Historic vote in Ireland: same-sex marriage legalised

Ireland will be the first country to legalise same-sex marriage by a national popular vote. With a turnout of more than 60%, and 62% ‘yes’ votes against 38% ‘no’ votes, the referendum held on Friday marks a historic moment in a country that has long been under the influence of the Catholic Church. Many Irish people living abroad have travelled home in order to take part is what has been termed a “social revolution”.  The outcome of the referendum means that an amendment to the Constitution will be introduced and gay couples will now be granted the same forms of protection as heterosexual couples. The first gay marriages are likely to take place in early autumn.

Dublin, Ireland Men walk past a Yes vote campaign graffiti in central Dublin as Ireland holds a referendum on gay marriage, May 22, 2015. REUTERS/Darren Staples

Civil partnerships have been recognized since 2010, but the path for the recognition of gay rights has not been free from obstacles. Until 22 years ago, being homosexual was still a crime. The Catholic Church’s influence has usually shaped debates about morality and society. It is not surprising that support for no votes was stronger in rural areas, where church attendance figures tend to be higher, nor that the support for yes votes is more popular among young voters than older ones.

Catholicism still occupies a special place in Ireland’s national identity. The majority of the country declares to believe in God and in Catholic ideals, but in the past decades there has been a decline in the influence of the Church and the rise in popularity of the idea of a liberal Ireland. After the announcement of the referendum’s results the archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said that the Catholic Church needs a reality check, especially in terms of connecting with young. The archbishop pointed out that most of the young people who voted yes attended catholic schools and called the Church to reflect on how it is trying to get its message across.

Perhaps this victory in favour of the respect of equal rights and the willingness of the Church to soften its language will also pave the way for debates on other problematic issues, such as the one of the recognition of abortion right. Abortion is still illegal in Ireland, despite opinion polls showing increased support for access to abortion within Ireland.

Ireland joins the club of other 19 countries in which same-sex marriage is legal. This victory increases pressure on Northern Ireland, the only part of the United Kingdom that has not passed the same-sex marriage law. Homophobic episodes happening in Northern Ireland are not rare in the news. Only less than a week ago a court in Northern Ireland ended what has come to be known as the “Gay Cake” row. The case broke out in 2014 when a Christian-run bakery declined the order by a gay customer for a cake with a pro-marriage slogan. A judge has now ruled that the bakery is guilty of discrimination against the costumer, while the bakery staff argued that their religious beliefs were irreconcilable with the slogan of the cake.

Outside the UK, increased pressure is now placed on the only other two countries in Europe that do not provide any form of recognition for homosexual couples: Greece and Italy.

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