by Lady Michelle Jennifer Santos
23 May 2015, DUBLIN (TSR) – Ireland made history on Saturday as the first country in the world to legalise and enshrine marriage equality in its Constitution by an overwhelming popular vote in a national referendum. Once official, the Emerald Isle will also become the 20th country in the world to legalise gay marriage, and the 14th in Europe.
1.2 million people voted in the referendum’s favour. The result was confirmed just before 7pm on Saturday although the result was clear from very early in the count. The Yes vote prevailed by 62 to 38 per cent with a large 60.5 per cent turnout.
In total, 1,201,607 people voted in favour with 734,300 against, giving a majority of 467,307. The total valid poll was 1,935,907.
A referendum presented simultaneously on reducing the permissible age for presidential candidates was roundly defeated.
Both sides in Ireland’s same-sex marriage debate have acknowledged that the “yes” vote has succeeded.
The head of the Iona Institute, which ran the No campaign in Ireland’s vote to legalize same-sex marriage, has tweeted his congratulations to the yes campaign, which they described as “a handsome victory”.
“We hope the Government will address the concerns voters on the No side have about the implications for freedom of religion and freedom of conscience,” it concluded.
The social revolution is the culmination of country’s four-decade struggle for gay rights.
The emergence of a new generation of young voters, who pushed for the “historic watershed” in Irish politics, is now speculated that this is the key group that will break the link between church and state.
Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said it was now time to focus on other myriad inequalities in Irish society.
“I have the strong belief – there is a strong belief in the church – about the nature of marriage and the family,” he said, after the result was beyond dispute.
“I think it’s a social revolution… It’s a social revolution that didn’t begin today,”Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has told RTÉ News. “It’s a social revolution that’s been going on, and perhaps in the church people have not been as clear in understanding what that involved.
“I think really that the church needs to do a reality check, a reality check right across the board, to look at the things it’s doing well, to look at the areas where we really have to start and say, ‘Look, have we drifted away completely from young people?’ ” he said.
He said the referendum result was “an overwhelming vote in one direction” and he appreciated how gay men and lesbian women felt after the endorsement of same-sex marriage – “that they feel this is something which is enriching the way they live”, he said.
“It’s very clear that if this referendum is an affirmation of the views of young people, then the church has a huge task in front of it to find the language to be able to talk to and to get its message across to young people, not just on this issue, but in general.”
When he met Pope Benedict after he became archbishop, the pope asked him where were the points of contact between the Catholic Church and the places where the future of Irish culture was being formed, he said.
“And that’s a question the church has to ask itself here in Ireland,” Dr Martin said.
“We are operating in a political time and place in Irish culture”, up against a very skilled Yes campaign which had the support of all political parties, No campaigner Senator Ronan Mullen said to The Irish Times.
Paul Moran of Millward Brown told RTÉ voter turnout had proved vital and that youth had driven the result, if not entirely deciding it. Social media has played a central role, he said.
The No advocacy group Mothers and Fathers Matter expressed “warm congratulations” to the Yes side but said that one in three Irish people – the vote ratio – were not represented by the political establishment.
Senior politicians welcomed the result, with Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s health minister who came out as gay in January, saying the overwhelming Yes vote makes Ireland a “beacon of light, a light to the rest of the world of liberty and equality”.
“It’s a very proud day to be Irish,” he added.
Independent Senator David Norris, who fought from the 1970s to 1993 to have homosexuality decriminalised, welcomed the result. “I believe that by the end of today gay people will be equal in this country. I think it’s wonderful,” he said to the media.
Norris said the Yes result was a vindication of his belief in the compassion, decency and tolerance of the Irish people.
It was a placard up to the rest of the world, saying that this was the way to go, he added.
Senator Norris also made reference to a man who had died by suicide after suffering homophobic bullying.
He said on this day of triumph, it was appropriate to have a moment of remembrance for those people who died, who were casualties of this struggle.
Former minister Máire Geoghegan-Quinn paid tribute to Senator Norris and others who had fought tirelessly for equality over more than three decades.
Ms Geoghegan-Quinn was responsible for the decision to decriminalise homosexuality acts.
Minister for Children James Reilly said while the same-sex marriage referendum yes vote is strong in Dublin, it is also strong around the country. He says a lot of voters have been thinking about their grandchildren and giving them the same opportunities in life, should they be gay according to The Irish Times.
The Yes Equality group, the driving force behind the “Yes” campaign, said the referendum would “inspire other countries to pursue and secure true equality”, Telegraph reported.
Group co-director Brian Sheehan also said to Telegraph that “regardless of the outcome of the campaign, Ireland can and will never go back to what it was”.
The overwhelming Yes vote to Love and Marriage Equality was most felt by the Church.
The Catholic Church needs “a reality check” in the wake of the same-sex marriage referendum and needs to ask if it has drifted away from young people, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has said.
“Most of these young people who voted Yes are products of our Catholic schools for 12 years,” the Archbishop said. “There’s a big challenge there to see how we get across the message of the church…We need to sit down and say ‘are we reaching out at all to young people?’ … We’re becoming a church of the like-minded, and a sort of a safe space for the like-minded,” The Irish Times reported.
“That doesn’t mean that we renounce our teaching on fundamental values on marriage and the family. Nor does it mean that we dig into the trenches.
“We need to find…a new language which is fundamentally ours, that speaks to, is understood and becomes appreciated by others,” he added.
Dr. Martin added that “we tend to think in black and white but most of us live in the area of grey, and if the church has a harsh teaching, it seems to be condemning those who are not in line with it.
“But all of us live in the grey area. All of us fail. All of us are intolerant. All of us make mistakes. All of us sin and all of us pick ourselves up again with the help of that institution which should be there to do that.
“I would like to have seen that the rights of gay and lesbian men and women could have been respected without changing the definition of marriage. That hasn’t happened, but that is the world we live in today.”
“The church’s teaching, if it isn’t expressed in terms of love – then it’s got it wrong,” he added.
A New Generation Rises
According to the Ipsos MRBI poll, the age group where support for same-sex marriage was strongest among the 18-24 year olds and the result of the referendum was deemed unpredictable.
State broadcaster RTE said polling stations were recording a higher turnout than usual for referendums, with voting levels in cities such as Dublin, Limerick and Waterford predicted to top 60 percent.
The referendum attracted large numbers of young voters across the country, with queues stretching outside some polling stations during the early morning and late evening peaks, all “to put a single mark” on a ballot paper, demonstrating the value of the issue at hand.
“Yes” Irish immigrant voters living around the world, who have left the country mainly for economic reasons in the past few years and want to play their part in shaping a “better” Ireland, travelled home to have their say in the referendum.
The government, who anticipated an avalanche, announced that they will open the 2,000-capacity grounds of Dublin Castle to accommodate the public in hearing the official result announcement.
The speculated margin of victory was expected to be between 60:40 or even as much as 2:1.
On Friday, May 22nd, voters was asked whether or not to add an article to the Irish Constitution and should be changed so as to extend civil marriage rights to same-sex couples. The proposed amendment to Article 41 is the insertion of the line: “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.” The Irish version, which takes precedence, reads: “Féadfaidh beirt, gan beann ar a ngnéas, conradh pósta a dhéanamh de réir dlí.” Once the referendum passed and official, a marriage between two people of the same sex will have the same status under the Constitution as a marriage between a man and a woman. Married couples of the opposite sex or the same sex would be recognised as a family and be entitled to the Constitutional protection for families.
A total turnout of 60.52%, the results were right on the predicted numbers and declared what the voters want: Ireland has passed the same-sex marriage national referendum by 1,201,607 votes to 734,300 – 62.1% YES to 37.9% NO as the graph shows below.
IMAGE: Across the border in Northern Ireland, gay marriage is banned even though it is legal in the rest of the United Kingdom.
Politics put aside for Love
Before the 2011 election, the Labour Party said it favoured a referendum on same-sex marriage. Fine Gael was non committal. When the two parties formed a coalition, their compromise was to send the issue to the Constitutional Convention, a deliberative forum compromising 33 politicians and 66 members of the public. The convention’s overwhelming support for the idea (79 per cent were in favour) gave momentum to advocates, who were pushing for a referendum. In November 2013, the cabinet formally agreed to put the question to the people and Taoiseach Enda Kenny made his first public declaration of support for the campaign.
But that changed. All Ireland’s main political parties, including the conservatives, were on the “yes” side.
Fine Gael, Labour, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin all called for a Yes vote. Beyond Leinster House, the key force on the side of reform was Yes Equality, an umbrella group incorporating the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, Marriage Equality and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties. It co-ordinated with LGBT Noise, a grassroots organisation that specialises in street demonstrations. The Yes side also had the support of the trade union movement.
Prime Minister Enda Kenny on Friday urged Ireland’s voters to support the legalization of gay marriage in a referendum.
The Irish premier is a devout Catholic who nonetheless during his four years in power has pushed to reduce the church’s influence and power against his secular-minded government, on policy and state services, AP reported.
“Voters’ approval of a constitutional amendment to legalize gay marriage would represent an Irish civil rights breakthrough that for generations gay people could never imagine,” Kenny said.
“The ‘yes’ will obliterate, publicly, the remaining barriers of prejudice or the irrational fear of the ‘them’ and ‘us’ in this regard,” added Kenny.
Gerry Adams, president of the socialist Sinn Fein opposition party, said Friday’s referendum brought the issues of “inclusion and equality to the fore”.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said that a Yes vote “will send out a message of pioneering leadership from the Irish people”. He said that 60,000 registered especially for this referendum and made a real effort to express their vote.
Former Labour party leader Eamon Gilmore expressed his appreciation to the Taoiseach for his support on this issue and during the campaign.
When Catholics Broke with the Church
Legalising gay marriage is a seismic change in the traditionally Catholic republic, where homosexuality was illegal until 1993 and abortion remains prohibited except where the mother’s life is in danger.
Though the majority of Irish people identify themselves as Catholic, the Church’s influence has waned amid growing secularisation and after a wave of child sex abuse scandals that badly discredited the hierarchy.
The most prominent opponents have been the Iona Institute, a religious think-tank, and Independent Senator Rónán Mullen. The organisational focal point for the No side was the Mothers and Fathers Matter, a group set up to challenge parts of the Children and Family Relationships Bill, which was recently passed by the Oireachtas.
By far the most influential voice on the No side was the Catholic Church. A bishops’ pastoral letter, The Meaning of Marriage, had been circulated to 1,360 parishes nationwide, and the church’s ability to reach and mobilise people was vital to the No side’s chances.
The Catholic Church insisted marriage can only involve a man and woman, and many older and rural voters agreed with the clergy.
However, the Conservative areas that voted against legalizing divorce in the 1990s have come in with a Yes vote for same-sex marriage.
The Church Continues to Disinform
Catholic leaders and conservative pressure groups are arguing that legalization could produce surprising repercussions in Irish courts that could undermine traditional marriages.
Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, the Catholic Church’s most experienced diplomat in Ireland, said the government could not guarantee the legal or social consequences of a “yes” vote.
But there are no legal consequences according to the government.
The proposal is to merely extend civil marriage rights. Any church retains its right to marry whoever it wishes. The Marriage Bill 2015, which will be enacted in the event that the referendum is passed, explicitly states that priests or any other solemnisers will not be obliged to perform same-sex marriages. However, the Catholic hierarchy has recently suggested that if the referendum is passed, the church could itself opt no longer to perform the civil aspects of weddings. At present, the signing of the Marriage Registration Form, a document required by the State in order to recognise a marriage, is normally done after a wedding Mass. If the church decides not to allow this in future, on the basis that the State’s view of marriage differs so fundamentally from its own, couples would have to go elsewhere to have their union legally recognised by the State.
“Marriage isn’t just about two people falling in love. It’s a much more complex and a much more important part of the way our society is built up,” Martin said as another argument against the Yes vote.
“My voting ‘no’ is not a vote against gay and lesbian people. It’s against changing the definition of marriage,” Martin said.
That is not true either.
The Irish Constitution does not define marriage. Nor does it specify who is entitled to marry and who is not. So a Yes vote would not change the Constitutional status of marriage. In the absence of a constitutional definition, the Referendum Commission explains, the generally accepted common law definition of marriage is “the voluntary union of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others”. This definition has been adopted by the Irish courts on a number of occasions.
Civil partnership was introduced in Ireland in 2010 to give same-sex couples similar legal protection to married couples. More than 1,000 same-sex couples have availed of it. They enjoy extensive rights that are similar or identical to those of married couples in areas such as property, tax, social welfare, maintenance, immigration and pensions.
There will be no new civil partnerships after the Marriage Act comes into effect. Existing civil partners will retain that status and the rights, privileges, obligations and liabilities associated with it unless they choose to marry. Whether they marry is up to them. If they do, their civil partnership will be dissolved.
Some of the differences between partnership and marriage have been eliminated by the Children and Family Relationships Bill, notably those relating to adoption and guardianship. But Dr Fergus Ryan, lecturer in law at NUI Maynooth, identifies 21 differences that remain. For example, civil partners do not enjoy the protection the Constitution gives to the family. Nor are they entitled to a judicial separation and it’s not clear whether next of kin rules apply to civil partners.
The most obvious difference is the name. Same-sex couples who formalise their union must go through a different process to opposite-sex couples; the State is saying that it regards them differently. Supporters of the referendum proposal said this was a chance to show generosity of spirit and secure equality for same-sex couples. Opponents said there’s nothing wrong with treating two types of union differently.
With regards to adoption, only a married couple or a single person (regardless of sexuality) could adopt a child up until recently. Some children in Ireland have been and are being raised by same-sex couples, though in such cases only one of the two individuals, in the eyes of the law, was the child’s parent. In recent weeks, however, the Oireachtas passed the Children and Family Relationships Bill. This major reform of family law allows civil partners and cohabiting couples who have lived together for three years to adopt. That will remain the case irrespective of the outcome of the referendum.
If the national referendum were rejected, the Constitution would remain unchanged and civil marriage would be open only to opposite-sex couples. The issue would fade from the political agenda in the short-term. There’s an outside possibility that a government could test the view, held by some lawyers, that a constitutional amendment is not necessary to allow same-sex marriage. It’s more likely that another referendum would be held in a few years’ time.
US Pays Tribute and Keenly Watches
Tributes and expressions of pride continued to come from political figures in the United States on Saturday in response to Ireland’s unprecedented popular vote to make same-sex marriage legal.
White House aide Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to president Barack Obama, posted a message on Twitter: “The Irish people have spoken – another step for equality! #LoveWins,” using a hashtag used by many others in the US supporting the vote.
US vice president Joe Biden tweeted: “We welcome Ireland’s support for equality #LoveWins.”
The Democratic leader of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi said on Twitter: “Congrats Ireland! Everyone deserves equality under their laws – no matter where they live, no matter who they love. #MarRef #LoveIsLove.”
Presidential candidate and former first lady Hillary Clinton simply wrote: “Well done, Ireland – H” in a Twitter message.
Irish-American Martin O’Malley, the former Democratic governor of Maryland who is expected to announce his own presidential candidacy in the 2016 elections on Saturday, remarked on social media: “It’s a great day to be Irish – three cheers for marriage equality.”
Mr O’Malley, who led the passage of same-sex marriage legislation as governor in Maryland in 2012, arrives in Dublin today to deliver a paid speech on a rescheduled visit from last month when he cancelled a trip over the civil unrest in Baltimore, a city where he was mayor.
Maryland is one of only three states to have passed gay marriage by a popular vote. The other two are Washington and Maine.
Samantha Power, the Irish-born US ambassador to the United Nations, described the Irish referendum result as a “remarkable day for the people of Ireland. Proud of my Irish roots. #LoveWins.”
Writing on Twitter, she agreed with the sentiments expressed by Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole in an online article saying that he captured the “many meanings” of Ireland’s Yes vote, that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are “now [A]fully acknowledged part of the wonderful ordinaries of Irish life.”
Freshman US congressman Brendan Boyle, whose father’s home county of Donegal was among the 42 out of 43 constituencies that voted Yes on Friday, said: “Ireland just became the first country on Earth to vote to legalise #marriageequality #LGBTRights.”
Another Irish-American congressman Joe Crowley, whose mother emigrated from Co Armagh, posted a message online saying: “Thrilled to see the people of #Ireland make history by voting for love and equality! #YesEquality #MarriageEquality.
The political figures joined American celebrities such as talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, Grammy artist Melissa Etheridge, comedian Sarah Silverman and actor Neil Patrick Harris in posting online messages supporting the Irish vote.
Marriage Equality and Love is on the March
It has been more than a decade since the first country legalised gay marriage.
Ireland now becomes to forerunner of being the first country in the world to approve a national referendum expressly guaranteeing same-sex marriage in its constitution. A number of other countries have introduced it via the courts or by parliamentary vote. At present, 20 countries in total (The Netherlands (2000), Belgium (2003), Canada (2005), Spain (2005), South Africa (2006), Norway (2009), Sweden (2009), Argentina (2010), Iceland (2010), Portugal (2010), Denmark (2012), Brazil (2013), England and Wales (2013), France (2013), New Zealand (2013), Uruguay (2013), Luxembourg (2014), Scotland (2014), Finland (signed 2015, effective 2017), as well as a number of US states, allow same-sex couples to marry.
In 2001, the Netherlands made gay marriage legal and went further in giving gay people opportunities previously denied by granting the right to adopt children.
Over the past twelve years, nearly 20 countries have legalised gay marriage and 37 states in the US have done so, as this map shows, using data from the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), Telegraph reported.
But it was Denmark who first approved civil partnerships in 1989 for gay couples.
In the US, 37 states have legalised gay marriage but the issue has returned to the forefront of American political debate.
The tipping point was 2011. Since Gallup started regular surveys of attitudes to gay marriage in 2003, more and more Americans said they approved of gay marriage than disapproved as the years progressed … and the Americans have never looked back.
The Supreme Court justices began looking at whether gay marriage should be legal across the US, guaranteed by the Constitution and is expected to rule next month in two landmark cases that will decide on the legality of same-sex marriage bans in the remaining 14 states, rulings that could open the door for same-sex marriage to be recognised across the country.
Public support for gay marriage is undeniably growing, but the US Supreme Court has remained cautious, moving with the times without dictating the tempo of change, as it had done with the Roe v Wade decision on abortion.
Gay rights activists want the Court to rule same-sex marriage to be a constitutional right – like abortion – to all Americans, in all states, but for now the justices have ducked the question. No one expects it to go away.
In Mexico, gay marriage is legal in some parts including in Mexico City.
Luxembourg, Finland and Slovenia were the most recent countries to approve gay marriage earlier this year. Although it has been approved, same sex marriage will be in force from March 2017 in Finland.
Despite there being a lot of movement towards more gay rights across the world, Stonewall said there was much more to be done to guarantee equality for gay people worldwide.
Noting that Ireland and 19 other nations have gone further than the US in legalising same-sex marriage, The New York Times said in an editorial posted online on Saturday that the vote “gave a powerful boost to the quest for gay equality” and “sends an unmistakable signal to politicians and religious leaders around the world who continue to harbour intolerant views against gays and lesbians.”
Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has said today marks “a great message to send out to the world”.
Speaking on RTÉ Television, Ms Fitzgerald said that legislation will be brought in this summer to make same-sex marriage a reality.
The minister said that today will lift a burden for young people.
Referendums are the will of the people, she said, and to be the first country in the world to vote in this way sends out a positive message.