Marriage Equality has come to Ireland through a popular referendum. The result was hailed by the May 23 New York Times as placing Ireland “at the vanguard of social change”.
This will be surprising to many, considering Ireland is a country in which transgender status is not recognised by the state, abortion is illegal, gay couples are denied access to surrogacy, unmarried couples cannot adopt, and homosexuality was decriminalised as recently as 1994.
While 84% of Ireland's population identify as Catholic and their cultural heritage has Christian elements dating back to the ancient world, the view of the Catholic Church has proved irrelevant on this question. Four Irish bishops urged the faithful to vote No. The Vatican decried the Irish decision as “a defeat against humanity.”
Despite this, the referendum won spectacularly with 62% voting Yes. This is a telling sign that the social and political power of the Catholic Church has diminished, especially with younger generations. Scandals over the widespread institutional abuse of children and single mothers have undermined the Church's legitimacy as a moral authority in Irish politics.
Support for equal marriage was also widespread throughout Ireland’s regions. All except one of Ireland’s 43 constituencies voted in favour, and in the one that voted against, the result was very close - 51.4% voted No. This indicates that there are no rural pockets where conservative views of sexuality led to significant resistance against the reform. The highest Yes results were clocked in urban constituencies around Dublin, with Dublin South East recording the highest Yes vote of 74.9%.
The move also marks a global historical first — the first time marriage equality has been enacted by popular vote rather than through parliamentary or legal means.
The result is very embarrassing for Australia, which is now the last developed, English-speaking country to deny marriage rights on the basis of sexual orientation. Marriage equality campaigner Rodney Croome claims that this situation has created a moral urgency which might get legislation for marriage equality over the line in Australia.
Opinion polls suggest that about 70% of Australians support marriage equality.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten has now given notice of a Marriage Amendment (Marriage Equality) Bill. This will come before parliament on June 1. The Labor Party has formally supported marriage equality since 2011, but allow MPs the option of ignoring the policy as a "conscience vote". Liberal Party policy opposes equal marriage rights. Liberal MPs have not had the option of opposing this policy as a "conscience vote" but Tony Abbott has now indicated that he will grant a free vote to the Liberal Party.
Two weeks ago, lobby group Australian Marriage Equality (AME) said that so far this year 13 unnamed Coalition MPs have shifted to support marriage equality, leaving parliament four votes away from passing such a bill. AME said that there may already be a Senate majority of one.
This indicates there is a possibility, but no certainty, that equal marriage rights will be gained through an Act of parliament.
Marriage equality activists have called on the ALP to return to its principles of collective action, and mandate all Labor MPs vote in favour of equality. This call will be made at the ALP national conference to be held in Melbourne in July. Many LGBTI activists both inside and outside of Labor are pushing for this, using the hashtag #ItsTimeToBind. Equal Love has called a rally at 1pm on July 25, outside the ALP conference at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.
Whatever Labor's decision, there is a good chance of a victory for marriage equality by the end of the year.
Most Australians — religious and non-religious, rural and urban — support marriage equality. This can be achieved by parliament or plebiscite, with or without a binding vote. After eleven years of fierce and relentless campaigning, it is time to move.
We therefore call for marriage equality now. We want it done.