María de las Mercedes López Mateo.

(Image: Source: Yes Equality on Twitter)


Activists from social movements that support minorities are usually against referendums. Those allow the majority to decide on the rights of a minority, thus it’s difficult to have the result that activists want. Nevertheless, Irish 22nd may referendum gave the victory to pro-gay marriage with a 62%. What did LGBT movement do to win? Before focusing on the yes campaign’s strategy, let’s take a quick look at LGBT Irish recent history and what they needed to do to change it.

Ireland is not an easy country to be homosexual. It was illegal until 1993, 20 years after LGBT movement emerged, like most of new social movements, with the Sexual Liberation Movement[1]. Since then, Irish LGBT’s have been trying to make Ireland a better and safer place for them to live; for instance, in 2010 the Civil Partnership Act passed at the Dáil. However, the fight couldn’t end then. They wanted more, they wanted to have the same privileges as straight couples. But Catholics, due to the LGBT last triumph, wouldn’t let this happen.

In 21st January Frances Fitzgerald, Minister for Justice and Equality, presented a bill in order to make the thirty-fourth amendment of the Constitution, changing Article 41. Irish law stablishes that proposal to amend must be pass by the Oireachtas, and then submitted to a landmark referendum: the 22nd May was the crucial day[2].

After a hard fight against the catholic pressure (2016 Irish census said that 78,31% of the population identify themselves as Catholics[3]), same-sex marriage was approved. Most of their support came from young people (90% of them), meanwhile the older and most conservative ones were more likely to vote no.

Despite their victory and the access to marriage, the way it happened wasn’t how they would have wanted. Gráinne Healy, one of the known leaders of social justice sector in Ireland and co-director with Brian Sheehan of Yes Equality campaign, said: none of us campaigned to hold a referendum in the early days, referendums on the rights of a minority should never happen[4] (Keating, 2015). The system was playing against them, so they needed a very effective method to attract people. From now on, we will try to analyze the LGBT encourage to vote so the rights of a minority do not dispel because of a conservative and catholic majority.

Although, we must consider that now everybody voted. On this graph, we can see the correlation between turnout and yes support. In some areas the relation is weaker, but it is possible to appreciate a trend-line.[5]


Leaving obstructions behind, this post-material demand had, in Sidney Tarrow’s words[6], a favorable Political Opportunity Structure. We may talk about a domino effect: Ireland had a pressure to success, as 12 European countries had already legalized the equal marriage. They also had an unusual support on the Oireachtas due to the recent Leo Varadkar’s came out[7], who is a member of the Fine Gael Party, a Christian-Democratic and Conservative party. Having allies at the “political structures” can help people to open their mind and give their support[8]. Besides, the four main parties were pro-gay marriage. This shows that it is no longer a progressive lefties demand, the borders are big enough to include everyone.[9] Further than allies, some people like Varadkar are LGBT figures on the institutions, so their presence transmits a sign of visibility and strength.

Nevertheless, that was not the main reason to success. The key was their message. It wasn’t an aggressive one, nor angry or illegal. It was a speech about love, a huge ensemble of stories from those who want to be free to love. Some young gay people told their experiences on Yes equality Youtube channel, but also on their owns and on the streets. They talked about how hard growing up in a scornful country is[10].

The main factor which gave them the victory was the cultural one. In their discourse, a collective identity was created through those who wanted to share their love but were restrained suffering an injustice. The success hinges on the boundaries: everyone should vote, and everyone should vote yes, because all of us are involved. The main strategy LGBT movement used was that everybody knows someone from the collective: a gay relative, a lesbian friend, a transgender neighbor, or a bisexual colleague.

On the following yes campaign’s video, we can see how they try to rekindle an emotional cohesion and an idea of unit in love.

Source: Belong to Yes[11]


Furthermore, if we analyze Healy’s campaign, the main concepts and the most used were Justice, Equality, Freedom, sharing love, Welcome, Diversity. She usually finished her speeches calling for a yes for families, yes for love and yes for equality (Yes Equality, 2015) [12]. She went on about the significance of LGBT people telling their experiences, sharing the joyous they want to live[13]. The call to mobilization was an emotional one so it would echo on their hearts.

To sum up, LGBT movement won the Irish battle using the heartstrings of the voters on their ads campaign. The success was overwhelming, but they still have a lot to do, not only in Ireland. This fact created another domino effect on many countries, such as Slovenia, Australia, and Switzerland.



[1] McNamee, M. (2015). Timeline: A history of gay rights in Ireland. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Nov. 2017].

[2] (2013). Constitutional Referendum in Ireland. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Nov. 2017].

[3]Emberson, I. (2017). Faith Survey | Irish Census (2016). [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 Nov. 2017].

[4] Keating, D. (2015). [Focus] How has Ireland’s gay rights referendum changed activism? [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Nov. 2017].

[5] Isbell, M. (2017). The Numbers Behind Ireland’s Historic Vote on Same-Sex Marriage – MCI Maps. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 Nov. 2017].

[6] Tarrow, S. (2011). Power in Movement: Collective Action, Social Movements and Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[7] He came out on a radio program on 18th January, three days before Fitzgerald presented the bill of amendment.

[8] In fact, both conservative parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, supported strongly the referendum.

[9] Beatty, A. (2015). From Gay Power to Gay Rights. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 Nov. 2017].

[10] Yes Equality (2015). Yes Equality Launch – Patrick’s Story. Available at: [Accessed 22 Nov. 2017].

[11] Belong to Yes (2015). Marriage Equality: Bring Your Family With You. Available at: [Accessed 22 Nov. 2017].

[12] Yes Equality (2015). Every vote counts! (3:57min). Available at: [Accessed 24 Nov. 2017].

[13] Ingle, R. (2017). Róisín Meets: Yes Equality activist Gráinne Healy. [online] The Irish Times. Available at: [Accessed 24 Nov. 2017].