The world that gays live in is not the same world that you live in (assuming you identify otherwise). It is a world characterized by fear. Fear of judgement. Fear of rejection. Fear of violence. It is a world where it’s easier to deny who you are than it is to tell your parents who you like.
Thousands flocked home to Ireland last week sharing the hashtag #HometoVote in order to show their support for marriage equality. Ireland faced an historic vote to become the first country in the world to legalize gay marriage via popular national vote, with a staggering 62 percent of the population voting to grant total marriage equality to all Irish citizens.
This news is a major victory for thousands of Irish couples, as well as the global gay community and their allies. The vote is an alarming wake-up call to the world; with over 80% of the country self-identifying as Roman-Catholic, not even religion can stop equality. More importantly, however, the vote is indicative of the ability for religion and gay marriage to coexist.
Part of the unending divide between gays and religion comes from the hyperpolarizing portrayal of extremism of both sides in the media. We are conditioned to believe that there is a systemic inability to reconcile the two sides of the conflict, but Ireland is proof that the existence and acceptance of both religion and homosexuality is not just possible, but ideal for the well-being and freedom of all people.
In a lot of ways, the vote is another blow to the United States’ claim to being the “land of the free.” How can we assert to be the freest people when we deny everyone equality and enforce laws that allow legal discrimination against gays? I think the answer is simply that we are not, and we will never be until we grant equality to all.
Marriage traditionalists fought long and hard, using many of the arguments that have grown cliché from years of heavy repetition. “Children Deserve a Mother and a Father” was the primary slogan championed by traditionalists. The vote is a clear rejection of the classic hetero-nuclear two-parent structure clung to by social conservatives. These arguments are shameful and even hurtful.
What anti-gay activists do not understand and what, in a sense, many social conservatives will never understand, is that a society that forbids gay marriage enables and perpetuates anti-gay sentiment. The reality is that by denying someone the equal right to marriage, it is a clear, systematic and indisputable division between “us” and “them.” That they are not only different, but inferior. That something is inherently and legally wrong with who they are as human beings. Legalizing gay marriage is so much more than what it seems. By legislating marriage equality, that division is struck down, and with that barrier leveled, we have the chance to make progress towards a more perfect future for everybody.
I deeply admire Ireland’s bravery and progressivism. While much of the world still condemns gays, hope is reinvigorated on the Emerald Isle.
I have strong hopes that Ireland is just the first domino in a long series of countries granting full marriage equality. They have taught us that religion and homosexuality are not fundamentally irreconcilable; there is a third choice that avoids absolutes, and we can live in a world that allows the coexistence and union of religion and homosexuality. With a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision on marriage equality looming around the corner and expected in early June, this spring may shape up to be the most important period of progress in the history of gay rights.
Ryan Toves is a first-year literary journalism and music double major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org