On May the 22nd, the Irish electorate was asked to decide whether to give same sex couples the right to marry, granting them equal status in the country. Following an overwhelming support for the YES vote, the outcome of this referendum legalised gay marriage; making Ireland the first country to do so by a popular vote.
A few days before the referendum, pride flags outside every pub in Dublin were calling for a YES vote. The celebrations that followed the YES camp’s victory marked, in fact, the transformation of Ireland from one of the most conservative countries in Europe to a land of equality.
It is a remarkable development, given the fact that homosexuality in Ireland was only decriminalised in 1993. Since then, the Catholic nation has made huge progressive steps regarding gay rights. Although Civil Partnerships were recognised and performed in Ireland since 2011, marriage equality activists pushed on for full legal status for same sex couples.
During the debate prior the referendum, all political parties in the country backed a YES vote. Various LGBT activists and groups also campaigned for marriage equality, leaving only a number of Catholic religious institutions opposing the bill. Their campaign focused mainly on the children’s status, as they claimed that gay marriage will redefine and challenge the traditional family. In reality this referendum was not about adoptions or children, but about the right to marry the person you love, independently of their sex.
The issue of adoption was dealt with and discussed by the 2015 Children and Family Relationships Bill, not the marriage equality campaign. The Bill was signed into law on the 6th of April, more than a month before the referendum. In this way, the Irish government wanted to separate the two issues and avoid confusion. Though same sex couples will be able to adopt under this bill, the referendum was about giving the same legal status to gay couples. Besides, in most polls Irish voters were also in support for adoptions by same sex families. The fact the NO side was mainly represented by religious groups did not help its cause. Perhaps this reality contributed to the public’s support for gay marriage. For the past few years, Irish people-though still very religious and a Christian nation- do no longer unquestionably follow the Catholic Church’s doctrines. This is the outcome of the many scandals that shook the Irish public opinion in recent years. Cases of child abuse and paedophilia in the country’s Catholic institutions were finally made public, after decades of cover ups by the Irish state and church. As a result, Ireland is quickly emerging from its ultra conservative past and becoming a modern European nation. But that is not all.
The small country now wants to inspire other nations, in Europe and beyond, to follow its example. Consequently, Ireland is found in the forefront of the LGBT international community’s struggle for equality worldwide. Rightly so, Ireland must become an exemple for all Europe’s nations. Marriage equality should become the norm in all EU states. As the free movement of people is one of the fundamental rights of every EU citizen, it would be absurd to have marriages that are recognised only in some countries in the Union. In addition, what will be the legal status of children, being raised or adopted by same sex couples, if they decide to move to another EU nation? Europe prides itself of providing equality to all its citizens, and of being a beacon of human rights in its territories and beyond. Any sort of discrimination, either based on nationality, race or religion, plus of course sexual orientation, has no place in a modern society such as our continent. By granting equal rights to its LGBT community, Europe will end centuries old discrimination and injustice. Millions of its citizens are being treated as second class citizens, as their unions are not being legally recognized.
Europe’s own transformation to an equal continent will be incomplete as long as there are minority groups that are being treated differently. State by state, we must work to give all our fellow citizens the same living standards and rights that the rest of us enjoy.