Today Ireland has become the first country in the world to vote for Marriage Equality for all of it citizens irrespective of their sexual orientation.
The people were asked in a referendum to add a line to our Constitution that reads as follows:
‘Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.’
The results are just in. Two thirds of the electorate have voted in favour of the amendment.
Our Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar who has recently came out as being gay today said that he had wanted to be an equal citizen and that today he feels that he is. This sums up what it means for many of my fellow citizens who today have been able to say for the first time that they are truly equal. They are no longer to be described as part of a minority. We are all members of a modern democratic republic where nobody is more equal to anyone else.
To quote Colm O’Gorman, one of the leading campaigners for the Yes vote, “Love does not discriminate, and neither should our laws”
It is much more than a legal referendum. It is the culmination of a social revolution that started 20 years ago when homosexuality was decriminalized. There are many factors to consider which will be considered by sociologists and commentators over the next few months and years. Chief amongst them will be the irrelevance of the Catholic Church in Ireland. It is not that people hear what it says and ignore it but rather that they just don’t engage with it in the first place.
The “No” side spent much of the campaign on the issue of surrogacy or gay adoption and did their best to not mention their faith during the debates. While some of their posters declared that their “God says No” it was heartening to hear that they were not homophobic but rather only have “sincerely held beliefs” about gay people.
There were some people of faith that I have always admired that publically stated they would be voting “Yes” as were some Catholic priests who are honourable men that have always worked at the coalface of life fighting for social justice.
The voter turnout was just over 60% and of the 43 national constituencies, 42 of them voted in favour of the referendum. This is unheard of in Irish politics. The one that voted “No” is a conservative rural farming area and did so by only a tiny percentage.
The “Yes” side had the vocal support of all political party leaders and such unanimity is also unheard of in Irish politics. While this support was important it used traditional media platforms to get its message across. What really helped were the social media campaigns including the one run by the excellent people of Atheist Ireland.
In the last few months the Electoral List grew by over 2% as people registered for the first time in order to vote. Yesterday Dublin airport was full of Irish people, most of them heterosexual, who travelled home from every continent in order to cast their “Yes” vote.
It is still too early to comprehend the significance of this vote.
It does mean that many Irish people who have been in loving and committed relationships for years can now be allowed to express that love and commitment for each other just like every one else can. They and their children will have the same legal rights as opposite sex families.
It does mean that gay people can feel free to express themselves and show affection to each other without fear of homophobic reaction for we have told each other today that it will not be tolerated. Irish singer Hozier explains it to a few viewers.
I, as a straight man also feel a sense of liberation. I will need to think further on this but over the last few months I have considered more deeply the rights of gay people and what it must mean to live in a country where one where you don’t feel equal to or validated by the majority.
This is something I have taken for granted because I have never not known it. I have campaigned against the theocracy of the Church for years but that has really only given me glimpses of what inequality means.
The gay community has not asked “us” for anything. They have not reached out to us. We, the majority, have opened our arms to them and said “Come join us”. We have helped to set them free from having to endure any more of the scars that inequality inflicts. We have proved it to them. The younger LGBT teenagers that are quietly watching will not have to grow up in a society where they will need to become as hardened as other generations. Future generations will grow up in a society where equality will be the norm. Today our Prime Minister said “Gay couples can now live in our shelter and not in our shadow”.
We are now in a place where we can be a leading light to other nations and to instil a sense of hope to people in places like Russia or Uganda. (I have met those people during the campaign with some of them banging on my car window at the traffic lights as they spewed some rubbish that demonstrated their pathetic god has the same pathetic views as they do.)
We are defined by our capacity to love and not by our sexuality. I know that by voting Yes yesterday that I also gained liberation. We did the right thing. We stood up for a Republic of equals. We did a beautiful thing. I feel very proud of that.
Now I wonder if there is a party on anywhere?