An historic event took place in Ireland on Friday, May 22, 2015, wherein two out of every three voters came out and endorsed same-sex marriage. As some of my friends might put it: yassss!
The event is historic because, as The Northern Ireland-based “The Rainbow Project” puts it, “the Republic of Ireland became the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote.” With the referendum results in hand, Ireland now joins Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and most of Western Europe. I am undoubtedly leaving out some other countries and clearly some states (Iowa) and significant cities (Mexico City), but that simply is because there are so many to name. And that is the point: gay marriage is increasingly seen as inevitable and a nonissue, which is remarkable.
Take, for example, the United States. Back in 2004 Bush rode to reelection thanks in part to anti-gay initiatives at the state level. In a 2006 paper authored by Daniel A. Smith, Matthew DeSantis, and Jason Kassel, the authors note:
In 2004, activists and state legislators placed anti-gay marriage questions on the general election ballots of 11 states. All of the ballot measures passed easily, receiving on average roughly 70 percent support…
In the same paper, the authors made a nuanced conclusion, but nevertheless a “positive correlation in both states [Michigan, Ohio] between support for the anti-gay marriage measures and the vote for Bush in 2004, even after taking into consideration the strong predictive value of the vote for Bush in 2000.
Even if the anti-gay strategy had failed to mobilize voters, the fact that the Bush campaign developed and then executed an anti-gay platform to win reelection is telling. Eleven years on, the political landscape is markedly different. Some 37 states legalized gay marriage in recent years, although only three by popular vote. More telling, The United States will likely endorse same-sex marriage in an upcoming Supreme Court ruling expected in June 2015.
In sum, it is tremendous progress.
The only caution is that human rights should not be held hostage to popular vote. In Ireland, the voters sided with the right side of history. But thinking back to 2004, or back to the days of Jim Crow when segregation was not only legal but popular, holding referenda as a basis to deny basic human rights to a subgroup constitutes a clear abuse by the majority. Indeed, what if the Irish miscalculated and the country enshrined bigotry instead of freedom?
Thankfully the Irish will no longer need to answer that question. The arc of history is bending once again, and this time for the better. And it’s fabulous.