By Greg Botelho
Gay and lesbian couples on Thursday inched one step closer to matrimony in Ireland.
Six months after Irish citizens voted overwhelmingly to change their nation’s Constitution to allow same-sex marriage — paving the way for Ireland to become the first country in the world to adopt such a policy through popular vote — both houses of Parliament passed corresponding legislation.
“Historic day after a long journey!” tweeted Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald. “Well done to everybody involved!”
The bill awaits the signature of President Michael Higgins. But that’s a foregone conclusion.
The same-sex marriage effort has had the support of much of the Irish political establishment, and that was reflected again on Thursday. Enda Kenny, Ireland’s prime minister (or Taoiseach), was among those who cheered the news, tweeting: “For gay sons&daughters, brothers&sisters, family&friends — the end of a long journey, the beginning of a new day. #MarRef.”
Once the marriage bill is signed into law, which could happen next week, same-sex couples could walk down the aisle in the Emerald Isle in a matter of days.
Those weddings would cap a historic campaign that made a nation that’s historically Catholic — a religion that, under its official policy opposes marriage between a man and a woman — a pioneer in the LGBT movement.
Despite extensive campaigns by both sides, the final referendum result wasn’t all that close: more than 1.2 million votes in favor of same-sex marriage, compared to about 735,000 against.
This was with more than 60 percent turnout, according to Ríona Ní Fhlanghaile, an elections official. Only one of the country’s 43 parliamentary constituencies failed to pass it.
Back in 2010, Ireland introduced “civil partnerships” that advocates felt did not go far enough in providing the recognition and protections that come with marriage.
But even during this year’s campaign, Yes Equality — the umbrella group that spearheaded the effort — stressed it was asking for something “different and distinct from religious marriage.”
“No religious institution can be forced to marry a lesbian or gay couple against their beliefs,” the group’s website said. “Churches will be able to continue with religious ceremonies and will not be required to conduct wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples.”
Still, it’s marriage, and last April’s landmark referendum passage brought celebration.
That was evident online, such as tweets from Social Protection Minister Joan Burton using the hashtag #YestoLove and #MadetItHappen or ones from Fitzgerald about Ireland making history on what is “a joyous day for all of us.”
Mark O’Halloran, an Irish actor and screenwriter, toasted the idea that in Ireland there will very soon be “no such thing as gay marriage or straight marriage.”
“We just have marriage. Full stop. What an amazing day.”
Journalist Peter Taggart contributed to this report.