When Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny rallied support for gay marriage ahead of a referendum this month, he got a little more than the usual help from Twitter Inc.
As well as disseminating the message through its social media, the company is backing the “yes” campaign, which is leading the polls before the May 22 vote. It says allowing wedlock for two people of the same sex is good for the economy. Other public declarations of support have come from Google Inc. and EBay Inc., which also have European headquarters in Ireland.
“Marriage equality is as good for our value as it is for our values,” Kenny said at an event last month among the stripped-down brick walls and bare floorboards of the Digital Exchange, a home for startup technology companies.
Just as the issue of gay rights in the U.S. has pit big business against a conservative opposition, in Ireland it’s the government supported by some of the world’s biggest Internet companies versus the tax friendly nation’s past as an upholder of Roman Catholic values.
The Iona Institute, which is leading the campaign against the proposal just over 20 years since the state decriminalized gay sex, told Twitter to stay out of domestic political matters, attacking the company’s argument.
“Twitter’s clear implication is that if we vote no it will be bad for business and bad for our international reputation,” said Ben Conroy, a spokesman for the Iona Institute, whose stated mission is to promote marriage and religion in society. “The most powerful economy in Europe, Germany, does not have same-sex marriage, so the idea that voting no would be bad for business is clearly ridiculous.”
Same-sex marriage has become a cause celebre since then-Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore in 2012 called it the “civil rights question of this generation.”
All the biggest political parties are backing a “yes” vote, along with business groups and some of the country’s music and sports stars, such as Irish soccer team captain Robbie Keane and former Irish rugby captain Brian O’Driscoll.
“Ireland’s international reputation as a good place to do business will be enhanced by a ‘yes’ vote,” Stephen McIntyre, head of Twitter’s Irish unit, wrote in the Irish Times a day before he was with Kenny at Digital Exchange.
Twitter workers later hit the streets, canvassing for a “yes” vote, while the company is helping raise finance for the campaign. Google filmed a video adding to the support, with one employee coming close to tears as he recalled being unable to tell his mother he was gay.
Some 68 percent of people are backing gay marriage while 22 percent will vote “no,” according to Red C poll late last month. The gap shrank by 11 percentage points from a month earlier. Only 45 percent are solid “yes” voters, said Red C, and the share of undecideds is growing.
There may be little reason for anti-gay marriage campaigners to fear Twitter and Google, as there’s not much evidence they will swing the campaign.
“They tend to preach to the converted in the sense that those who are paying attention will probably be voting ‘yes’ anyway,” said Richard Colwell, chief executive of Red C Research and Marketing, a Dublin-based polling company. “If I were a betting man, I would say a narrow win for the yes side, but there’s a small danger it will lose.”