Moral Low Ground


Ireland Overwhelmingly Approves Same-Sex Marriage in Historic Referendum

'Yes' campaigners on the eve of Ireland's historic referendum legalizing same-sex marriage. (Channel 4 screen grab)

‘Yes’ campaigners on the eve of Ireland’s historic referendum legalizing same-sex marriage. (Channel 4 screen grab)

Only 22 years after decriminalizing homosexuality, voters in traditionally conservative, Catholic Ireland have overwhelmingly approved same-sex marriage equality in an historic referendum.

With a final vote of 62 percent in favor, 38 percent opposed, Irish voters made history on Friday, becoming the first nation on earth to grant lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people the right to marry by popular vote. Many are calling the vote a sign of a ‘social revolution’ in a nation where 70 percent of the population identifies as Roman Catholic, but where the Church has seen its reputation seriously damaged by clergy child sex abuse and other scandals.

Ireland’s constitution will be now amended to state that two people can marry “without distinction as to their sex.” Voter turnout reached historic levels—nearly 2 million of Ireland’s 3.5 million voting-age citizens went to the polls—as all of Ireland’s political parties backed the measure and a coalition of human rights activists, trade unions, celebrities and corporations urged Irish to vote in favor of equality.

“With today’s vote, we have disclosed who we are: a generous, compassionate, bold and joyful people,” Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said following the weekend referendum. “Yes to inclusion, yes to generosity, yes to love, yes to equal marriage.”

“Our people have truly answered Ireland’s call… we have made history,” Kenny said, adding that “those who voted no did so due to genuine held views which should be respected.”

The scandal-plagued Irish Catholic Church remained relatively silent during the debate leading up to last weekend’s vote, although a statement by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, distributed to 1,300 parishes and titled “The Meaning of Marriage,” asserted LGBT marriage equality would be a “grave injustice.”

“Children have a natural right to a mother and a father,” the missive argued, adding that “to redefine the nature of marriage would be to undermine it as the fundamental building block of our society.”

The scare tactics did not work, with the bigotry of marriage exclusion rejected by millions of Irish Catholics. Appearing in a campaign video produced by the pro-equality group Vote With Us, Brighid and Paddy Whyte, an elderly couple from Dundalk, explain why they were voting ‘yes.’

“We’re Roman Catholics, and we will be 50 years married this year. We wish other couples, gay or straight, could legally avail of civil marriage and have the opportunity to experience the love, protections and companionship that we have experienced,” says Brighid Whyte in the video. “We’re grandparents, and we wish that all our grandchildren are protected and treated as equals, in the playground and in the eyes of the law.”

Following the historic Irish vote, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, said at a conference in Rome on Tuesday that he was “deeply saddened by the result.” Parolin called the vote “a defeat for humanity.”

The Catholic archbishop of Ireland’s largest city struck a far more conciliatory tone in his reaction.

“It is very clear that if this referendum is an affirmation of the views of young people … [then the church needs] a reality check,” said Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin.

The power and prestige of the Catholic Church have waned considerably in recent years, mostly due to abuse scandals that have horrified and disgusted many Irish. In addition to an epidemic of clergy sex abuse, including pedophile priests being protected from justice by high-ranking Church officials, physical, sexual and psychological abuse in Church-run Magdalene Laundries, where tens of thousands of girls and young women were effectively enslaved as punishment for breaking strict Catholic moral codes, eroded faith in what was once by far the nation’s most revered institution.

Ireland now becomes the 19th nation to legalize same-sex marriage, along with 37 US states. The others are: Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, Denmark, France, Brazil, Uruguay, New Zealand, Britain, Luxembourg and Finland.

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