Europe Narratives

Ireland Votes Yes to Gay Marriage

Story by Xandie Kuenning |

Ireland is generally thought of as a conservative country in terms of social issues. Homosexuality was only decriminalized in 1993 and civil partnership legislation was enacted in 2010. However, when the Fine Gael-Labour coalition government took office in 2011, Deputy Prime Minister, or Tánaiste, Eamon Gilmore called gay marriage, “the civil rights issue of the generation.” Over the following years, the government worked to resolve the issues surrounding same-sex marriage.

The Irish Constitution can only be amended by process of a national referendum. Though it does not define marriage as between a man and a woman, there was uncertainty over whether the legal extensions of marriage rights could be challenged by the Irish Supreme Court. Therefore, a constitutional convention was established by the government in 2013 who voted for the proposal and set a date for the referendum. Finally, in March 2015, the Dáil, Ireland’s Parliament, passed the Marriage Equality Bill leaving only the vote to ratify it.

As is usual with national referendums, there was both a Yes campaign and a No campaign. The former was supported by all the political parties in parliament and used celebrities to endorse their message. In addition, as Irish law prohibits absentee voting, the Yes campaign encouraged all eligible emigrants, meaning those who left the country in less than 18 months, to travel back home to vote. They were aided by companies including Uber, who offered two free taxi journeys to take Dubliners to polls and back.

On the other side, the No campaign was spearheaded by Catholic civil society groups, though there was little input from the actual Catholic Church. They focused on home life with their main argument consisting that all children deserve both a mother and a father.

On May 22, 2015, more than 60% of the population cast their vote. The following day, the results were announced with over 1 million voting yes and less than 800 thousand voting no. Out of the 43 parliamentary constituencies failed to pass the referendum.

Prime Minister, or Taoiseach, Enda Kenny said the outcome showed that Ireland was a “small country with a big message for equality” around the world. Tánaiste Joan Burton said that “in Ireland we’re known as a nation of storytellers. And today, the people have told quite some story. This is a magical, moving moment.” On the other side of the border, in Northern Ireland, the only part of the United Kingdom where same-sex marriage is still prohibited, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness hoped the province would take notice.

In terms of effects, the vote has had no bearing on surrogacy or adoption rights. However, the support of the younger population has drawn the attention of the Catholic Church.

Following this decision, the 2015 Pride Parade in Dublin was the biggest ever. Every large company with a base in Dublin used the parade as a way to advertise in addition to showing their support. Street vendors all around the city sold rainbow flags, hats, necklaces, and more. Stores placed rainbows or messages of support in their windows. There were no signs of opposition that could be seen. Dublin kept this atmosphere of celebration for the rest of the year, even past when the legislation passed by referendum officially came into effect in November, 2015.


Here are some pictures I took at the Pride Parade.

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