On May 22nd, the small island nation of Ireland passed an unexpected Constitutional amendment in a truly novel way. The fight for same-sex marriage has been raging in the United States since Massachusetts legalized it in 2004. Today, only thirty-seven U.S. states allow for legal gay marriage, and almost all of those states legalized marriage equality either by a vote of their state legislatures or by having their marriage bans struck down by the federal courts. Only two states, Maine and Washington, passed their same-sex marriage laws by popular vote. Before May 22nd, referendum had never been used to pass same-sex marriage on a national level.
Irish citizens, not parliamentarians or judges, went to the polls on the twenty-second day of May and made their own choice. A whopping sixty-two percent voted to legalize marriage equality. The world was stunned in the most positive of ways. Ireland has always been known as a very deeply Catholic country, and it was expected to side with dogma.
The Irish referendum, a beacon of hope in the world, is actually more groundbreaking than it looks prima fascia. The media has been referring to it as a “referendum to legalize gay marriage,” but it does so much more than that. The wording of the referendum refers to the legalization of marriage “regardless of sex.” Regardless of sex and same-sex are very different things. Not only does this referendum open the door for lesbians, gays, and bisexuals to be free to marry whomever they choose, but it also provides some legal safeguards for the marriages of transgender and intersex individuals, which is absolutely incredible.
Ireland doesn’t seem to be stopping the LGBTQ rights train anytime soon. The Emerald Island is currently poised to pass one of the most progressive gender identity laws in the world. In many countries, legal gender is assigned at birth and is difficult to change. Many states in the US require proof of surgical transition, a major roadblock for many in the trans community. Ireland is poised to be the fourth country on Earth to allow individuals to self-identify their gender for legal documents. The burden of proof would cease to exist. As per US policy, we as transgender individuals have to “prove” our transness to the state in order to have our documents changed. Ireland will take away the need to prove a damn thing. The only other countries with a self-designation policy are Malta, Argentina, and Denmark.
Ireland is an intensely Catholic nation. As someone was raised Catholic and left the church partially because of its queerphobic nature, this gives me hope for the future of the Roman Catholic Church. It is my hope that Ireland’s audacity brings out the courage of the other Catholic nations around Europe and the world to find their strength to shrug off dogma that is hateful, prideful, and unnecessary. Perhaps the current Pope will follow the lead of the brave Irish people to modify dogma and bring Catholics back to the fold–without trying to rely on the love the sinner excuse.
As someone of Irish descent, I have never been more proud of my heritage. I am so proud of ancestral homeland for being so overt about supporting people like me. I can only hope that the rest of Europe, the rest of the United States, and the whole world follow suit in due time.