On Friday May 22, 2015, the people of Ireland voted in a referendum to allow same sex marriages and to protect them by the country’s constitution. 62.1 % of voters cast ballots in favour, making Ireland the first country to legalize same-sex marriage via popular vote and the 20th in the world to legalize it nationwide. Turnout was over than 60%.
On St. Patrick’s Day in 1985, Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney crooned, “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” with US President Ronald Reagan at an event called The Shamrock Summit. Their singing must have been quite bad since Canadians have booed both men since that fateful day. Who would have thought, having listened to them sing “all the world seems bright and gay,” that their ancestral isle, then economically unstable and smothered by a conservative elite, would become either bright or gay.
The Celtic Tiger has come a long way since Mulroney and Reagan’s duet. Having legalized same-sex marriage, they have now made the island gay so to speak. Ireland is the first country to hold a national referendum on the issue. Back in 2004, when Canada’s Supreme Court ruled the existing definition of marriage unconstitutional, some MPs from all parties proposed a national referendum on same-sex marriage. Prime Minister Paul Martin, NDP Leader Jack Layton, and Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe quashed the notion that minority rights could be decided in such a way. Stephen Harper, salivating for the PM’s seat, gave his opinion by providing a non-answer (so as not to offend the former Progressive Conservatives in his newly reformatted party, nor his former Reform/Alliance colleagues).
Ireland could have simply passed legislation in the Oireachtas Eireann (Lower House of Parliament), but, to give a same sex marriage the same legal weight as a heterosexual marriage, a constitutional amendment was required. Ireland’s constitution can only be amended by referendum. Thankfully, Canadian politicians have long nixed the notion of having a referendum to amend the constitution (because they could lose the vote and reveal dissenting opinions within the electorate). Our way is much harder because we only do it through the medium of politicians of questionable competency.
All major political parties in Ireland supported the Yes side, as did most politicians, including openly gay senators and cabinet ministers (something Canada hasn’t had since the Tories took office). Even celebrities favored the Yes side. Although the Catholic Church and conservative family groups supported the No side, they respectively conceded defeat, saying that the people of Ireland had spoken and they overwhelming supported same-sex marriage. With that kind of clear majority, Lucien Bouchard would have become King Lucien of the Kingdom of Quebec!
Yet, while one of Europe’s most traditionally conservative countries is welcomed into the 21st century (led by all of its political parties), one of the world’s formerly progressive nations, led by a majority party with minority support, is at risk of edging backwards. While Prime Minister Stephen Harper stipulated unequivocally in 2012 that his party has “no intention of opening or reopening the issue [of same sex marriage],” recently uncovered documents from the Conservative party reveal that this isn’t actually off the table!
Approved at the Conservative Party Convention of 2013 (the one that got flooded out, but failed to wash away the politicians), “Conservative Party of Canada: Policy Declaration” (under the section titled “Social Policy” #70), the assembled delegates declared that party policy will include redefining marriage as between one man and one woman. This was a year after Stephen Harper promised not to reopen the issue. It was released early in 2014. Difficult to find, it is attached to several Conservative Electoral District Associations across the country including Algoma-Manitoulin- Kapiskasing and Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke.
It seems that the Conservatives may still be in the closet with regard to their feelings toward gay marriage. Depending on how the election in the fall goes, perhaps Canada is headed towards a referendum on same-sex marriage as well. If Ireland is any example, I think that Canadians will be smiling and gay too!