How the ‘Yes’ Campaign Won the Day

Written by Tara Mulvany

Ireland’s same sex marriage referendum will be talked about, studied and deliberated over for many years to come. The outcome of the referendum not only represents seismic cultural change in Irish society, but it also presents a case study on political and social advocacy like we have never seen before.

Never before have such a diverse range of communications tactics and media platforms come together, as though they were being expertly choreographed into one single, powerful arrangement. So much so, that the No vote struggled from the beginning to the very end to pack any sort of punch in the debate.

Last Thursday on the Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk, I listened to Sunday Times columnist Kevin Myers present an intelligent and legally led argument in favour of a No vote in his usual articulate and authoritative style.

His position was that issues such as same sex marriage and matters relating to the family in general should be taken out of the Constitution altogether. He said: ‘I am desperate for justice for gay people, but that doesn’t have to be decided tomorrow.’ But, despite Myers’ argument making sense, he hadn’t a hope in the debate.

His opponent, Grainne Healy, Chair of Marriage Equality, simply said ‘Irish people see that their brothers and sisters have the opportunity to become fully equal citizens’ and that she was quietly confident that the result would be a Yes.  It was an emotional statement and softly delivered, but it worked.

And that was just an example of one debate.

We also had the deeply impactful personal stories from key influencers, the likes of Minister for Health Leo Varadkar and TV3 political correspondent, Ursula Hannigan. People known to us normally in a public or professional capacity were revealing intimate details about their journey in life. These were empowering and impassioned contributions that resonated with not only the LGBT community, but anyone and everyone who has ever felt different, bullied or marginalised. No amount of ‘balanced’ coverage in traditional media channels could have competed with that.

And those were just the Irish influencers. There were also the mega stars like Ellen DeGeneres, Ricky Gervais, Ed Sheeran, Miley Cyrus, Russell Crowe, Richard Branson, Stephen Fry and many more who called on Ireland to Vote Yes and congratulated us when we did.

Much of this and more happened on social media where public sentiment grew legs and anyone with an opinion was given a platform to voice it. Profile pictures changed to ‘Yes Equality’ and individuals went on their own campaign crusades by posting images, videos, graphics, statuses and even photos of their Granny who was voting Yes. #MarRef, #YesEquality, #OneLove, #YesForLove, #WeDo… I could go on and on.

There was also a considerable amount of spontaneous activation on the ground. Rainbow flags hung over balconies and multi-coloured Hailo taxi cabs pledged to give free rides to anyone on their way to the polling station. Most poignant of all was the image of an actual rainbow that appeared in the Dublin skyline on the day the result was announced, as though it had been miraculously placed there by the ‘Yes’ campaign strategists. Like every other aspect of the campaign, the image was shared around the world in seconds via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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