*Update: 15 June 2015—Same-sex marriage now legalized in Mexico. Full story!
It’s official—the people of Ireland voted loud and proud to include the following clause in our constitution:
“Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”
This is a momentous occasion for the gay community, but also an important moment to mark the maturity of the Irish psyche in general—an opportunity to enshrine in our constitution the progress that has been made in the mindset of the majority of our citizens. This was our chance to say, “We believe in equal rights and we want the current discrimination ended.”
Because, despite the long shadow that the Catholic church cast over Irish affairs, both historically and even in recent years, Ireland is proving to have opened up and become more progressive in its outlook in rather a short time. Homosexuality wasn’t decriminalised until 1993, contraception wasn’t freely and legally available to all (over the age of 17) until 1992 and divorce wasn’t legalised until 1997 (following a referendum in 1995—an earlier referendum in 1986 was rejected).
In the space of 22 years Ireland has gone from decriminalising homosexuality to legalising gay marriage—and is the first country in the world to endorse the right to same-sex marriage by popular vote.
Ireland’s Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar (who came out as gay when the government launched the referendum campaign) said:
“We’re the first country in the world to enshrine marriage equality in our constitution and do so by popular mandate. That makes us a beacon, a light to the rest of the world of liberty and equality. It’s a very proud day to be Irish.”
In the months preceding the election, there was a general assumption that the referendum would be passed. However, as the date grew closer and the “No” campaign consistently muddied the waters by claiming the outcome would affect unrelated issues—surrogacy, in particular—fears started to grow that it would be a close call, or even a surprise defeat.
Traditionally, Ireland has low turn-outs for referenda. And in this particular case, there were added concerns because many students dealing with exams would be unable to make it home to vote, along with a general complacency based on the assumption of the referendum being carried.
In the last couple of weeks, it also became evident that the “No” voters would be exercising their vote for sure and that a low turn-out could well lean in their favor. It became clear to the “Yes” campaigners that an unprecedented high turnout was essential to ensure the more enlightened majority of Irish society had their enlightened views reflected in the result.
And the response has been amazing, heartening, uplifting—truly.
The significance of this referendum has engaged Irish citizens so much—its importance was felt so deeply—that the turnout has been the largest for any referendum since 1972 (when the country voted to join the European Union).
They even travelled from all over the globe to cast their votes. For expats—or even resident citizens out of the country for any reason—would not be able to vote from abroad. And although there was a campaign to encourge people to come home to vote, nobody expected the response to be as significant as it was. The #HomeToVote hashtag began trending on Twitter on Thursday and continuted right throughout Friday, as people posted selfies from buses, trains, planes and ferries. Thousands travelled from the UK, mainland Europe, Canada, the US, Australia, Africa and Asia.
It was clear that the Irish people were determined to cast off the shackles of its old, conservative, Catholic-influenced mindset. The majority of modern Irish citizens—practicing Catholics and senior citizens included—can think for themselves, recognize injustice and are willing to stand up to it.
Yesterday, the country stood tall and yelled out with a clear voice: “We want equality.” And now they will have it.
The final outcome: Yes: 62.1% No:37.9%
Love wins. Fear loses.
#MakeGráTheLaw (Grá = Love, as Gaeilge)
Bonus: Irish people with lesbian and gay parents talk about why a “Yes” vote in the Marriage Referendum matters to them.
Author: Hilda Carroll
Editor: Renée Picard