It’s still too early to call it, but all signs point to Ireland becoming the first country in the world to approve same-sex marriage by a popular vote on Friday.
Four different polls this weekend showed that a significant majority of voters favored gay marriage. The country’s second-most read newspaper, The Irish Times, said the “no” on gay marriage side needed a "seismic shift" to win the upcoming referendum.
The gay-rights movement in Ireland has already experienced its own seismic shift. It was just 22 years ago, in 1993, that Ireland decriminalized sexual acts between men, and only because the laws were challenged in the European Court of Human Rights. Now, Ireland’s minister for health, Leo Varadkar, a potential future prime minister, has become the first member of government in Dublin to come out as gay.
All of this in a country where 84 percent of the population is Catholic.
A real separation between church and state
About 84 percent of the Ireland identifies as Catholic, according to its 2011 Census. And the nation is still relatively socially conservative. Divorce wasn’t legalized until a 1995 referendum that “barely” passed. And Ireland is the only country in the European Union that doesn’t legally recognize people who transitioned to another gender.
Still, even as the gay-marriage debate has dominated news headlines, church leaders have largely stayed away from the media, according to Reuter’s Padraic Halpin.
The head of the Irish Catholic Church told Reuters “it would be wrong [to think] that somehow this is a Church-state battle.” Archbishop Eamon Martin said the church would add their own contributions to the debate in their own religious spaces.
“That is a stark change from the 1970s and 1980s when the clergy spoke out publicly and strongly against contraception and divorce that were still illegal in Ireland,” Halpin wrote.
Historically the Roman Catholic Church has had deep ties with Ireland. The Irish Constitution starts with "in the name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority." If the gay marriage referendum is approved it will be added to that same Constitution.
…And then there’s the Americans
Just days ahead of the referendum, both sides of the gay marriage debate are accusing each other of taking money from groups in the United States. It’s against the law in Ireland to take campaign funds from abroad.
According to the Guardian, one of the biggest “no” backers is the National Organization for Marriage, or NOM, a D.C. based nonprofit “with a mission to protect marriage” that was founded in 2007 to fight state led initiatives to legalize same-sex marriage.
Two weeks ago, NOM president Brian Brown sent an email and published a blog urging supporters to visit an anti same-sex marriage campaign site and “support them.” The website, keepmarriage.org, gives visitors the choice to like them on Facebook, watch a YouTube video, sign up for updates—or “help with a donation.”
Brown denied his organization has sent any funds or asked their supporters to contribute funds to the Irish campaign. “There's absolutely no evidence or is it true that NOM contributed any money because we know the law,” Brown told Fusion in a telephone interview Wednesday.
“We have this little thing called the First Amendment in the U.S. and of course we can encourage people to go to websites,” Brown went on to say.
“We encouraged [our supporters] to pray for the campaign and to encourage their friends and family in Ireland who are citizens to vote “No,” that's all clearly not contributing money to the campaign,” Brown said.
The Guardian also quoted two anti gay-marriage leaders alleging that the U.S.-based foundation Atlantic Philanthropies is “financially backing the yes campaign” through organizations working in Ireland that they fund.
Calls and emails sent to Atlantic Philanthropies for response to these allegations went unreturned. One of the directors at Yes Equality, a pro-gay marriage group, told the Guardian that “Atlantic Philanthropies are not funding the Yes Equality referendum campaign.”
The T in Equality
While Ireland may make history for same-sex couples this week, when it comes transgender rights it still has a long way to go.
The trans civil rights group Transgender Equality Network Ireland has launched a campaign supporting “yes” to same sex-marriage campaign but have found an elegant way of reminding the country of their rights.
The group has released ads reminds the country that the T in “equality” is not silent.