Why Ire­land said ‘yes’ to gay mar­riage

Lesotho Times - - Opinion -

CON­SID­ER­ABLE sur­prise has been ex­pressed around the world about the fact that tra­di­tion­ally con­ser­va­tive and Catholic Ire­land ap­proved same-sex mar­riage in a ref­er­en­dum May 22 by a ma­jor­ity of nearly two to one.

The fact is, Ire­land is no longer a Catholic coun­try in the old sense. Much of the state’s ur­ban pop­u­la­tion is what we call here “cul­tural Catholics” — that is, they like to have bap­tisms and fu­ner­als in the lo­cal Catholic church, but are no longer regular mass-go­ers.

And the true believ­ers who still make up a siz­able por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion no longer feel obliged to obey the edicts of the bish­ops, who last Sun­day op­posed the “yes” vote from the pul­pits. The rea­sons can be found in the uni­ver­sal dis­gust at the rev­e­la­tions in the past two decades of wide­spread cler­i­cal sex­ual abuse of chil­dren and the cover-up by bish­ops, as well as the mis­treat­ment of un­mar­ried moth­ers in re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions.

Also, in re­cent years Ire­land has en­joyed un­prece­dented pros­per­ity, which has helped make the pop­u­la­tion more mid­dle-class and secular. Half a cen­tury ago, Ir­ish po­lit­i­cal lead­ers feared the “belt of the crozier” if they pro­moted leg­is­la­tion con­trary to Catholic Church teach­ings. It is a mea­sure of how far they have be­come de­tached from the in­sti­tu­tional church that ev­ery sin­gle party leader, in­clud­ing Taoiseach (Prime Min­is­ter) Enda Kenny and Sinn Fein Pres­i­dent Gerry Adams sup­ported a “yes” vote in the ref­er­en­dum.

Ho­mo­sex­ual acts were de­crim­i­nalised in Ire­land in the last quar­ter of a cen­tury, and since then, gays and les­bians have be­come open and ac­cepted. Rain­bow con­tin­gents are a regular, joy­ful fea­ture of the St. Pa­trick’s Day pa­rades in cities and towns. Helped with gen­er­ous fund­ing from the At­lantic Phi­lan­thropies, or­ga­ni­za­tions pro­mot­ing gay and les­bian rights such as Amnesty In­ter­na­tional-ire­land have pre­pared the ground for what even Dublin Catholic Arch­bishop Diar­muid Martin called a “so­cial revo­lu­tion.”

Popular sports stars and celebri­ties have lately writ­ten books about cop­ing with be­ing gay. A primetime tele­vi­sion sit-com set in work­ing class Dublin, Mrs. Brown’s Boys, re­joices in a gay fam­ily mem­ber. Min­is­ter of Health Leo Varad­kar (36) re­vealed he is gay ear­lier this year. No one blinked. The for­mer pres­i­dent, Mary Mcaleese, dis­closed she has a gay son and urged a “yes” vote. This was a se­vere blow to the “no” vote cam­paign, as Ms Mcaleese is highly re­spected and a de­vout Catholic.

Led by the Iona In­sti­tute, a con­ser­va­tive Catholic pres­sure group, the op­po­si­tion could not gain much trac­tion with its ar­gu­ment that a “yes” vote would mean a fu­ture of male mar­ried cou­ples bring­ing up sur­ro­gate chil­dren who would never know their bi­o­log­i­cal mother. Dur­ing the ref­er­en­dum cam­paign, many “yes” vot­ers said they wanted to show sup­port for gays in their cir­cle of rel­a­tives and friends. They knew that in days gone by theirs was a lonely and un­happy ex­is­tence. My best friend at school in the 1960s was gay. I didn’t know this un­til we were both ma­ture adults. He died in mid­dle age; the pres­sure of living in a hos­tile cli­mate lit­er­ally killed him.

A lead­ing TV po­lit­i­cal cor­re­spon­dent, Ur­sula Hal­li­gan, “came out” last week with a dev­as­tat­ing ac­count of how her per­sonal life was ru­ined by be­ing forced into the closet. Such events cre­ated a na­tional urge to end the un­fair­ness to­wards gays and les­bians. The sense that a “no” vote would per­pet­u­ate a de­nial of rights en­joyed by het­ero­sex­u­als ig­nited a fire un­der Ire­land’s young peo­ple. Not only did they turn out to vote in un­prece­dented num­bers, but thou­sands work­ing abroad came home to vote “yes” from as far away as Canada, the United States and Australia.

As the Ir­ish Times’ Una Mul­lally, a lead­ing “yes” cam­paigner, put it, “A lot of straight Ir­ish peo­ple just wanted to be given the op­por­tu­nity to show that they were not prej­u­diced, that they had no is­sue with peo­ple who were gay hav­ing their re­la­tion­ships rec­og­nized, that they wanted to live in a coun­try where all cit­i­zens are val­ued equally.”

It be­came a cause. Ire­land has to­day a strong sense that, at long last, it has con­signed to his­tory a dark past — a past which pro­duced cruel in­sti­tu­tions for un­mar­ried moth­ers, like the con­vent fea­tured in the movie “Philom­ena”; which al­lowed a pow­er­ful church to cover up cler­i­cal crimes, and which stig­ma­tized those who yearned for the love that dared not speak its name.

is a for­mer for­eign cor­re­spon­dent for the and the au­thor of sev­eral books.

Sis­ter Loreto ryan of the Sis­ters of Char­ity casts her vote in Dublin on 22 May. the ref­er­en­dum was seen as a test of whether ire­land, a ma­jor­ity Catholic na­tion, would break from tra­di­tion.

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