there for the celebrations,” she said. “I’ll be able to celebrate anyway. It will pass. I know it will.”