We woke up on Saturday morning, turned on our radios, and checked our Facebook and Twitter accounts. It was a landslide. Ireland became the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote. With 60.5% of the population coming out to vote, it was the largest turnout for a referendum in recent years and, based on the final count, more than 62% of the country voted ‘yes.’ The ‘no’ side conceded by 10 a.m. “Congratulations to the Yes side. Well done,” one prominent ‘no’ campaigner tweeted. But it wasn’t as simple as that for us. For the gay people of Ireland, this was our lives. And the high turnout across the country proved that, with thousands of expats returning home.
By mid-afternoon on Friday, there were over 72,000 tweets with the hashtag #hometovote. The Irish diaspora were coming back for the most electrifying – and, as it turned out, least divisive – referendum in recent memory. Comedian Colm O’Regan, author of “Isn’t It All Well For Ye? The book of Irish Mammies,” wrote on Twitter: “The #hometovote is like watching The Hobbit and an army of elves you’d forgotten from earlier in the film arrive over a hill.” It caught the mood on the street perfectly. If the Irish diaspora cared enough to come home, how many people actually living in Ireland were intending to vote for equality? A lot, as it turned out.
I was one of those who came home. As an Irish expat who moved to New York four years ago, I did not have a vote, but I wanted to be here for the result, accompany my mother and sister to the polling station and, fingers crossed, celebrate a ‘yes’ victory with my friends. I wanted to walk down Grafton Street in Dublin and luxuriate in the ‘Vote Yes for Equality’ signs. I wanted to see people – gay and straight, young and old – walking around with badges that said ‘yes’ or ‘tá’ – a Gaelic expression that means you intend to do something very soon to make a change or, put simply, means ‘yes.’ A Cork woman Kitty Cotter, aged 101, wore a rainbow cardigan to vote ‘yes.’