Sunday, May 24, 2015

Ireland shows us the way

Ireland has become the first country in the world to approve marriage equality in a popular vote. In doing so, the Irish people placed themselves firmly on the side of love and equality, and gave a lesson to the world.

While I’m unalterably opposed to ever putting civil and human rights up for popular vote, this situation was a little different. The reason there was a referendum at all is because they were amending the Irish Constitution in order to enable marriage equality, and all such amendments must be approved by a simple majority in a referendum. So, the referendum was actually about the “Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015”.

In total, 1,935,907 voted in the marriage equality referendum, of which 1,201,607 people voted Yes and 734,300 voted No. That means that Yes had a majority of 467,307. So, according to official results, marriage equality won with 60.52% of the vote to 37.93% against—a landslide victory for equality. Turnout was 60.52%.

Only one of Ireland’s 43 constituencies voted against equality, and only barely: The No vote in Roscommon-South Leitrim was 51.42% and the Yes vote was 48.58%. Dublin constituencies, as expected, voted overwhelmingly for marriage equality—better than 70% Yes—but rural areas also voted yes, if less overwhelmingly. As Irish Times writer Una Mullaly put it, “The decency of the Irish people was not limited to the liberal leafy suburbs of Dublin, nor the solidarity from the flats, but that decency came from the cliffs of Donegal, the lakes of Cavan, the farmyards of Kildare, the lanes of Kerry.”

This was also a victory brought about by the young, who mobilised heavily for the Yes vote. Young voters, statistically speaking, often don’t bother to vote, much less get involved in campaigns. As one organiser among the young put it, this issue “affects people regardless of what stage of life they’re at. We all know someone who is openly gay.”

And that, too, is at the heart of this victory: People. On the one hand, the Yes campaign worked hard to ensure that ordinary Irish voters understood that this affects real people (my next post will be about some of that messaging). But ordinary Irish people responded, volunteering in huge numbers all over the country, and, of course, voting for equality. Una Mullaly said of it, “If you want examples of active citizenship, if you want to learn about the spirit of volunteerism, if you want to see democracy in action, then this is the campaign for you.”

The Yes campaign captured the hearts and minds of ordinary Irish voters as perhaps no other issue has in recent times. Expat Irish people returned home in large numbers specifically to vote Yes, something I don’t recall ever happening for any other country’s election.

There’s also an important symbolism in a landslide approval for equality. Our rightwing adversaries—who in their honest moments admit they oppose any legal recognition of same-gender couples’ relationships, not just marriage—often say that most of the USA’s marriage equality laws are “unjust” because “the people” didn’t approve them. Well, in Ireland, the people DID approve—loudly, clearly, deliberately, and unequivocally.

This referendum mattered a lot to me personally. I wrote about it on this blog and shared things about it on social media more than the struggle for marriage equality in any other single place—apart from New Zealand, obviously. Some of that’s because Ireland is similar in size to New Zealand, with some similar urban/rural divides. Also, Irish immigration has been important to both New Zealand and the USA. So, yes, all those sentimental reasons. But the main reason of all is the symbolism that this victory provides.

This huge victory will give hope to people in countries that don’t yet have marriage equality, of course, but it may even give some hope to the people in the 79 countries where homosexuality is criminalised. After all, Ireland only decriminalised homosexuality in 1993, so anything’s possible.

The Irish people have shown us all that love does win in the end. And if that isn’t good news to celebrate, I don't know what is.

Congratulations, Ireland!!

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