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Digital Subscriptions > Attitude > Summer 257 > EQUAL MARRIAGE FOR IRELAND


On May 22nd, Ireland is holding the world’s first referendum on same-sex marriage. Traditionally one of the most conservative Catholic countries in the world, who only decriminalised homosexuality in 1993, Ireland is a curious candidate for this accolade, and yet opinion polls show the ‘Yes’ campaign enjoys a healthy lead of well over 70%. Ben Kelly takes a look at how it came to be...


Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.’ This is the line the government of the Republic of Ireland have proposed adding to the country’s constitution, which would enable gay couples to marry. But as a republic with a constitution, it’s necessary for the people to ratify this statement in a national vote, and that referendum is fast approaching on May 22nd. Falling just one day before the Eurovision Song Contest, a delightful gay serendipity means the two sets of results will roll in together.

Upon its creation in 1937, the Republic of Ireland went from the hands of Britain straight into the clutches of the Catholic Church, and antigay laws that had been left over from the days of colonialism weren’t about to be reversed by the new government. Its constitution put the traditional family at the heart of society and afforded no place for thorny issues like divorce, abortion, contraception or homosexuality. The process of updating this has been a long social and legal journey, but today – despite the Church’s continued opposition – every single party in Ireland’s parliament supports same-sex marriage, and public support has remained around 75% for the past two years. In contrast, the issue divided parties at Westminster, and UK opinion polls showed only around 55% of the public supported the measure when it was introduced in the summer of 2013. More striking yet is the juxtaposition of the UK having decriminalised homosexuality in 1967, while Ireland only got around to it in 1993. Gay rights may have accelerated in the past two decades there, but the years before that were bleak – with economic depression, and a Church which dominated social morality.

Today, Senator David Norris is one of Ireland’s most revered political figures, in particular for his work on gay rights, but in the 1950s and 1960s, he was an isolated young man in a country that had no place for him. He told me how the culture of homophobia manifested itself as complete silence. “In those days the word gay was never spoken, or printed in the newspapers. The only time anything squeaked out was when there were whispers of very unsavoury law cases – people being sent to jail and asylums. I thought I was more or less on my own, and it was absolutely horrendous.” Despite being well educated and highly cultured, he didn’t hear about the Stonewall riots of 1969 until years later, but gained inspiration from an article he read about gay rights in Holland, and from getting in touch with the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, who were holding meetings in England. “It was of no earthly use for me living in Ireland, but it did signal that there were others.”

While social revolutions erupted around the world in the late 1960s, a quiet one began in Ireland too. The advent of new and accessible birth control led the Vatican to publish Humanae Vitae in 1968, which reaffirmed it to be against Church law. Tom Inglis, a Professor of Sociology at University College Dublin believes this caused a huge break in public obedience to the Church. “The influence of the Catholic Church’s attitude to sexuality began to decline at this point, and women – particularly mothers– began to distance themselves from the teachings of the Catholic Church.” Slowly, across the 1970s, people also began to question the Church’s lead on other issues, like divorce, abortion and crucially, homosexuality.

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About Attitude

The new issue feature former child star turned Bates Motel psycho, Freddie Highmore – who is all grown up in our exclusive shoot and interview. We also have a feature looking at why gay men love horror movies so much. On the eve of the UK general election we look back at party voting records and ask can we really trust the Tories? And as the Irish marriage referendum approaches, we look at the country’s road to equality, and how Colin Farrell is supporting his gay brother. In other voting matters, we ask experts if the UK can ever hope to win the Eurovision again. We have interviews with pop prince Will Young, American TV guru Andy Cohen, music mogul Pete Waterman, and that absolute babe Alexandra Burke. We also give you the run down on all the best prides and festivals of the summer.