Truly a Nation of Equals

Today, we are more truly a nation of equals. The people of Ireland have exercised their Constitutional right and by direct vote they have said an emphatic ‘Yes’ to Equality. We now join twenty other countries where same-sex marriage has been made possible. We are the first country in the world to do so by a vote of the people.

This referendum was all about belonging – Irish lesbian and gay citizens had to ask the Irish people if they too can belong to Ireland and belong in Ireland. In their deep generosity the Irish people have said ‘Yes’– Yes, we belong. Today’s result means that having been ‘branded and isolated’ for decades, each lesbian and gay person knows now that they too belong in Ireland, as full, equal citizens.

It means more. It means that lesbian and gay couples belong to each other in a rich, new, and profound way. That lesbian and gay parents belong anew to their children, and their children to them. And that mothers and fathers can now rest assured that their lesbian and gay children belong in the same way as all their children.

It means that all of us – lesbian, gay, straight, family members, friends, colleagues, allies, voters – belong equally to the Irish national family.

To the Irish people, to those who voted ‘Yes’, you have done something that should make you forever proud. Do not forget this moment, this moment when you were your best self, when you chose to make your mark for an Ireland that could be a better and fairer place.

And to those who did not yet vote with us, we hope that, as lesbian and gay couples marry, you will see that we seek only to add to the happiness and the security of the diverse Irish national family.

While today is a day for celebration, it is only right that we should remember those who over the years were deprived of the opportunity that this ‘Yes’ brings, those who were deprived of a fundamental human right.

We should remember the many lives blighted by shame, lives lived in loneliness and isolation, lives lost to hostility and fear. No longer should men and women have to hide a part of themselves from others and even from themselves, deprived of the opportunity to love and be loved.

We should remember too and honour those who took the first brave and lonely steps that led us to this day: those who pointed up the discrimination, the inequality, the segregation; those who refused – often at great personal cost – to be silenced or intimidated by the voices of intolerance; those who fought for equality, inclusion and recognition. They laid the foundations for today’s transformative and historic change.

And there can be no doubt that this campaign for marriage equality has indeed been transformative. It has given LGBT people in Ireland permission to love ourselves and come out more comfortably and completely, some for the first time ever. It has generated a discussion and awareness among Irish people about equality and diversity and fairness – a discussion and awareness that will now flourish and grow.

While we know much remains to be done, today has been a turning point, one that should allow all lesbian and gay people in Ireland to fulfil their true potential – in family, in love, in life.

Now, we can all begin to work together to change the lived experience of being LGBT. We can work together towards a day when any two people who love one another can feel fully safe expressing that love; when two people can, unremarked, walk down the street hand in hand. We can work together to ensure that young LGBT people in Ireland discover their identity in an atmosphere of support, affirmation and belonging.

This touching – this uplifting – outcome belongs to the Irish people. When the once-in-a-generation opportunity to make this landmark change was put before us, we grasped that opportunity with a resounding ‘Yes’.

Today’s result belongs to you. Be forever proud of what you have done.

Today’s result belongs to the many thousands of volunteers who spent days and weeks standing on streets, knocking on doors, engaging their communities and neighbours in countless conversations about equality and belonging and love.

Today’s result belongs to the people who shared their personal stories, laying bare the heartbreak, the loneliness, and the lost potential; touching hearts and minds; making it all but impossible for others to ignore the personal anguish and unnecessary pain inflicted by innate inequality on our gay citizens, and its impact on so many lives. The Irish people have now swept that world away.

Today’s result belongs to the people who ran marathons, the people who baked cakes, the people who sold badges and t-shirts in every village and town to raise much-needed funds so that we could run a positive and constructive information campaign.

Today’s result belongs to all of us – and together we can now move forward with our lives enriched and rejoice in the fact that we are on the right side of history, in a new nation of equals.

We will now add to our Constitution these seventeen words: ‘Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.’ With these words, we make it possible for our gay citizens to marry the person they love.

As our former President, Uachtarán Mary McAleese said last week, our gay children will now be able to know the joy and peace and comfort of being part of a loving married couple fully recognised at the highest level our country can offer.

The Irish people have shown their compassion. They have shown profound and touching generosity, humanity, and wisdom. They have made a historic change. The majority said one simple word; for a minority, that word means everything.

This movement saw a group of ordinary citizens undertake an extraordinary venture. With their might and grace, these people have given their hearts and souls to make marriage inclusive for all citizens. We are so proud of these people and of what they have helped to achieve.

Their achievement is no less than this: that today, we are true to the words of our Proclamation: ‘The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens … cherishing all of the children of the nation equally.’

Buíochas ó chroí.