Illustration: Karolina Burdon
Illustration: Karolina Burdon


My views on marriage changed when I was finally given the right

The Irish marriage equality referendum gave Ellen Tannam the option of a future she'd never dared imagined 

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By Ellen Tannam on

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Ball-gown, A-Line, mermaid, empire line. Sitting at my desk in primary school, I took requests from other little girls to draw their dream wedding dresses with my freshly sharpened HB pencil. It was a popular activity on typical damp Dublin days when we couldn’t go outside to play and were left to our own devices. Although I liked drawing the soft drapery of the satin and the structured bodices, it was never something I felt an ounce of passion about. I was a princess who wasn’t that bothered with the whole prince thing, thanks very much. I didn’t feel the same as a lot of little girls. 

As I was growing up, I made a point of how I found the idea of marriage boring. So restrictive and bland. I rolled my eyes at the idea. The concept of weddings with cake tastings and elaborate seating plans elicited much eye-rolling and scoffing on my end. Particularly as someone who has only really dated other women, the overwhelming straightness of it was not enticing to me.

But the way I saw marriage began to change in the lead up to the Irish marriage equality referendum in May 2015. Pundits on television, the radio and the internet were only too happy to crow about how my relationship with my girlfriend, and the relationships of many of my friends weren’t worthy of marriage. They gleefully spouted vitriol about how LGBTQ people are “unnatural”, how we make lesser parents and how, if I had a family, we wouldn’t be deserving of the same legal protections as straight people. While canvassing my neighbourhood, an old man in a sweater vest stormed over to us to let us know we were “mutants”. I held back the tears as we braved the door of another house to ask politely for our rights.

While canvassing my neighbourhood, an old man in a sweater vest stormed over to us to let us know we were “mutants”. I held back the tears as we braved the door of another house to ask politely for our rights

The campaign made it clear to me that even if it wasn’t something I wanted in my life, I was being denied the right to marriage because of something innate about myself that I accept and celebrate. To have to explain to a stern-looking man with folded arms that “it really won’t change anything about your marriage” without choking up was not an easy task. Trying to justify that the relationship that brings me so much happiness was valid was exhausting. His clinical view of things was unchanged, he was in his words, “unconvinced” and his door was closed. We sucked it up. “Next house is it?” On we went.

What shocked me was being as angry about it as I was. I could feel the rage at the tips of my fingers. The sting of a future I had only begun to consider being ridiculed was painful. What if maybe one day I did want to get married? Maybe not wearing a big meringue dress, but still. I had just never allowed myself to consider it before.

I cast my vote on May 22nd in my old primary school, the same place I drew up those wedding dresses. The same place I first felt pangs of unnamed worry when people in my class would call something “gay” when they really meant “bad”.

Results day was one of the sunniest that year. My girlfriend and I spent the day with friends, and watched the results come in live on television. We won our right. A lot of people cried. We listened to The Pet Shop Boys and drank cans to calm our nerves. People cried because they were happy, but I think mostly people did because it was over. It had been raw. We had been told for months that we weren’t good enough to be allowed something given so freely to most people, and we had finally made the country see that we were. It was something we should never have had to prove. 

Dublin city sparkled with life that night. Life and relief. I still feel it almost two years on.


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Illustration: Karolina Burdon
Tagged in:
marriage equality
Modern marriage

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