Ireland becomes first country to legalise gay marriage by popular vote

Referendum result gives yes vote 62% and no 38% as equality minister declares he is proud to be Irish

Ireland has voted by a huge majority to legalise same-sex marriage, becoming the first country in the world to do so by popular vote in a move hailed as a social revolution and welcomed around the world.

Some 62% of the Irish Republic’s electorate voted in favour of gay marriage. The result means that a republic once dominated by the Catholic church ignored the instructions of its cardinals and bishops. The huge Yes vote marks another milestone in Ireland’s journey towards a more liberal, secular society.

Out of an electorate of more than 3 million, 1,201,607 backed gay marriage, while 734,300 voters said No. The result prompted a massive street party around the gay district of central Dublin close to the national count centre.

Directly addressing Ireland’s gay community, taoiseach Enda Kenny said the result meant that “a majority of people in this republic have stood up for them [those in the gay community]”. He said: “In the privacy of the ballot box, the people made a public statement. With today’s vote we have disclosed who we are. We are a generous, compassionate, bold and joyful people who say yes to inclusion, yes to generosity, yes to love, yes to gay marriage.”

Irish deputy prime minister and Labour leader Joan Burton added: “The people of Ireland have struck a massive blow against discrimination.”

And quoting the late American politician and LGBT rights activist Harvey Milk, she said: “Hope will never be silent.”

All but one of the republic’s 43 parliamentary constituencies voted Yes to same-sex marriage. And fears of an urban-rural, Yes/No split were not realised either. Constituencies such as Donegal South West, which in the past voted against divorce and abortion reform, backed the Yes side. Theminister for equality, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, said on Twitter: “A landslide across Dublin. And I’m so proud to be Irish today.”

Health minister Leo Varadkar, who this year came out as the country’s first openly gay minister, said the campaign had been “almost like a social revolution”.

The social transformation of the country was on display in the grounds of Dublin Castle, former seat of British rule in Ireland and the site of the national count for a referendum that was unthinkable just two decades ago – it was only in 1993 that homosexuality was decriminalised. The rainbow colours of the international gay movement lit up the 18th-century cobbled courtyard amid glorious sunshine on Saturday afternoon as up to 2,000 gay activists celebrated a resounding victory.

The Fine Gael-Labour coalition had asked voters to amend their 78-year-old constitution. Voters were offered the chance to add the following text to the constitution: “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”

A high turnout, particularly among younger voters, boosted the Yes side. The overall turnout of 61% was higher than the poll to ratify the 1998 Good Friday agreement, when 56% of the electorate came out to vote.

The pro-reform vote was also energised by an 11th-hour movement called #hometovote, which used social media to encourage young Irish expatriates to get back to Ireland in time to vote.

The first constituency that declared in favour of a Yes vote was the rural Sligo/North Leitrim, which backed gay marriage by 54% to 46%. In many Dublin constituencies, the Yes vote was 70% or more, according to the tallies at the main count in the city’s RDS stadium.

As the first confirmed result was announced, veteran Irish gay rights campaigner Senator David Norris arrived at Dublin Castle, where he was mobbed as a hero by a younger generation of gay activists. The world expert on James Joyce had pursued court cases all the way to the European court of human rights, forcing a previous Irish government to decriminalise homosexuality in 1993.

To cheers and applause from the crowd gathered in the courtyard, and with tears in his eyes, Norris said the result would inspire others across the planet. “The battle is not over. There are countries throughout Africa and Asia in which it is terribly dangerous to be gay,” Norris said. “It’s wonderful. It’s a little bit late for me … I’ve spent so much time pushing the boat out that I forgot to jump on, and now it’s out beyond the harbour on the high seas. But it’s very nice to look at.”

Recognising the scale of the church’s defeat in what was once one of the Vatican’s most loyal nations, Diarmuid Martin, archbishop of Dublin, described the groundswell of support for same-sex couples as a social revolution that did not happen on the last day.

“It’s a social revolution that’s been going on – perhaps in the church people have not been as clear in understanding what that involved,” he said. “It’s clear that, if the referendum is an affirmation of the views of young people, the church has a huge task in front of it,” Martin added.

The pro-gay marriage vote captured headlines around the world, with celebrities praising the outcome. Harry Potter author JK Rowling was among those watching the count. “Sitting here watching the Irish make history. Extraordinary and wonderful,” she tweeted. British rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said: “The Irish people have voted for love and equality. Oscar Wilde would be so proud.”

Back in the sunshine at Dublin Castle, the crowds gave a rock-star welcome to another prominent Irish gay spokesman, the drag queen and human rights activist Panti Bliss, also known as Rory O’Neill.

In high heels, blonde wig and tight dress, Bliss said: “I am drunk on Yes … It’s not that Ireland has changed today, but that Ireland has confirmed the change that we already knew had happened.”

But while the thousands in the Castle leapt for joy, wept and waved rainbow flags in triumph when the overall national vote was announced, there was a reminder from the gay community in Northern Ireland that the struggle for equality is far from over even on the island.

Gavin Boyd, of the gay rights group the Rainbow Project in Belfast, reminded the world that there was still a ban on gay marriage north of the border.

“To the people of Ireland, we offer our thanks. You have done what no other country in the world has done. You have chosen, as a nation, to extend marriage rights to your LGBT family, friends and neighbours and this will go down in history as another example of the decency and fairness of the Irish people.

“However, for us, this sweet victory is tinged with sadness. Northern Ireland is now the only region in western Europe where marriage equality is not a reality. This is a shameful injustice which cannot be allowed to continue,” Boyd said.

• This article was amended on 19 June 2015. An earlier version said the Irish constitution originally defined marriage as being between a man and a woman. In fact the constitution did not make that definition.

by Henry McDonald in Dublin
Source – The Guradian