A small island nation of under five million people in the North Atlantic just showed a country of 318 million, and a world over seven billion, a thing or two about equality by becoming the first country in the world to legalize same sex marriage via a referendum vote of the people. Yes, Ireland, a country and people I've had the pleasure of visiting over a dozen times, by an overwhelming margin voted for marriage equality on May 22, 2015 (Harvey Milk Day in the U.S.A., appropriately enough). They become the 20th country to legalize same sex marriage, but the first to do so by popular vote.
I knew if the people that I have met over the last 20 years showed up at the polls that the measure would win. Never once in Ireland have I experienced homophobia; well, there was one time in Matt Malloy's pub in the West of Ireland, but the homophobes were from Nashville, TN, not Ireland. And yes, that always surprised me, as much as the Pope may be surprised today; you see, Ireland is a Catholic country -- I mean, really Catholic. This is a country that didn't get divorce until 1992, one that just decriminalized homosexuality in the last three decades and one that just allowed condoms to be purchased over the counter since I've been going.
It was a hard felt battle. When I was in Ireland March last, the "Yes" side felt pretty confident. Then the Catholic church poured millions in to the "No" campaign and went the whole family values route. But, the Irish didn't buy it. At least not the younger ones, even many of the older by the amounts of "Yes" votes received.
I sat worried on May 22 in the U.S.A.. The New York Times ran an editorial stating what a huge step this would be world wide, an accelerant for GLBT rights across the globe. The converse would mean if it went down in flames, it would be a huge blow.
By 2:00 a.m. PST Saturday May 23, 10 a.m. Irish time, it was becoming clear that the "yes" votes would prevail. By 07:00 PST, 15:00 Irish (3:00 p.m.) both sides declared that the "yes" would carry the day with an overwhelming margin. In fact, as of this writing, no district has voted "no" yet.
"What do you say to the Catholic Church that wants a 'no' vote from you today," one presenter asked a middle-aged woman on her way to the polls. "I think they should mind their own business, especially as of late," she responded, "I'm taking my country in to the next century," she added as she scurried off.
"You must remember, that compared to Americans, the Irish are screaming left-wing liberals," presenter George Hook told me in our last interview. "We are a left leaning nation by far, which is often at odds with our religious roots in today's world," he went on. "And when we decide this, it will be decided. In other words, we won't rehash it every year. It will be done, the law of the land," Hook concluded.
And so it will be.
It's the season of Gay Pride in America. Long Beach, Calif. just celebrated their Pride festival on May 16 and 17 and Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and many cities in between will continue over the next few months. The festivals were meant to celebrate the spirit of Stonewall, the spirit of oppressed people who had taken enough and stood up for their civil rights.
All over Europe Friday, straights, gays, bis, everyone stood up for GLBT rights and yes, it makes me cry right here, right now. Truly, as one of America's openly gay media figures for the last three decades, I've debated this issue a lot on CNN, MSNBC, in print, in other countries, on BBC, RTE. And I've watched homophobia rise, not fall, of late. As singer, Sam Smith, just revealed even he, in the last year, has been hit and called a "faggot" while on tour. It's still not easy being gay.
But people of all walks came together, on planes, on boats. Yes, you see, there's no postal vote in Ireland. You have to be in the country to cast a ballot. So the #HomeToVote campaign kicked in and countless Irish emigrants from London, Paris, Germany, all across Europe, boarded boats, planes and trains to go #HomeToVote.
In America, it's all we can do to get people to walk to the corner or drive a half a mile to vote. For this referendum, people flew hours, spent hundreds, some thousands, all to cast a vote for marriage equality, most of them not gay themselves.
Tears. My lesbian niece in Seattle, WA, just texted me, she's been to Ireland with me before, Uncle Charles, We Won! We Won! and my friend Steven Cabral already this morning, "Karel, we won, it passed; they said yes!"
Joy, happiness, true exuberance, it comes from feeling accepted, from winning long fought battles, from not being discouraged for a change. It's a shame America can't do this for all of its people, but Ireland is and that gives the GLBT community around the world hope. Yes, hope that people, including people in our country, their country, wherever they may be, that people can get this issue right. If a Catholic nation can do it, anyone can. And should.
Dublin Castle is alive and electric Saturday, May 23, as people from all around the world gather in anticipation of the final victory's announcement (it should come at 10:00 PST, 18:00 Irish 6 p.m.) "I'm a gay Irish-Catholic American and I'm here to bear witness to history," Jay Lassiter told the Irish Times on May 23rd while waiting the final count. And he wasn't alone. The world was literally waiting.
An award-winning video directed by Karel about Marriage Equality that uses the Jefferson Quote about changing Constitutions
This vote changes the Irish Constitution. That's right -- they changed their document to be inclusive, to grant rights. How Thomas Jefferson of them, the spirit of one of his most famous quotes living and breathing today in Ireland.
"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind," Panel Four on the Jefferson Memorial reads in Washington, D.C.
As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times.
We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.
It appears the Irish agree with Jefferson more than many Americans.
The Irish vote is a huge step for GLBT rights around the globe, and it comes at the time the progress of those rights are celebrated here in the U.S. It's a lesson that a country can have faith, and believe me, the Irish have faith. This is not a vote saying they are a godless nation. On the contrary, many Irish believe that god and gays are fine with each other, that god is love and understanding and wants families to come together, not be torn apart -- all families. It's a country that struggles with the confines of its faith, but one that puts human rights tantamount to all else. Because they've suffered. I mean, they've really suffered in that country. Tyrants, plague, famine, Viking invasion -- you name it, they've had it.
And yet, their hearts remain open to all people.
In 1999, I went to Ireland afraid because of violence in the North and the fact that it hadn't even been a decade since being gay had been made legal. From the first step, the feeling of welcome was felt then, and over the years, I have always felt like a welcomed visitor in their country. I have brought my partner to meet their President, danced with my late husband in pubs all across the Temple Bar in Dublin, and walked the Moors hand in hand with a man. And never once did anyone say anything to me except "Hello!" or "Welcome."
A small island nation in the North Atlantic is schooling the world on equal rights. I want every member of the GLBT community, and those allies, to remember Ireland when you are spending vacation dollars. Support this country, these people, who have made such a bold statement to the world, and to their church.
Religion and civil rights can exist side by side; good, god-fearing Catholics can be gay or accept them, and devastation won't happen when equality is granted.
Thank you to every "yes" campaigner in Ireland. From a 52-year-old gay American, I feel very, very Irish today. As a country and as a people, you have my continued love. As an example to the world today you shine like no other.
Sláinte! What you've done is brilliant! I'll see you in September, and until that time, thanks for giving millions hope around the world in your one, simple vote.
To hear my shows from Ireland and read many stories from the Huffington Post from my journeys, please go here