Last Friday’s Yes vote in Ireland’s referendum on marriage equality is an historic moment in Irish society and internationally. Ireland is the first country ever to introduce marriage equality by popular vote.
Considering that homosexuality was only decriminalised in 1993, this is a massive step forward from the Ireland of Catholic church domination, Magdalene laundries and sexual repression.
The campaign for marriage equality has been running a long time with an annual March4Marriage taking place for at least the last five years.
The main message of the Yes side was the message of equality and inclusiveness. All the mainstream parties, including both conservative parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, called for a Yes vote.
As the campaign kicked off in March several groups came out for a No vote. All were composed of various people from the Catholic right with a huge level of funding.
Their main argument revolved around so called children’s rights to have a mother and a father. It was clear that this was just an attempt to hide their underlying homophobia and bigotry.
The left consistently pointed out the hypocrisy of No campaigners such as independent senator Ronan Mullen. He had previously worked as press officer for a Catholic priest responsible for covering up child abuse.
However, the official Yes Equality campaign, including all the mainstream parties, took a softer approach of focusing exclusively on “equality to marry”.
This ignored issues such as the ban on gay men giving blood or the right of church-run schools to discriminate against LGBTQ teachers.
There was a worry that the involvement of a hated pro-austerity government would undermine the Yes side, particularly among the working class.
So anti-austerity party People Before Profit continuously highlighted the hypocrisy of the mainstream parties.
While talking of equality, they have presided over austerity measures that have increased economic inequality and are currently implementing vicious cuts to lone parent families.
During the last week of the campaign there was an astonishing involvement with hundreds of mainly young people canvassing for a Yes vote. Every other person in Dublin sported a Yes/Tá badge.
Working class urban areas such as Ballyfermot, Donaghmede and Ringsend turned out the highest Yes votes in the country—between 80 and 90 percent.
Young people voted Yes in massive numbers. Some 60,000 people were added to the supplementary register in the last few weeks before the vote, and young emigrants travelled back to vote.
The turnout was the highest ever recorded in a referendum with the Yes side winning 62.1 percent of the vote.
Only one rural area, Roscommon-Leitrim, turned out a No vote with a very small margin at 51.4 percent. This shows that rural Ireland is changing and the stranglehold of the Catholic church is loosening.
There was a celebratory mood in Dublin as the results were announced last Saturday . And there was a distinct sense that we’re living in a new Ireland where solidarity and inclusiveness come before bigotry and backwardness.
Now we need to continue the fight for equality, including racial, gender and economic equality. We must fight for a referendum to repeal the disgusting 8th amendment that bans abortion and endangers women’s health and lives.
We must campaign for changes to the proposed Gender Recognition Bill which includes forced divorce, age limits and doctors’ approvals for transitions.
We must fight for the end to deportations and an end to the horrific direct provision system which imprisons and mistreats asylum seekers.
We must continue our fight against economic inequality, specifically the hated water charges.
Marriage equality is a great step forward and the amazing result proved that change is possible.