Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
― Robert F. Kennedy
Mother Ireland is poised to send forth another ripple of hope on May 22, 2015 when the marriage equality referendum hands her an opportunity to become the first country to legalize same-sex marriage by popular, national vote. A seminal moment for a tiny country of less than 5 million people, an island where homosexuality was still a crime just 22 years ago, where divorce did not become legal until 1997, and where a woman still must travel to another country to have a legal abortion.
In the gay rights movement, the current is building. In the 1970’s the first ripple of hope was sent forth by David Norris, then a Professor of English at Trinity College Dublin. Founder of the Irish Gay Rights Movement, the National Gay Federation and the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform, in 1977 he initiated the legal action to decriminalize homosexuality in Ireland, arguing that the laws violated the Irish Constitution’s position on privacy.
In 1980, his case was defeated in the High Court. On appeal, it was defeated by a ruling of three to two, but in 1988, Norris v Ireland was successful at the European Court level, in his challenge of the constitutionality of criminalizing certain homosexual acts. Just five years later, victory. The law was changed – homosexuality in Ireland was no longer a crime with the Former Tánaiste, Eamon Gilmore, asserting rightly that
The sexual activities of consenting adults in the privacy of their home are a matter for the people concerned and should not be the business of the Dáil, the Garda or anybody else, including the peeping Toms of the self-appointed moral police from whom we hear a great deal nowadays
With the appointment of the first openly gay Minister, Health Minister Leo Varadkr, in 2015, it seems the tide has turned, but Gilmore, perhaps recalling the late 1980s, cautions against complacency, reminding the electorate that not everyone who supports marriage equality will necessarily vote, but that those who are “highly motivated to block this referendum from passing” will be sure to vote.
Then there is what Independent Senator Rónán Mullen characterizes as a “silent dissent.”
Mullen “guesses most politicians will vote against it . .. but nobody will ever know.” While he does not name names, saying “that’s not the way you do business,” he would have us all believe that there is significant and strident opposition, that the sky is falling.
The sky is not falling. The walls are coming down . . .
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.
from “The Cure at Troy” Seamus Heaney