Northwest News

Puyallup native brought her activism to same-sex marriage campaign in Ireland

Shawna Scott didn’t let an eight-hour time difference stop her from watching history unfold.

The Puyallup native has lived in Ireland for 10 years. In that time, she’s picked up a slight accent and an affinity for political activism.

Scott, along with her Irish boyfriend Paddy Morris, organized a Yes Equality campaign in Morris’ home county of Wexford. It was one of about 50 advocacy groups that campaigned in support of legalizing same-sex marriage leading up to last week’s referendum election in Ireland.

The 30-year-old Emerald Ridge High School graduate, who is back in Puyallup visiting family until Tuesday, couldn’t sleep as election results poured in early Friday. She was awake at 2 a.m., watching online as votes were tallied.

When she woke around 6 a.m. to what she considered a clear victory for marriage equality, all she could do was cry.

“It was a civic experience people may never see again,” she said of the campaign leading up to the vote. “I know I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Approval of the measure, which amends the constitution to allow marriage of “two persons without distinction as to their sex,” makes Ireland the first country to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote.

For about three months before the election, when Scott and Morris weren’t working at their full-time jobs in Dublin, they were canvassing and knocking on doors in Wexford.

They volunteered as much as 16 hours a day with around 10 other people, trying to turn “soft yes” and “no “voters” into same-sex marriage supporters.

They worked with local politicians, spread the word on social media and hosted a film screening.

Every day they talked to people in the streets, asking whether they believed same-sex couples should have the constitutional right to marry.

“Every time you got a ‘no,’ it stung,” she said Thursday.

Scott said she worried that Ireland’s conservative Catholic heritage would pose a challenge. But she said prominent members of the church helped with the cause. She said having faith and supporting equality aren’t mutually exclusive.

“There was no way we could’ve done this without the Catholic vote,” she said.

Despite her earlier worries, Scott said tens of thousands of Irish voters who traveled home from around the world gave her hope.

“That was one of the most heartwarming things I’ve seen,” she said. “Some people were only in town for 24 hours (to vote).”

The referendum passed with 62 percent of the vote.

Scott said she hopes Ireland’s referendum effort inspires civic engagement for voters worldwide.

“Democracy isn’t a spectator sport,” she said.

As for the couple’s future activism, Scott said they will eventually look for another cause.

“We’re going to take a break. We need a break,” she said, laughing. “This definitely isn’t the end of the road.”