“Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead.”–Oscar Wilde
Today the island nation of my ancestors made history by becoming the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage by a popular vote of the people. Few would have thought that the typically Catholic and conservative country of Ireland would become the first country to do this. Not only did the “yes” vote win, but it was overwhelming–62% to 38%–and it was nationwide. While the largest margins of victory were in the larger metropolitan areas the “yes” votes finished on top in all areas of the country, large cities to small towns, coastal to inland. There were only a few places where the “no” votes finished ahead, and even in those places it finished barely ahead.
I have always had that pride that those in America with Irish ancestry tend to have. We feel a connection to the ancestral homeland and proclaim ourselves as Irishmen even though we are generations removed. My great-great grandfather and great-great grandmother came here during the potato famine years in the 1840s. Still, we feel a connection to the land and a yearning for it as if it were the home where we grew up. Many of us feel called to visit the old sod. I did so and celebrated my 50th birthday there. We wear green on St. Patrick’s Day, sing Irish songs, and boast with pride that we are Irish. Today, maybe more than ever, I am incredibly proud to have that Irish blood coursing through my veins.
Here in the United States the polls show more and more people believing that lesbian and gay Americans should be allowed to marry. We can do so now in a large majority of the states in this country, but it has been through judicial decisions and legislative action, not by votes of the entire population. Despite the polls showing approval of same-sex marriage at all-time highs I am not sure that I would trust my fellow Americans to vote on the issue.
From all accounts the debate in Ireland was much more civil than we might expect here. There were a few nasty signs and billboards and in the waning weeks the opponents tried to steer the discussion to a plebiscite on the safety of children, as if allowing a loving couple to marry would somehow be dangerous to Ireland’s children. But the people of the Emerald Isle were not fooled by the rhetoric of the right. They were not coerced by their Catholic bishops as they have been in the past. Instead they heard the words of their lesbian and gay compatriots and decided that their fellow citizens should be treated as equals under the eyes of the law. They decided that love is greater than hate and they voted to enshrine that in the country’s Constitution.
Gra anois agus go deo. Erin go bragh.