Irish ayes are smiling – and so are we

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The results are in as I write this, tears blinding me.

Ireland has voted overwhelmingly for equal marriage in a nationwide referendum.

Somehow this extraordinary decision to give gays and lesbians the same rights as everyone else to marry has affected me in a much more emotional and personal way than the same legislation here in the UK.

Perhaps that’s because of my heritage – Irish ancestry all the way back as far as you can search on both sides of my family. Close relatives are still there, though many are now scattered around the globe.

In the last few days I have read some of the most affecting personal testimonies about what it has meant to grow up gay in Ireland, to live in one of the most socially conservative and Catholic countries in Europe and to have to suppress your true self.

The accounts are heartbreaking – and there are so many of them that tell a story familiar to anyone over a certain age who is gay. They echo the stories of men and women all over the world.

Then you watch pensioners Brighid and Paddy Whyte explain why they voted yes and it’s so remarkably human and touching and yet at such odds with the perception many of us still have about older people’s attitudes to homosexuality. It made me want to stand up and cheer.

Today’s result – the first time any nation has asked its people to decide on the issue of marriage equality – is such a striking blow for human rights that I have no doubt it will change for the better the lives of both young and old gay people in Ireland and hopefully elsewhere, too.

All of this was done in the teeth of fierce opposition from, of course, the Catholic Church and other religious organisations. I’ve blogged before about how the Church in particular needs to rethink its attitude towards those who don’t conform to its ideals. Today, finally, there was a recognition from one priest that the world is changing and the church will be left behind if it doesn’t modernise.

From the Guardian:

The archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, has described the almost certain Yes final result as a wake-up call for the Catholic church. “This is a social revolution,” he told RTE Television. “The church has a huge task in front of it get its message across to young people … The church needs to do a reality check.”

Asked if the church was ill-equipped to deal with these issues, he said: “We tend to think of black and white but most of us live our lives in grey.” The church needed to use the result to harness the energy that has been unleashed in favour of equality for all, the archbishop added.

A social revolution. Led by people determined that no one should be discriminated against because of their sexuality. And endorsed by folks by Brighid and Paddy, among a million others.

The Irish people have made the world a happier, more tolerant place today. They have set a wonderful example and become a beacon for equality and civil rights.

Tonight I’ll raise a glass to the aul sod and say Erin go bragh!

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