The landslide endorsement of marriage equality for same-sex couples in the Southern referendum is a historic victory for LGBT rights. 62% voted ‘Yes’ with a turnout much higher than most referendums. Tens of thousands of new voters registered in the run up to the poll while thousands of Irish citizens travelled home from across the globe, overwhelmingly to vote ‘Yes’. While there was support for equality across the board – with only one constituency voting ‘No’ – it was most solid in working class communities and amongst young people.
Given that homosexuality was illegal in the South until 1993, this victory is an indication of the rapid and progressive shift in social attitudes which has taken place in the last two decades. The authority of the once-dominant Catholic Church has been undermined by the scandalous revelations about institutional abuse and cover-ups. The political establishment remains socially conservative – lagging well behind ordinary people on issues like access to abortion rights – but has been forced to respond to the overwhelming demand for LGBT equality.
The majority of people in the North also support marriage equality, yet the Assembly has rejected in for the fourth time. The fundamentalists in the DUP are the most openly homophobic but politicians from across the spectrum are opposed to LGBT equality. Meanwhile, all the main parties are opposed to a woman’s right to control her own body. We cannot wait for change to come voluntarily from the Stormont politicians. Instead, we need to build an active and political movement to demand progress. The trade union movement has an obligation to be at the forefront of this struggle.