The Irish have made history over the weekend. Voting with an overwhelming majority to embrace gay marriage, they have leapfrogged a big part of Europe. They make me a proud European. They are showing the way for others, especially those countries which at times, falsely, in the name of Christianity are backsliding in their democratic credentials. Who knew? The Irish were not supposed to be the modern society, which we suddenly realize they are. (Shame on us, for not noticing the change). They are telling the rest of the world never to underestimate the speed with which societies are able to change fundamentally. Why it moved so fast is a great theme for researchers, but for now we should simply applaud.
A country where being gay was punishable just twenty years ago, where the Catholic Church holds immense power and has been campaigning against the yes vote, is now the new symbol of equality in Europe and perhaps the rest of the world.
In a moment when Europe is struggling with xenophobia and exclusion, where our democratic institutions and way of life are being challenged by extreme nationalism and bigotry, when homophobia is still prevalent, the Irish have pushed back big time. In the United States, where gay marriage is on the front burner, where the Supreme Court will decide soon on its constitutionality, where extreme conservatives are waging battle against the rights of gay people, this should be a lesson learned. The Irish just told the world: you can slow down the process of change, but you can't stop it.
However, this referendum is a reflection of much more. It is a strong sign of a small country's resilience. It shows that it's people believe that embracing openness makes them stronger. When a country looks to the future, rather than looking back it can make a difference not just at home but abroad. They suggest that there is no country too small to make important contributions globally.
One wonders how the recent success of Ireland's recovery from the financial crisis is related to Sunday's referendum. The Irish were among the first within the European Union to cope with the aftermath of the crisis. They did that by taking responsibility for the mistakes they made in the past. They boldly and courageously made adjustments. They found consensus and popular support for the very difficult and, at times, extremely tough decisions. This surely paved the way to Sunday's success. There's no doubt in my mind that the same powerful desire to look to the future drove the country to get through the difficulties of economic recovery and to leave behind hundreds of years of legacy of exclusion and persecution of gay people.
This is leadership at its best. The ability of the political elites to work together, embrace the future and lead the country to become more resilient. It is about the embrace of modernity as opposed to clinging on to the past. A strong message that even in a supposedly socially conservative country, people can go through a deep transformation in a matter of years, if they understand that acceptance and equality will yield amazing results. When they realize that inclusion will position the country well in the race for talent, creativity and innovation. There was surely no mercantile thinking behind it, however, there is no doubt in my mind that Ireland will be richly rewarded for its courage. It is now joining a still small, but steadily growing number of countries that have fully embraced LGBT rights. In its acceptance of gay people as equal to all others in society, it has made a huge step towards harnessing the incredible creative force this community represents.
There is another message here: in the minds of the majority of Ireland's population, no authority -- human or religious -- should interfere with whom we love. Thus, this referendum is a victory not just for the LGBT community but for a mature society as a whole. It does not matter whether you are straight or gay, a strong democracy by nature must embrace equality.
Perhaps other countries big or small should look to the Irish for clues when they struggle with their identity for the future, when they are looking for ways to shed the burdens of their past. They must realize, that extending the right to be who you are to all their citizens is the way ahead.
Ireland must now use its newfound global fame and leadership role to inspire. It will be looked upon by LGBT communities and their supporters across the world as the example to follow. They are expected to be among the most vocal advocates of acceptance and be at the forefront of the global quest for equality for all.
Ireland just gave us hope that countries, which just a few years ago enshrined marriage as a "union between man and woman" in their constitution, will change their mind. (You hear Hungary?!)
Because this is the right thing to do.