Weekend Books — Crossing the Threshold: The Story of the Marriage Equality Movement

Crossing The ThresholdCrossing the Threshold tells the inside story of the marriage equality movement by way of a compilation of 23 testaments from the activists who helped lead the campaign to victory in the summer of 2015. It is an important book of record which documents the internal workings of the movement; in that way, it is a must-read for any would-be victors of a referendum campaign.

The foreword by UCD’s Ailbhe Smyth gives an insight into the genesis of the Marriage Equality movement, which arose from the joint efforts of existing LGBT advocacy groups and feminist organisations. Katherine Zappone and Ann Louise Gilligan, the women who brought the first legal challenge to the ban of same-sex marriage in 2006 with Zappone & Gilligan v. Revenue Commissioners & Ors, provide a poignant opening chapter about their struggle to have their marriage recognised in Ireland. It was this court case that acted as the catalyst for the campaign to agitate for a referendum on equal marriage, which began in earnest with the founding of Marriage Equality Ireland in 2008.

The book also documents the internal debates and schisms which helped shape the movement. For example, a section of the LGBT community criticised the marriage equality movement for what it perceived as an attempt to make LGBT people conform to the heteronormative tradition of marriage. Similarly, same-sex marriage faced criticism from a feminist perspective, by which way marriage was dubbed as a fundamentally patriarchal institution that the feminist movement should not work to extend.

Many of the contributors also document their experiences in the public debate with the opposition campaign, which makes for interesting reading. In particular, solicitor Moninne Griffith’s account of the televised debate she had with David Quinn of the Iona Institute on RTÉ’s Prime Time makes for an interesting read. Similarly, the accounts of the campaigners’ experience of canvassing for the vote on the doorsteps give an interesting insight into the persuasive power of a well-organised campaign.

The inclusion of testaments from activists working within fringe groups or along the edges of the movement provides an interesting view into the efforts taken to reach specific sub-groups within Irish society. Laura Harmon’s piece on the work done within the student movement and Richard O’Leary’s account of working to win votes within faith communities show the lengths to which the movement went in order to assure that its message reached all sections of Irish society.

The absence of testaments from some of the more recognisable characters from the marriage equality movement is conspicuous. In particular, statements from David Norris and Rory O’Neill would have made an excellent inclusion in to the book, as two of the most visible personalities in the campaign.

One wonders whether the title of the book was chosen with another book in mind; a mischievous allusion to 1994 publication Crossing the Threshold of Hope by one Pope John Paul II. I certainly hope so.

All in all, Crossing the Threshold is an excellent book of record, and a great source of inspiration and instruction for any reader who would like to learn about the makings of a successful referendum campaign.

Kevin Burns

Crossing the Threshold: The Story of the Marriage Equality Movement edited by Gráinne Healy. Published by Merrion Press, (Paperback with flaps €24.99) 362pp.