Sons of a desert, hoping to withstand
All the joint forces of Darius’ hand;
Fools, fools, the king of millions to defy,
For freedom’s empty name to die
*An excerpt from “The Battle of Marathon” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning*
It’s been well over 2000 years since the army of Athens, outnumbered by thousands, defeated the invading forces of the Persian Empire, and so defended their democracy. Athens has always been considered the birthplace of democracy. On that day, where the lone army of the city faced off against the marauding hordes of Darius, defeat meant the certain destruction of their people, and with it, possibly the great bastion of democracy in Greece. The battle will always be associated with the legend of Pheidippides, a Athenian runner who in popular legend ran the 26 miles or so from the battlefield to tell the city of their victory, only to collapse of exhaustion and die. The real story of the Athenian runner is often disputed, but the significance of the battle is not. Democracy endured, and then flourished.
On May 22nd, the fruits of the Athenian victory will be ours to use once more. Here, now, over two and a half millennia later, the power of a vote belongs to us. Democracy, and the freedom of even the most common person to have their voice heard, has always fought against tyranny. However, oppressors and dictators have not stemmed the tide of people who have rallied to democracy’s all-welcoming banner.
In the Bixby letter, which Abraham Lincoln wrote to the mother of five sons who were thought to have died in the American Civil War, he quotes
I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.
It’s a common argument that “one ought to vote because people died for us to get it”. We think back to the 1916 Rising or the War of Independence, whose casualties are not yet dead in the ground 100 years, and it seems to make sense. Yet, in reality, the blood needed for our democracy and our freedom was not spilled over a couple of years, more so poured over centuries. Wherever injustice and cruelty have festered, good people have laid down their lives to oppose it. They have written us a cheque with which to vote, but here in 2015 it seems some people are unwilling to cash it.
The Marriage Referendum on May 22nd is a defining moment for our nation. It is our Battle of Marathon, effectively. We can either go quiet into the night, and be unheard, or stand up for what is right and cast our vote. The LGBT community will be there to make their stand, so the question really is are we going to let them stand alone?
People often say things in passing like “sure my vote won’t matter”. I can see how someone would come to that conclusion, but when you consider the countless lives who have been torn apart by inequality and discrimination in the LGBT community, I believe it must matter. It matters because every YES is another person in your own nation who is saying “Yes, I am accepting you for who you are, and I support you”. It matters because every YES is another person in your own nation who is telling you “I will stand up for you. I won’t let you be a target”. It matters because every YES is another person in your own nation who is reminding you “I fought for you and alongside you when it mattered, and we won”. In this referendum you have a choice. You can either be the ally at the shoulder of your LGBT brother, sister, neighbour etc or you can be the Athenian who slipped off from the battle when he saw the numbers stacked in front of him.
It’s easy for us to stay quiet and not make ourselves vulnerable. It’s easy for us to look the other way and try to ignore this. But the issue of inequality isn’t going away. It is now more than ever that we need to rally together under one banner.
For those who are feeling inclined to tick no, I would say to you, if you feel it is your civic duty to vote because people died for that right, then I would argue you must vote YES, because those deaths were wagered against the promise of freedom. Voting NO does not honour their sacrifice. Voting NO does not promise freedom.
People did not storm the Bastille so that you could hold your prejudices against others’ happiness. People were not riddled with bullets even as they lay dead at Omaha Beach so you could stand in the way of equality. People did not fight at the GPO, or climb out of trenches at the Somme or march on Washington so that you could stand on the shoulders of the LGBT community and dictate their futures.
Ten years after the battle of Marathon, a Spartan king named Leonidas, with 300 of his men, led a small Greek force against a Persian army at Thermopylae. The Persian mass numbered over 100,000, and despite holding on for days on end, the meager Greek force eventually succumbed. Like the Athenians before them, and countless people after, they died for their freedom and ultimately for democracy. If you visit the site, you will see a memorial stone dedicated to them. And perhaps knowing how you voted in the Marriage Referendum, you may stop, even if only for a second, and hear them whisper what is wrote there on the wind
Go tell the Spartans, passerby:
That here, by Spartan law, we lie