A storm had been brewing in the North Atlantic, but as of this weekend the clouds had passed over the Irish Sea. As is common with the nasty storms that come from the roiling sea, the landscape was left forever changed – softened, gentler, and deeply appreciative of the all too rare sun.
The storm that passed over Ireland was the debate on whether to enshrine Marriage Equity in the Constitution, a document that has weathered similar storms in the scant 78 years since it was adopted. This time, however, Ireland was changing not just to catch up with the times but to lead them. It’s worth discussing on both sides of the stormy Atlantic and around the world.
Ireland, as a nation, is less than a century old. Independence was won through a bloody struggle with the UK and then soaked in the blood of Irish factions fighting for control of the nation. The Irish Constitution, passed in 1937, opens with a preamble that calls for the blessing of the one thing that united and defined the nation:
In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred,
The Constitution has been modified before to soften this position. A previous clause that guaranteed the “primacy of the Catholic Church” was removed at the same time membership in the European Union was allowed, in 1972. That didn’t mean the nation changed overnight, however. In 1983 a clause outlawing abortion except in rare instances was added. A law prohibiting homosexual relations wasn’t repealed until 1993.
On Friday, the 34th Amendment was passed this Saturday and will be added to this document. It states boldly:
Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.
It passed with 62% of the vote in a nation that has previously been united and defined by a rigid adherence to Catholicism. The storm that it rode in on was much milder than anyone anticipated. Ireland became the first nation ever to approve Marriage Equity by popular vote.
That’s not to say that there aren’t going to be ramifications. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin said, “We have to stop and have a reality check, not move into denial of the realities. We won’t begin again with a sense of renewal, with a sense of denial.” He didn’t stop there. “I ask myself, most of these young people who voted yes are products of our Catholic school system for 12 years. I’m saying there’s a big challenge there to see how we get across the message of the Church.”
The message of the Church? If you back it up a bit, it’s pretty clear where it has to go. But we can forgive the Archbishop for having a brief lapse of not quite “getting it”. No one could have seen this coming in Ireland, of all places, just a few years ago. The voters who approved this nearly two to one all came from one of the most conservative Christian cultures to be found anywhere in the world. The nation didn’t evolve, it changed overnight. This generation is nothing like their parents.
This is worth noting everywhere because this is going to happen all around the world. Not just with Marriage Equity, either. A world rapidly coming together is a world where those with a vested interest in “the way things are” can easily whip up those who are intimidated by change into a reactionary frenzy. We see it across the US today.
Yet for all the noise, the Republican Party is aging and a new generation isn’t interested in repressive social policies. The older people are simply dying off. One day, probably very soon, there will be a similar moment here when we realize that this simply isn’t the same nation anymore. It might well happen in the next ten years, too.
If it can happen this rapidly in Ireland, it can happen anywhere.
Is it possible to make too much of the storm that passed over the nation and dissolved into bright sunlight. Some of the good people of Ireland might say that the destruction was terrible, unbearable. But it was not. Equity for all is the future regardless of how the trials of the past might have hardened people everywhere.
Ireland is now the unquestioned home of equality. Sláinte!