The leader of the Scottish Conservatives has warned that young gay people may be driven to leave Ireland if same-sex marriage fails to become law.
Ruth Davidson told BuzzFeed News that her partner Jen Wilson, 33, left Ireland in 2003 because she couldn't be "her whole self", and raised the prospect of more young gay people following her lead if Ireland fails to introduce same-sex marriage in the referendum on Friday.
"My partner Jen left Ireland because she didn't feel like she could be her whole self and she came to Scotland," said Davidson, 36. "She's been living here so long that she's not allowed to vote [in Ireland] so she's been trying to do everything she can to do her bit for the vote and I'm happy to support her in that."
Davidson said she hoped people would vote "yes", pointing out that the "sky hasn't fallen in" since same-sex marriage was legalised in Scotland.
"What happens if there's a no vote and what message does that send out to young gay people in Ireland right now?" she asked. "I think that would be hugely damaging and you would see people leave like Jen did because the country isn't accommodating of them."
Scotland has seen a surge in support for same-sex marriage since legislation was passed last year, Davidson said. "I would never presume to tell people how to vote," she added, "but a lot of the arguments in Ireland are the same arguments we had in Scotland just a year ago. The legitimate fears that people had haven't come to pass and support for equal marriage is higher now than it ever was in Scotland's history."
Davidson said she always hits back at any homophobic abuse she gets on social media.
"All politicians are called all sorts of names, that's part of the job," she said. "I leave the anti-Tory stuff, the anti-fat, ugly, useless stuff – but the anti-gay stuff, I will push back on it."
She said it was vital to show young gay people that such attacks were not acceptable. "It is really, really damaging when you are going through all of these conflicting feelings – of sometimes guilt, sometimes shame – to read all the worst things you could even possibly think about yourself written about someone else like you," she said.
"Which is why I will always push back on it, even though it's not often hugely popular when I do. It's so important that young people see that you don't have to sit there and take it. You are allowed to say this is not acceptable, this is not OK."
Despite reports that the couple intended to return to Ireland to marry, Davidson insisted it was a "bit early" to discuss marriage.
She told BuzzFeed News that while she and Wilson knew each other for seven years before dating, they've only been together for a year.
"We've known each other a long time," she said. "But we've both previously been in relationships with other people and we didn't get together until about a year ago, so it's a bit early for us to talk about marriage so far – but everyone seems very keen to ask me about that."
Wilson, who now works in marketing for an environmental charity, stayed in Edinburgh after finishing university. Davidson said: "She felt able to hold hands in the street here and go to bars. She's been out in every workplace she's had which is something she probably wouldn't have done had she stayed in Ireland. And she's seen the difference that having marriage here has made."
Emily Ashton is a senior political correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Emily Ashton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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