The Drag Queen Who Legalised Gay Marriage
On the 22nd of May Ireland historically became the first country to legalise same-sex marriages through a popular vote. The campaign was long and hard fought and represents a huge shift. Ireland is no longer the conservative Catholic country it was.
Over the last two decades Ireland has gotten dramatically more liberal. Until 1993, homosexuality was a criminal offence. Now, 22 years later, Ireland has one of the most progressive stances in the world. One person has stood at the forefront of the marriage equality fight: Rory O’Neill, better known by his stage name, Panti Bliss.
Panti has been a permanent fixture in Dublin’s gay scene since the mid-90s, hosting regular karaoke nights and annual events like Alternative Miss Ireland.
In January, 2014, Panti appeared on a chat show on Ireland’s national television network, RTÉ. On the show, he alleged that members of the Irish press were “homophobic” including John Waters, a journalist and member of the Iona Institute — a conservative Catholic advocacy group. Waters threatened to sue over the comments so RTÉ issued an apology.
The fallout from the interview led to Panti becoming an international celebrity with people like Dan Savage, Madonna, Steven Fry and Miley Cyrus expressing their support.
In the run up to the referendum on marriage equality Panti was seen as a rallying point and a voice of reason. He challenged high profile members of the no campaign to public debates (all of which they refused). Panti’s impassioned speeches calling for equal rights for all citizens of Ireland were difficult for the public to ignore.
Fortunately, the Irish people listened and voted 62%-38% to legalise same-sex marriage. Panti undeniably played a crucial role in the result.