In conservative Ireland, homosexuality remained illegal until 1993. Even divorce only became an option in 1997. But times have changed. The first major international plebiscite on gay marriage is poised to deliver an overwhelming vote in favor of extending the institution to same-sex couples.
"If the Irish can vote “Yes,” the thought goes, anyone can," writes Amy Davidson in The New Yorker. "If they can see how a conservative belief in the institution of marriage and in the unity of families, and an atavistic desire to be present at the wedding of one’s own children, translate into support for same-sex marriage so can, say, Mississippians."
The campaigns, for and against, served to illustrate the broader divisions in Irish society. The No campaign, in particular, made sharp use of fear as a motif, identifying wholesome Catholics as the real victims of intolerance. But the church has paid a high price for its longtime abuses: polls have support for gay marriage at about 70%, though there is some question about the accuracy of polling.
Even if it's close, the pace of change in Ireland has been remarkable. A 2013 International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association map of local support for same-sex relationships put Ireland at only 36%, though it took into account factors other than public opinion.
Here's a "Yes campaign" video:
At least 17 counties, and several U.S. states, have institutionalized same-sex marriage. In the U.S., the Supreme Court recently heart arguments in a case that may effectively settle the matter there.
The results of the Irish referendum are expected to be announced on Saturday.
Photo: Cathal McNaughton