Tuesday 27 September 2016

Victory for love and equality

Published 24/05/2015 | 02:30

Supporters react outside Dublin Castle following the announcement of the result of the same-sex marriage referendum in Dublin
Supporters react outside Dublin Castle following the announcement of the result of the same-sex marriage referendum in Dublin

Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead - Oscar Wilde

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Ireland has become the first country in the world to enshrine constitutional same-sex marriage by popular vote. The term "historic" is often misplaced but the outcome of the Marriage Equality Referendum truly deserves the epithet. The emphatic nature of the result leaves no room for doubt, an outcome that is to be warmly welcomed.

The manner in which the No side immediately accepted the result and congratulated their opponents in victory after what was, at times, an uncomfortably divisive campaign, is also to be welcomed.

On a fine day in May 2015 this country became a much more open, inclusive and modern society. With the mark of a ballot paper, hundreds of thousands of citizens voted by a large majority to leave behind those grey decades of a less tolerant Ireland, to embrace their gay fellow citizens as equals, and with love in their heart.

The Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar, who came out as a gay man during the campaign, has described the result as "almost like a social revolution". He is correct. The question now is what will be the far reaching consequences of not just a social but also a democratic revolution?

Success has many fathers, failure is an orphan. There are several within the political establishment who will lay claim to the victory for Yes. The Government, and the Labour Party in particular, which resolutely placed the issue of same-sex marriage on the agenda, will seek much of the credit and is entitled to a large measure. But each of the main political parties, and those of no party or persuasion, supported the Yes campaign and each in turn, to varying degrees, have played their part.

In truth, there were many heroes and heroines on the Yes side, none more so than the former President Mary McAleese, who spoke passionately about "Ireland's gay children". More than that, however, it was the deeply personal accounts of those other public and private figures, fearless in recounting their life stories, which made the lasting and decisive impression.

The outcome of the referendum is in itself a momentous event, but the manner in which it was achieved may yet turn out to be an equally enduring legacy. This was a victory for the youth of Ireland, those grandchildren of a less inclusive society not that very long ago. In their numbered thousands, with vitality, colour and in great good humour, they partook in the electoral process, many for the first time. The politicisation of this magnificent new generation of citizen is, undoubtedly, among the finer outcomes of a historic occasion.

It is to be hoped, surely now to be expected, that this new generation will leave its mark again, not least in the General Election, but also on a country reaching out now with some confidence into a still uncertain future. The body politic should take note: Ireland has changed, changed utterly, not just in a manner which can be solely witnessed by way of an addition to the Constitution, but in the voice of its young people, who have declared as one that nothing will ever be the same again.

The sun shines again in the garden of Ireland, her flowers are in full bloom.

Sunday Independent

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