One of the best reasons to hold a plebiscite is to allow the Australian nation to stand up for equality

Supporters in favour of same-sex marriage at Dublin Castle on the day of Ireland’s referendum last year. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

There are many historical and cultural sources of national pride for people from Ireland.

But there wasn’t a day I was ever prouder to be born there than when the country overwhelmingly voted in favour of legalising same-sex marriage last year.

The vote was a powerful statement on rights, equality, freedom, pride, friendship, and love. Ireland became the first country to recognise marriage equality through a popular vote, and the loud and clear message from message from Irish society echoed around the world.

Little old Ireland, known worldwide for its staunch Catholic heritage and traditions, showing the way.

It was a positive affirmation of rights, yes, but it was also a comprehensive and very public rejection of the view that marriage should only be allowed between people of the opposite sex.

This was inculcated into the fabric of society by the Catholic Church from the foundations of the state. Marriage as the sole preserve of a man and a woman was written into the 1937 constitution, hence the requirement for a referendum.

Through the referendum, Irish people were finally given a mechanism through which to reject that outdated thinking and change the country forever, for the better.

And the scenes in Dublin that day were memorable. Here’s a quick look back:

A crowd in Dublin watched the count come in showing that only one constituency in the whole country voted No

Photo by Paul Faith / AFP / Getty Images.

There was unbridled joy on the streets

Thousands of people gathered at Dublin Castle for the referendum count. Photo: Paul Faith / AFP / Getty Images

Faces showed relief, joy, surprise and pride

Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

A marriage equality plebiscite in Australia gives the voting public the chance to make the same statement. It’s an opportunity for millions of Australians to stand up and be counted – literally be counted – as being on the side of social equality and the rights of the LGBTI community.

For LGBTI Australians of course the issue is about basic right, and not about the ability of others to have their say. But rather than a plebiscite being a “platform for bigotry and hatred”, which appears to be the main argument against the Coalition’s proposed path to marriage equality, an another way of looking at is as a platform for the Australian community to take a stand with the LGBTI community and express their solidarity while at the same time publicly showing that those on the other side of the debate are in a significant minority.

Right now it looks like the most likely outcome is the whole thing will be scuppered because some politicians have some understandable concerns about the welfare of gay and lesbian Australians. For other politicians, it’s about scoring points.

Let me let you in on a secret. Politicians know this is going to happen; it’s just a matter of when and how. They deeply want to be able to have their side take credit for making it happen.

For all of the imperfections of a plebiscite, its redeeming feature is it takes the decision out of the hands of politicians – where major party policy has been behind community opinion on this issue for years – and back in the hands of the community, who have been fed up for years with resistance from both Labor and the Coalition on this issue. A plebiscite would make it a victory for the Australian public, and not for any particular corner of politics.

And what a great, great day it would be.

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