Ireland Says Yes to Equality

Ireland Says Yes to Equality May 25, 2015

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Last week, Ireland held a referendum on whether to legalize same-sex marriage, and the good guys won a landslide victory:

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.

Ireland isn’t the first country to enact marriage equality, but it’s the first to pass it by popular vote, as opposed to court decision or legislation. This is a landmark moment in history and the Irish people deserve the credit. Three cheers to them!

Until recently, the Catholic church held such sway in Ireland that divorce was only legalized in 1995 – and that by a razor-thin margin of just 9,000 votes out of 1.6 million. This time, the referendum passed by almost 500,000 votes, with 42 of 43 regions voting yes. All of Ireland’s major political parties, including the governing coalition of Fine Gael and Labour as well as the opposition parties of Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, urged voters to support it.

A massive tide of change has swept over Ireland in just twenty years, and it’s not hard to guess the reasons. The church’s once-absolute grip on the country has been shattered by a wave of horrendous scandals to which Vatican spokesmen responded with denial, infuriating condescension, or too-little-too-late empty contrition. And the Irish were paying attention, as I noted in 2012 when a survey found a “demographic earthquake” of people turning to atheism. This, combined with the trend of younger voters becoming more secular that’s taking place throughout the Western world, contributed to the resounding victory.

The church’s opposition to the referendum was surprisingly muted. It’s likely that they saw the steamroller coming their way and correctly judged that campaigning loudly against it would only have inflicted further damage on their tattered reputation. (It’s worth noting that even some priests urged passage.) But even that momentary self-awareness can’t change the fact that their doctrine obliges them to reject the equality that the Irish people supported by wide margins. The wedge is in place, and it’s only going to be driven deeper.

Now that this major human-rights advance has been secured, there are some other areas to which I’d like to suggest the Irish people might want to turn their attention. A good place to start would be abortion, which is still banned in all except an extremely narrow set of circumstances – and even that minimal exemption was only passed after the needless death of Savita Halappanavar, killed by Catholic dogma masquerading as medicine. If Ireland wants to rid its laws of the remaining vestiges of Catholicism and embrace the notion of becoming a truly secular state, this would be a good next step.

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