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How Young Dubliners Celebrated the Irish Gay Marriage Vote

We went on a bar crawl around Dublin on Saturday night to see how the legalization of same-sex marriage was being celebrated.

by Roisin Kiberd, Photos: Sarah Meyler
May 26 2015, 11:36am

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

On a stage in Vienna, a man in leather trousers is dancing in front of an animation of a butterfly. Meanwhile, in Dublin, there's dancing in the street. Fortuitously, the Eurovision Song Contest has coincided with the day Ireland has voted in favor of gay marriage. A double rainbow even appeared over Dublin as a sign of approval from the gay-friendly gods.

We are the first nation in the world to pass same-sex marriage by referendum. After weeks of news coverage questioning whether we're still a nation of Catholic zealots, it's clear from the overwhelming majority of Yes voters (62.1 percent) that we're finally beginning to shake off the church's stranglehold.

After a sunny day spent celebrating, drinking and waiting for the drag queen Panti Bliss to appear at Dublin Castle, the city is ready for a big gay party. A line of people in 80s polyester jackets form a queue around the city's best-known gay bar, the George, where the habitually stern political commentator Vincent Browne presented the referendum results on live TV earlier in the day, surrounded by a crowd of jubilant drag queens.

Before the referendum, a kind of emotional exhaustion had settled, lifted now with news of the results. The love is tangible and effusive tonight: locals, tourists, drag queens, and awkward heterosexual boyfriends mix and spill onto footpaths, the city's gay bars unable to contain them all.

"I woke up nervous, then, when the vote counts started coming in, I got emotional," says Robert, who I meet outside the George. "It just hit me how many young people are going to grow up feeling accepted here now. It's this very visible fuck you to the old Ireland."

Robert is in his early 2-, but the change even in his lifetime has been radical. "Homosexuality was only decriminalized here in 1993. When I was born, I was essentially a criminal," he says. "When I think of my trans friends, I only hope the understanding doesn't end here, but that it just grows and grows."

The line for the George now runs the full length of the lane. I ask where Robert will end up if he doesn't get in. "Wherever I go tonight I'll have a great time," he says. "The whole city is gay tonight, Dublin's gone omnisexual."

Next I meet Clara and her dad, who canvassed for Yes votes in the city center. "It was around 40 percent yes votes, 40 percent nos and 20 percent undecided," Clara tells me. "One guy told me to get the fuck out of his face, that it was sick. And the No voters weren't anything like you'd expect them to be."

When Clara's father came out, some time after having her, gay marriage was a distinctly distant prospect.

"It's an entirely different Ireland now," he tells me. "People are fed up with being told what to think by the church and the establishment."

I speak to Cathy and Carla, a couple who look too young to get into the George, even if they make it through the mile-long queue. "People normally stare at us just for holding hands in the street," Cathy tells me, "but today everyone's smiling. I feel like we're a normal couple."

It's saddening how casually she says this. I ask if they've never felt "normal" before, if they've felt that Ireland is an inherently homophobic place. "I think guys have it much harder than girls," says Carla. "But the fact that this came through by vote makes it special. It feels like Irish people want us to be here."

Today's results have been doubly empowering, for those who will marry one day under the new law and those who doubted that their votes counted in the first place. Dubbed "generation emigration" for their tendency to leave, young Irish people have increasingly felt more and more disenfranchised. The most vocally liberal are often also the least likely to vote, plagued with a fear—bolstered by the UK's recent Conservative victory—that Twitter is an echo chamber and that the wider nation would likely side with the Iona Institute, a right-wing Catholic advocacy group.

As it turns out, the only county in Ireland with a majority No was Roscommon, and finally Irish law is beginning to sync with our reality. It's felt as though Ireland itself was in the closet, a liberal country under a theocratic constitution. Our churches are empty, our bars packed out on a Sunday. The ferry is full of young women off to the UK for abortions.

WATCH: VICE News' documentary on abortion rights in Ireland

The referendum debate was, at times, disturbingly personal, offensive to the LGBT community and basically anyone raised in a non-nuclear household. Due to rulings by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, both sides had to be given equal airtime, with the no side focusing largely on the idea that only children raised by married, heterosexual parents could be "legitimate" and healthy.

"I was raised by single mother. I found it grotesque looking at the No posters," says Azzie, a girl wearing shades and a huge amount of neon.

The Iona Institute gives the impression of a lone corps of extremists, but the more disturbing truth is that, for many young Irish gays, it was their own relatives who voted against them.

Families have fractured, private lives have been scrutinized and attacked, and the axiom that " the personal is the political" has been pushed to brutal extremity. Friends of mine have suffered breakdowns, continuing to canvass day after day in the districts they grew up in, asking neighbors to give them their rights.

But then, how often does politics connect directly to the heart? We have weathered the turbulence, and love has won. "It's about visibility," says Simon, a friend I meet in the pissed-up mob outside Mother, a much-loved gay club night that, tonight, has packed out two separate venues. "It's gay people talking about themselves, and that doesn't happen very often. No one has apologized for anything, except to say they wish they came out sooner. I've never loved or felt loved by this country like this before."

Tonight is all about love. Messy, drunk, increasingly pilled-up love (it's nearing 3 AM, and those who didn't get into Mother are now either rolling around or crashing out on the side of the footpath).

A friend vomits on a man's arm. Another chants "God loves fags!" neatly anticipating the Westboro Baptist Church's announcement that "God hates Ireland." A white Nissan Qashqai with the windows down and the doors flung open blasts Lady Gaga. Joe Caslin's beautiful murals of same-sex couples loom on George's Street and in rural Galway, watching over the crowds as they make their way home.

"We're only hours into the Gay Agenda," a guy waving a flag shouts. "We're going to take over the world! We're going to eat your babies!"

His enthusiasm is infectious. I want his revolution. He has "LOVELY FAGS" written in pink all-caps on his hat. I ask him where he thinks the No side is partying. The columnist and Iona advocate Breda O'Brien, for example? "Breda has been strung up in Temple Bar like they did with Mussolini," he says, before dry-humping a blue-haired girl on the bonnet of the Nissan.

I get the feeling this party will carry on long into tomorrow, into an age where our country is more equal, and men and women are free to marry and love each other and blast Gaga out of slow-moving Nissans.

Thank you, Ireland, for supporting marriage equality and, with the use of a referendum, hopefully paving a path for other countries to follow.

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Scroll down for more photos of triumphant (and drunk) Irish people.