Referendum transforms gay Ireland despite delay on first weddings

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Ireland's "Yes" vote in May's referendum on same-sex marriage and the months of national debate that accompanied it is having a profound effect on the country's gay community even though a legal challenge has delayed the first weddings.

Gay couples holding hands has become a common sight in Dublin and gay politicians have become celebrities after Ireland became the first to pass the measure in a referendum and with a two-to-one winning margin.

"The change has been electric for young gay people," said Siona Cahill, a gay rights campaigner who works as an equality officer at Maynooth University.

"For the first time it has become something that isn't pushed under the covers," she said.

A big impact is being felt in spite of a legal challenge which prevented parliament from changing the law before the summer recess, David Carroll, head of national gay youth organization BelongTo, said.

"Attitudes generally take longer to change than legislation ... but the momentum created by the referendum has created a huge shift. I don't think we can go back to the way things were before."

BelongTo saw a doubling of attendance in its Dublin workshops as a result of the referendum and an increase in contacts from parents of young gay people in rural areas.

"What the referendum did was gave permission to allow conversations to take place in places where it hadn't happened before: working class areas, rural areas. It allowed LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) issues to come out of the closet," he said.

The referendum has had repercussions across society, with businesses seeking advice on improving gay rights, while rainbow flags have become a fashion statement for straight young people, popping up outside bars and cafes in the center of the capital.

The numbers of firms cooperating with the country's main LGBT diversity program has doubled since the start of the year, according to the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network.

At the national Gay Pride parade in June, the largest ever, a number of the country's highest profile employers, including Bank of Ireland, entered floats. Global technology giants such as Google and Twitter were among over 300 firms who campaigned for a "Yes" vote.

However, most international activists still see a popular vote as too risky to replicate, said Rory O'Neill, a drag queen who has become Ireland's most famous gay rights ambassador using the stage name Panti Bliss.

A number of countries have brought in gay marriage relatively quietly through parliaments.

"It's a much more powerful way of doing it but everyone also looks and says that was a big risk," he said. "If we had lost we wouldn't have had another go for a generation."

(Editing by Louise Ireland)

SOURCE: Business Insider, September 3rd 2015: