On May 23, 2015 thousands of LGBTQ activists celebrated as Ireland became the first country to legalize same-sex marriage through referendum.
The referendum passed with 62% of voters (1.2 million people) voting yes. The vote attracted a large turnout, with 60.5% of eligible voters—and an unprecedented amount of young people—making their way to the polls. Support was overwhelming. All but one of the 43 parliamentary constituencies voted in favor, and approval was never really in doubt.
When the polls closed, Dublin Castle, a major Irish government complex, became a sea of color and bodies, as roughly 2,000 activists gathered to celebrate. The crowd cheered, rainbow flags were waved, tears were shed and couples kissed, as Ireland hit a pivotal point in its history.
The journey had been slow. After all, Ireland, a traditionally conservative Catholic country, only decriminalized homosexuality in 1993. Campaigning for the referendum began almost immediately after the date for the vote was announced on February 19 of that year. For the first time, social media played a role in influencing people. Both sides deployed TV ads, billboards and pamphlets encouraging people to go to the polls to fight for their side. On the day of the vote, people used #hometovote to remind and encourage young Irish people living abroad to come home in time to vote. Thousands returned, and tickets from London to Ireland were sold out the night before.
Many politicians welcomed the result. Minister for Health Leo Varadkar publicly revealed he was gay for the first time during the campaign and called the win a “historical day.” The Minister for Equality Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said the win made him proud to be Irish.
The Catholic Church, however, was not as happy with the decision. Archbishop Eamon Martin said the church felt a sense of “bereavement” after the referendum passed, and Cardinal Pietro Parolin called it a “defeat for humanity.”
Ireland’s first same-sex marriage happened on November 17, 2015, almost six months after the vote. The couple, Richard Dowling and Cormac Gollogly, both 35, had been together for 12 years when they were finally allowed to be legally married.
Same-sex marriage is now legal in 20 nations and 37 American states.