When Panti, the alter ego of Irish drag performer Rory O'Neill, called out several journalists and members of the conservative Catholic group Iona Institute as homophobic early last year on The Saturday Night Show, her targets sued the Irish public media service RTE. Fearing a legal battle, RTE paid out over $100,000 in damages. The uproar over the payments was dubbed "the Pantigate scandal," and it became the most high-profile event in the debate over LGBT rights in Ireland.
In early May, after years of starts and stops, Ireland is set to hold a referendum on marriage equality. Ireland could become the first country in the world to put the issue to a popular vote.
"I think the government would be thrilled if they didn't have to [hold a referendum] and they could just do it legislatively, because they have the votes.We run to the constitution way too much, so we're constantly having to change it," O'Neill explains.
On the face of it, things look promising. Polls show that as much as 80% of Irish people support marriage equality, substantially higher than the United States (55%), United Kingdom (68%), France (68%) and even Norway (78%). But O'Neill warns that in Ireland, when debate begins in earnest, doubts sown by conservative scaremongering can bring seemingly assured victories down to the wire.
"I think we're going to have to work really hard, and the fight is going to get really nasty," O'Neill says. "I'm not complacent at all. If I was a betting man, I'd bet on us."