Ireland shrugs off Catholic cloak, votes Yes for gay rights

In a landmark referendum that may have a cascading effect throughout the world, Ireland voted overwhelmingly in favour of same-sex marriage on May 23, making it the first country to achieve marriage equality through popular vote.

“With today’s vote, we have disclosed who we are: a generous, compassionate, bold and joyful people,” Ireland’s Prime Minister Enda Kenny proclaimed.

The referendum received support not only in capital Dublin, which is well known as a liberal stronghold, but also in Ireland’s more traditional districts like Donegal and Cork North West, that have traditionally been resistant to social change. Only one constituency voted No.

Ireland is so far unique in achieving marriage equality without legislation
What makes the vote most significant is the overwhelming support from its Catholic populace. Nearly 84 percent of Ireland’s population is Catholic and out of the 3.2 million that cast their vote, 62.1 percent said ‘Yes’.

While it has been gradually shedding its conservativeness, with homosexuality decriminalized in 1993, divorced legalized in 1995 (albeit by a slim margin) , major catholic church concerns such as abortion, continue to remain illegal. Thus legalizing same sex marriage, something that the church has resisted, has made people wonder if this move towards embracing liberal social values is here to stay and whether it points to the waning influence of the church over social and political life in Ireland.

While there were certain politicians who aided in mobilising ground support, like Indian origin Minister of Health Leo Varadkar, who came out as gay earlier this year, it was largely a people’s movement and a people’s victory.

“While there is no doubt that certain politicians deserve applause for their work during the campaign, this was a people’s campaign,” wrote Una Mullaly in the Irish Times. “The work on the ground was by and large done by regular citizens, who had nothing to gain other than the betterment of society.”

Only 18 countries worldwide allow same sex couples to marry.

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