Ireland overwhelmingly votes to legalize same-sex marriage

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

An overwhelming majority of Irish voters chose to legalize same-sex marriage in a national referendum yesterday. The "yes" side prevailed with a large 61% percent majority. This is a major change for a nation that is traditionally one of the most socially conservative in Western Europe. Ireland did not decriminalize homosexual sex until 1993, and only legalized divorce in 1995.

Interestingly, the arguments made by supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage in Ireland seem very similar to those advanced in the ongoing US debate over the same issue. This may not be surprising, given the globalization of media, and the fact that English is the dominant language in Ireland, which makes it easier for Irish activists to access arguments developed in the US and vice versa.

The lopsided Irish vote, combined with increasing support for same-sex marriage in the US and other countries, strongly suggests that this cause will soon prevail throughout the western world. Having written extensively about the dangers of political ignorance, I am far from claiming that the support of majority public opinion necessarily proves that same-sex marriage is a good idea. If majority support for marriage equality today proves that it is beneficial, then it would logically follow that it was somehow a harmful idea during the many decades when majority opinion was against it.

Be that as it may, I believe that these recent developments are a change for the better. Extending marriage to same-sex couples will make it easier for them to form strong, stable families, and will also put an end to invidious sex discrimination in marriage law. The change in public opinion on same-sex marriage is also part of a broader trend of declining social intolerance towards gays and lesbians generally. That is a positive development even for those gays and lesbians who have no desire to marry.