- Sasha Issenberg
May 22, 2015: Ireland votes to legalize same-sex marriage
ON THIS DAY IN 2015…
Ireland became the first country to introduce same-sex marriage by a popular vote, with 62% of voters favoring an amendment to the constitution.
Its politics long conducted in the shadow of a strong Catholic Church, Ireland had always lagged its European neighbors on matters of sexual freedom and privacy. Contraceptives were banned until the 1980s, when voters also amended their Constitution to prevent courts from recognizing a right to abortion. It was only in 1993 that the country legalized gay sex, by rewriting down a ninetneeth-century law criminalizing “buggery between persons.” (Northern Ireland struck down its own version of that law more than a decade earlier.)
So it was by no means certain that the country would be ready to legalize same-sex unions in May 2015 when voters were asked to amend an article of Ireland’s Constitution which requires government to “ to guard with special care the institution of Marriage, on which the Family is founded.” But the canny Yes campaign, whose persuasion informed partly by insights imported from those who had run successful state-level campaigns in the United States, won over three-fifths of the country’s voters, carrying 42 of the country’s 43 parliamentary constituencies. The Marriage Act became law that fall.
Health minister Leo Varadkar said the campaign had been “almost like a social revolution.” Two years later, Varadkar became Ireland’s prime minister, just the fifth openly gay head of government on earth.