Over a hundred years ago, all four of my grandparents left Ireland as teenagers to come to America. As Catholics ravaged by oppression and poverty, they came here searching for opportunity and freedom. They found all that and more in New York, but they never lost their connection to the old country, sharing countless colorful stories with their granddaughter.
With the national marriage referendum, their old country is poised to take an enormous step forward for people like their granddaughter and all the grandchildren of Ireland.
Ireland is the first nation in the world to conduct a referendum on the question of marriage equality. All the political parties support a yes vote. The entire political establishment and all national elected officials support yes!
I have been lucky enough to be part of a small group of Americans who raised funds to support the Irish equality measure. Every person I asked for help had the same reaction -- "Ireland, wow -- how could that be possible in a Catholic country? But if we win it could change so much!"
I must note that Catholic Ireland (Dublin to be specific) is the only place where I was able to openly march with my wife and my father in a St. Patrick's Day parade. That said, it is more then possible for marriage to win a few reasons. The biggest one is the tremendous work the community-based organizations have done building support for equality for decades.
For this particular effort, they expanded on their prior work by uniting under one umbrella and conducting well-organized neighbor-to-neighbor canvassing all over the island. They established Yes committees by county, allowing volunteers to use the great Irish power of sharing stories to build a strong network from coast to coast.
All of this is possible because of all the bravery of LGBT Irish people and their families. They have proudly lived their lives honestly side by side with their neighbors, their coworkers, their fellow parishioners.
They have built bridges and relationships that have made the case that their families are the same as everyone else's and that they deserve respect and full equality. With true Irish spirit they have forged forward with faith and a belief that their fellow Irish people will stand with them as so many have done for each other so many times before.
The power of this referendum is of course in the victory, but there is more then that. When we win it will send a message that people can be and are more than the categories we put them in. People can hold a deep Catholic faith and implement that in their lives by embracing their fellow human, not pushing them down.
We will be reminded that we should never judge each other in anyway for any reason. The little island of Ireland that has inspired countless citizens of the world -- including presidents of the United States -- with its strength and its poetry and its soul, will again defy the odds and show that the ways we are the same are so much stronger then the ways we are different. The vote will help finish the work of St. Patrick. When he drove the snakes out of Ireland, he meant to drive out bigotry. Our brothers and sisters in Ireland will help do that today.
One of my grandparents had a tougher trip to America then the others. As a 16-year-old girl, Nelly Shine left County Cork as a third-class passenger on the Titanic. She was one of the few girls in steerage who made it out alive. When asked how she did it, she said, "When the other girls dropped to their knees to pray, I took a run for it."
I once said to a priest that my grandmother knew their was a time for running and a time for praying. He correctly responded, "No, Christine. Your grandmother knew you could pray while running."
It is that strength and vision that has led the Irish LGBT community in all their great work and that will guide them now.
Good luck and Godspeed.
HON. CHRISTINE QUINN, former speaker of the New York City Council, is the highest-ranking openly gay elected official in the city's history. A board member at Athlete Ally, NARAL Pro-Choice New York, and the Tyler Clementi Foundation, Quinn also led the effort on behalf of Gov. Andrew Cuomo to elect pro-choice candidates last November and was instrumental in forming the first Women's Equality Party in modern history. Quinn currently serves as a special adviser to Gov. Cuomo. Chris and her wife, Kim Catullo, live in Chelsea with their dogs, Justin and Sadie.