Cine Gael film festival
tackles Irish referendums
Same-sex marriage and legal abortions are the hot topics
By Byron Toben
Updated February 24, 2023
In its second screening on February 10, Cine Gael Montreal Irish film series chose two hot subjects settled in the Emerald Island by popular referendums – same-sex marriage and legal abortions.
The 34th: The Story of Marriage Equality in Ireland
This unusual title refers to the 34th amendment to the Irish constitution (Compare the 38 amendments over 86 years to the Irish Constitution, adopted in 1937, to the 27 amendments over 235 years to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1788.)
Member of the Ciné Gael committee Dana Hearne introduced the film with a brief explanation of the Irish system of referendums to precede any legislative adoption of the result. The 2017 film depicts the successful efforts of the plaintiffs Ann Louise Gilligan and Katherine Zappone who had unsuccessfully sought recognition of their Canadian marriage, which had legalized same-sex marriage in 2005, to marry each other in Vancouver.
However, they were denied related legal rights such as taxation and pensions, so they formed the group Marriage Equality in Ireland and led an alliance of both lesbian and homosexual activists campaigning for the 34th amendment.
One humorous interlude showed one of the men knocking on doors and asking passers-by if they supported his right to marry whom he would choose. That overwhelming support highlighted the fact that this one-on-one polling would take over 100 years to achieve the required number so that a public referendum was a practical remedy.
… they [Linda Cullen and Vanessa Gildea] formed the group Marriage Equality in Ireland and led an alliance of both lesbian and homosexual activists campaigning for the 34th amendment.
This film reminded me of a similar effort at the 2017 Montreal Fringe where a Limerick, Ireland duo, Ann Blake and Jenny Hannon, recounted how the 62% referendum majority in 2015 allowed them to cap their civil partnership with a formal marriage, including gown. (In that show, Ms. Blake played herself, and Lucia Smyth portrayed Ms. Hannon.) Irish-born Montreal resident, improv actor and singer Laura Flynn handled the press relations for the duo, fresh from their top award at the London Fringe.
When Women Won
This 2020 film depicts the Irish campaign to have an amendment to repeal the 8th amendment (which banned abortion.) It reminded me of a quip I once heard that, historically, those in power once sought merely to control “from birth to earth” but were now trying to control “from erection to resurrection.”
‘… motivated by the tragic death of Savita Halappanover, three Irish feminists, Grainne Griffin, Orla O’Connor and Ailbhe Smyth organized a grassroots movement in every county in Ireland… which resulted in a landslide victory.’
The campaign to legalize abortion in Ireland generated lots of YES or NO buttons which we in Quebec are used to in our “neverendum” on another subject.
Here, motivated by the tragic death of Savita Halappanover, three Irish feminists, Grainne Griffin, Orla O’Connor and Ailbhe Smyth organized a grassroots movement in every county in Ireland, women-led but with many male supporters, which resulted in a landslide victory.
As French great Victor Hugo famously declared, “Nothing is so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”
Feature image: frame from When Women Won
Byron Toben, a past president of The Montreal Press Club, has been WestmountMag.ca’s theatre reviewer since July 2015. Previously, he wrote for since terminated web sites Rover Arts and Charlebois Post, print weekly The Downtowner and print monthly The Senior Times. He also is an expert consultant on U.S. work permits for Canadians.