A personal account from the activists who changed history
Describing their country as a place of “secrets and silences” sets the tone for this ultimately inspiring documentary which charts the fight for marriage equality in Ireland and the brave group of people who challenged society’s very concept of what marriage means.
It is almost hard to believe that this was a battle that took place in very recent memory, and the documentary focuses mostly on a decade, between the years 2005 and 2015. It was in 2015 following a referendum and a hard-fought campaign, that Ireland voted ‘yes’ for marriage equality, allowing same-sex couples to have the same rights as heterosexual couples.
Initially, the film focuses on Katherine Zappone and Ann Louise Gilligan (known as the KAL case) and their emotional love story. Married in Canada, they returned to Ann’s native Ireland to find that their marriage was not recognized in the eyes of the law. Against massive opposition, including the religious and traditionalist groups of Ireland, KAL started to campaign for equality, and the right to marry the person that they loved.
The ripples from this one couple’s beautiful story to just be able to marry the person they love, sends waves throughout Ireland, and it is fascinating to watch the beginnings of this grassroots campaign, focusing on some of the unsung heroes who championed the cause. It challenges us as viewers to put ourselves in the position where we are the minority, and how that would feel, but it never seeks to make heterosexual couples feel like the bad guys, rather just questioning why any couple should be denied the rights enjoyed by the majority. It tackles the fight for equality as a rights issue rather than a morality issue, and throughout, the interviewees are insightful, honest, and engaging about their personal stories and how this ties in to the bigger picture.
Perhaps what was most surprising about this documentary, was its universal message of unity behind a common cause. There is a section which focuses on the internal battle between the Marriage Equality group and GLEN (Gay & Lesbian Equality Network) and the struggle between their opposing views regarding Civil Partnerships and Marriage. However once the referendum was announced, they were able to put their differences aside and join together. It is a heart-wrenchingly beautiful moment, culminating in the incredible honest, and wonderfully emotional speeches from two people brought up by same-sex parents. For both the people of Ireland at the time and for the audience watching, this is the real lightbulb moment of the film, and the jubilation that follows when Ireland votes ‘yes’ is truly inspiring stuff.
Deeply personal, sensitively told, and with far-reaching consequences beyond the country of its focus The 34th may not be ground-breaking in its execution, but its message that the people have the power to change the world, ultimately is.