There were wild scenes of celebration in most of the main Irish urban locations as the result of the Referendum to legalize same-sex marriage was announced.
The vote was carried by a big margin with 61.2% in favour of the proposed new laws with 37.9% against. Dublin Castle was the epicenter of the joyous scenes which redefines marriage in Ireland as a union between two people, regardless of their sex. Ireland is the first country in the world to approve such laws by way of a national ballot in what is being seen as a landmark vote. Many US states have already legalized same-sex marriage while some other countries have similarly done so by enacting laws rather than conducting a national vote.
Given that Ireland is an overwhelmingly Catholic country the response from the Vatican has been swift.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin is the Vatican Secretary of State:
‘Not a defeat for Christian principles, it was a defeat for humanity. I was very saddened by this result.’
With the dust settling the attention has turned to the not-so-obvious consequences of the ballot which may yet prove to be a massive turning point in Irish political and social history, and for more than just the issue that was proposed.
Young people participated
For example, the degree to which younger people became engaged in the political process amazed many commentators who now speculate that a whole new raft of voters will continue to make their voice heard. In a manner similar to the way in which US President Obama was first elected to office, the gay marriage Referendum in Ireland was greatly supported by younger people at a grass-roots level. Many had never even voted before but were now actively campaigning, knocking on doors, handing out leaflets and taking part in a way that has never been seen in Ireland.
Decline in Church influence is confirmed
For the Catholic Church this perhaps represents the absolute end of its influence in Ireland. Of course the largest religious organization in the country will continue to have a huge following, but here is a situation where a massive number of its own followers actually voted against one of the basic tenets of their own religion. The fierce control that local Priests exercised over the Irish citizenry has all but evaporated in the face of the increasing secularization of Irish society. Church attendance has plummeted with scandals badly affecting the Church and this in tandem with increasing modernization in the country allied with greater wealth and a better standard of living.
Perhaps the tipping point can be traced back to 1995 when the divorce Referendum was carried in Ireland by the incredibly slim margin of 50.28% to 49.72%, just over 9000 votes. Just nine years earlier, in 1986, the same vote to allow limited divorce was heavily defeated by over 63.48% to 36.52% in the wake of huge pressure from the Catholic Church. It is no coincidence that the following decade saw the beginning of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ era in Ireland with the country greatly modernizing, immigration increasing, and the overall standard of living greatly improving. Surely the divorce Referendum of 1995 was the turning point with the most recent gay marriage Referendum the final nail in the coffin. The domineering influence of the Catholic Church in the country is no more.
Nearly 40% of voters said ‘no’
While the ‘yes’ side celebrate it has not gone unnoticed that nearly four in ten actually voted ‘no’. The majority of these are located beyond the main urban centers, in rural towns and villages that have been decimated by emigration and economic depression. In the context of Irish politics they are simply unrepresented. Fine Gael can be regarded as the most conservative of the Irish political groups and yet it was Fine Gael who brought the referendum to the electorate!
Most of the other political parties are either centrist or left-wing to varying degrees with what could broadly be called a ‘conservative’ minority having no political frontage. Surely this is an opportunity for Fianna Fail or the newly formed Renua party, or perhaps a break-away wing of Fine Gael?
Media bias in Ireland is incredible, and dangerous
If conservative voters are unrepresented in Dail Eireann then they are also largely unrepresented in the Irish media. The degree to which Irish newspapers and television supported the ‘yes’ campaign was incredible. Of course some commentators who were opposed to the vote were given their opportunity to be heard but the overwhelming emphasis in the media was to encourage a ‘yes’ vote. Disgracefully so in some quarters with any semblance of objectivity being binned in the face of apparent public approval for the new proposals.
Ignoring the gay marriage issue for a moment, it has to be acknowledged that a compliant media that refuses to question its own Government (think of the US media in the run up to the Iraq war) and cheer-leads its own agenda is a very dangerous influence in a supposed democratic society. While the ‘yes’ voters may not be concerned today about this issue, perhaps the next Referendum will be one on which they find themselves on the wrong side of the media pressure. This affects everyone in Ireland.
External lobbyist money influenced the debate
In a new development in Irish political and social life the US-style lobby group has reached new heights in Ireland. Of course there have always been lobbyists for all manner of issues in Ireland but the degree to which an external agency (Chuck Feeny and ‘Atlantic Philanthropies’) funded the ‘yes’ campaign with staggering sums of money is a new development.
Regardless of the issue at hand, the influence by lobbyists that are funded from abroad cuts to the very quick of the democratic ideal. If foreign money can indeed buy and make Irish laws (whatever the subject) then the Irish Republic that is to be celebrated in 2016 is dead.
Irish voters are unpredictable
The degree to which the Irish political landscape is so complicated can be gauged by the fact that on the same day that the gay marriage Referendum was carried by a big margin, another Referendum was heavily defeated by 73.06% to 26.94%. This second vote sought to lower the age at which a candidate could be elected to the office of President of Ireland from the current 35 years to 21 years.
How the electorate could be so tolerant of peoples rights in respect of marriage and so intolerant of their right to be elected to a political office because of their age really takes some advanced thinking to understand.
We can offer no explanation.