Up until 1993, homosexual acts in Ireland were criminal. Tomorrow, the Irish head to the polls to determine if their nation will be the first on the planet to approve gay marriage by a popular vote, and the AP notes that it's a debate that "has pit the waning power of the Catholic Church against the secular-minded government of Prime Minister Enda Kenny." Since Cabinet Minister Leo Varadkar came out as gay in January, a steady stream of the nation's political, sporting, and entertainment elite have since publicly followed, or told the tales of gay loved ones in support of the Yes Equality campaign. "A yes vote costs the rest of us nothing. A no vote costs our gay children everything," former President Mary McAleese said this week, after the former Catholic Church legal adviser's only son came out. A well-known journalist came out at age 54 this month, writing that "emotionally, I have been in a prison since the age of 17."
It's an emotional debate in the deeply Catholic country, with "no" campaigners raising fears about the plight of children raised by gay couples and the sanctity of marriage. "Two men can't replace a mother's love," reads one poster from Mothers and Fathers Matter. The Catholic Church urged parishioners this weekend to vote against the measure; its bishops released a letter that said it would put "the union of two men, or two women, on a par with the marriage relationship between a husband and wife which is open to the procreation of children." Interestingly, Dublin's archbishop—called "politically savvy" by the AP—urged congregants to examine their consciences, saying, "the severity with which the Irish church treated gay and lesbian people in the past makes it difficult for some to understand the church's position." PM Kenny, meanwhile, is less coy, calling the referendum an opportunity to "obliterate, publicly, the remaining barriers of prejudice and the irrational fear of the 'them' and 'us'." Polls show the measure is likely to pass, though it's by no means a slam dunk as proponents have lost ground this month.