Ireland's Gay Marriage Referendum: Three Years On

Three years ago The Republic of Ireland held a referendum on equal marriage and the public voted overwhelmingly in favour. By November 2015, the first gay weddings were taking place.  It was a huge result for the country’s LGBTQ community as homosexuality had only been decriminalised in 1993. 

The YES vote – which accounted for more than 70% of returned ballots – made Ireland the first country in the world to legalise equal marriage by popular vote.

But whilst Irish support for same-sex marriage had surged in the years before the referendum, it was, for many, still a hard-fought campaign.  

Referendums can be difficult – Brexit, anyone? – But there are few topics as divisive as gay marriage.  It can split families. It can divide communities. It forces us to see what people really think about homosexual relationships. Suddenly, Karen from three-doors-down isn’t just the nice lady who puts out your bins but OMG! THAT Karen who has a vote NO poster in her window. 

Defending same-sex marriage and gay relationships can be exhausting. It can force an individual to become a spokesperson for their sexuality. It can make a platform out of what is, for some people, a deeply personal issue. 

Ideally, same-sex marriage votes should go through a parliamentary system BUT in Ireland’s case, the referendum was ideal for proving just how popular the support in favour was. 

Three years isn’t long enough to heal some of the hurt caused by the referendum, but the photographs from those first same-sex weddings in Ireland – the pure joy, the sheer hope, and unfiltered romance they conveyed – are part of a legacy that the Republic should be very proud of. 

But it’s important not to rest on our laurels.  Homophobia didn’t just shrug, wither and die with the new legislation.  It’s still here. It’s still able to spread but it didn’t win in May 2015 in Ireland, it didn’t win in Australia in November 2017, and it won’t win in countless other countries over the coming years either. 


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