This was an historic week for the Republic of Ireland. Following proposals to hold a Referendum on Same-Sex Marriage in 2013, the ‘Yes’ vote has won almost unanimously across the Irish constituencies in the referendum.
Historically, Ireland has been predominantly Roman Catholic and as such prevented abortion rights, divorce rights and LGBT rights for a long time. It was only 22 years ago, in 1993, that homosexual acts were decriminalised. Civil partnerships, introduced by the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010, giving same-sex couples rights and responsibilities similar, but not equal to, those of civil marriage which came into effect on 1st January 2011. The coalition government in Ireland took office in March 2011 and held a Constitutional Convention to discuss proposed amendments to the Constitution of Ireland, including plans to introduce same-sex marriage. On 14 April 2013, the convention approved provisions allowing for same-sex marriage to the Constitutional Convention, to be discussed by the Oireachtas and put to a public referendum.
The long awaited referendum took place on Thursday 22nd May, and saw a much higher turnout that usual at 60.52% with Irish citizens travelling from abroad just to go and cast their vote on the issue, and #hometovote trending on many social media platforms.
Really heart warming to see so many returning #hometovote for the human right of gay marriage let's hope it passes and decency prevails
— Harry Leslie Smith (@Harryslaststand) May 22, 2015
Before the results were counted, it was predicted that there would be a victory to the ‘Yes’ side, and the results showed an almost unanimous, landslide victory in favour of gay marriage, with 42 out of 43 constituencies voting ‘Yes’.
Dublin South East had the highest percentage of ‘Yes’ votes at 74.91% and a majority of 49.81%. The constituency with the highest number of ‘Yes’ votes was Dublin South at 49,109 votes, and the only constituency to have voted ‘No’, Roscommon Leitrim South, had 17,615 ‘Yes’ votes with 48.58%, and 18,644 ‘No’ votes with 51.42%, leaving a majority of just 1,029 votes – a majority of only 2.84%.
Not only is this referendum historic for The Republic of Ireland, but for the world. It has meant that The Republic of Ireland is the first country to legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote.
Gay Labour party parliamentarian John Lyons told The Guardian:
“I’m a very very happy man today. We’ve had a historic count at Ballymum, my home constituency today, looking at 73% for yes. Theres a lot of emotion in people out there today. People will officially feel today a full citizen of Ireland. My Irish mammy was just one of Irish mammies who stood up yesterday to vote.”
Many celebrities and politicians went to Twitter to announce their congratulations to Ireland, including Stephen Fry, SNP leader Nichola Sturgeon and J.K. Rowling:
Here at #HayFestival – almost no signal but news in that Ireland’s Yes Campaign has carried the day. So so happy. Oscar smiles in his grave.
— Stephen Fry (@stephenfry) May 23, 2015
Sitting here watching the Irish make history. Extraordinary and wonderful.
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) May 23, 2015
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) May 23, 2015
This is a progressive and significant step for The Republic of Ireland, and is a positive role model and example to the rest of the world. Seeing the day that the Republic of Ireland said yes to same sex marriage was a day that many believed, even just two years ago, that they would never see. If Ireland has successfully taken this huge step forward into equal rights within the LBGT+ community, other countries can too, if they have not already. This will not happen in a day, or a month or even a year, but this example may drive this forward for future years in various parts of the world.
The turnout was significantly higher, and had citizens returning home from abroad just to vote on this issue, which shows that this issue was close to the heart of so many Irish voters. Just as the referendum on Scottish Independence saw a huge turnout, it was because it was an issue that mattered to them.
So often it has been said that there is an era of voter apathy and a democratic deficit, that people are disillusioned with politics. The examples in Ireland and in Scotland have shown that this is not the case. When it comes to specific issues that affects people’s lives, when it is an issue that they feel strongly about and know that they can influence a huge change by crossing a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ box, this is when people actively engage and care about politics. Perhaps voters feel that referendums will actually produce the change they want to see. The party politics and jargon that is so often seen in General and Local elections simply does not have as much of an effect on or response from voters in the same way referendums on specific, important matters do.
What cannot be argued is that this result in Ireland is the result of social change in the world, and I hope to see many more countries take a leaf from Ireland’s clover.