If you’d told me more than a year ago that Ireland would vote to legalize same-sex marriage by a wide margin in a popular vote, I would have laughed at the suggestion. But when I visited a few weeks ago to help with the campaign, the fight was ongoing in an atmosphere of hope and expectation. Despite the appalling comments from the Vatican condemning the success of this vote, Ireland seems to have embraced a Catholicism that leaves room for real people, and real love stories, to flourish. We would do well to embrace our new allies, and celebrate Ireland’s victory as an illustration of the ever-broadening set of people who stand for equality and love.
In early May, I was invited to Ireland by the Lawyers for Yes Campaign as the campaign for Marriage Equality intensified its efforts. I met Ireland’s first openly gay elected official, Sen. David Norris, as well as other leaders of the Irish Legislature. Amazingly (to an American politician, anyway), all four major political parties were in favor of the upcoming ballot measure for marriage equality. I was also struck by how knowledgeable members of the campaign for marriage were about American politics, and how strategically they applied lessons from the battle for marriage equality in the U.S. to their own country. They used sophisticated messaging to speak to everyday people about the vote. One television ad featured the “mammy-in-chief” speaking about how every generation has an opportunity to make a change and this was Ireland’s opportunity. While it featured the mother of a gay man, it really spoke of equal opportunity for all people. It was effectively designed to speak—mother-to-mother—to people both connected and unconnected to members of the LGBTQ community.
While in Ireland, I spoke at a fundraiser. I shared that the highlight of my political career was not when my marriage equality bill was signed into law in New York. It was actually upon returning to my district and having constituents come up to me, saying how happy and proud they were that the law had finally come to New York. Most of these constituents were not LGBTQ, but straight allies. The fight for greater LGBTQ equality is deeply personal, but it is also a broad fight to help our country uphold some of the most basic principles it stands for. In the fight for equality, opportunity, and freedom, we need diverse allies, and we have them.
It should be lost on no one that this victory for same-sex marriage came in one of the world’s most identifiably Catholic countries. Irish voters were in no way turning their back on their Catholic faith, but embracing the stand for human dignity and equality that the faith preaches. The Irish people affirmed that being Catholic, Irish and gay is not inherently a conflict, despite what so many have long claimed.
The Irish have demonstrated yet again that this fight is not being fought only by the LGBTQ community. When we all recognize that we are in this fight for equality together, we can win as easily and overwhelmingly as we did in Ireland last week. May the U.S. Supreme Court hear the call from across the pond as it makes its decision on marriage equality in June. The court can either be on the side of humanity, or on the side of the obsolete.
Daniel O’Donnell is an Assembly member in the New York Legislature. An abbreviated version of this op-ed first appeared in the New York Times.