June 10, 2015

by Hedy Weinberg

Voters approved gay marriage on the Emerald Isle. High court will make decision for U.S. Author was in Ireland for historic referendum.

The ACLU represents Ohio and Kentucky plaintiffs in a case that also affects Tennessee.

As we await the U.S. Supreme Court's marriage equality decision, I am embracing my memories of a recent Saturday in Dublin, Ireland.

A fortuitous visit allowed me to witness history on May 23 as voters went to the polls for Ireland's same-sex marriage referendum.

As the streets filled with pro-marriage equality parades and rally participants, we headed over to the courtyard at the Dublin Castle, where people were gathering to hear the referendum results.

Walking through the city, numerous "YES" signs and buttons foreshadowed the outcome. We made it into the courtyard, overflowing with people, just as the guards shut the gates.

Surrounded by more than a thousand people — gay and straight, young and old, singles and couples, young families and parents with grown children — it was clear that we were in the midst of an important moment in Irish and human rights history.

We watched the election results come in county by county on a digital map of Ireland. On a stage, government and human rights dignitaries — including Irish President Michael Higgins, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, and Labour leader Joan Burton — rallied the crowd.

Every major political party in Ireland had supported the referendum. Cheers and chants were heard each time a county reported its results. Periodically someone would break out into an Irish national song and the crowd would join in.

Over the next several hours, we met wonderful people and enjoyed fascinating conversations. Those we spoke with shared stories of friends returning to Ireland to vote from Australia, Canada, America and England; of grandparents voting "yes"; and of their country being "reclaimed."

When human rights activist Una Mullally took the stage, the crowd chanted "Una, Una, Una!"

Mullally, a well-respected journalist and longtime supporter of marriage equality, had recently publicly shared her own story about going to the hospital for tests and her fear of telling the nurse that her next of kin was her partner Sarah.

By the end, the digital map of Ireland had become a sea of green "yes" counties, with one lone, red "no" county.

Cheers of jubilation erupted throughout the courtyard, followed by tears and hugs. The referendum had passed 62 percent to 38 percent and Ireland had become the first country in the world to approve same-sex marriage by a popular vote.

Now back home we wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to issue its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, the consolidated case that challenges laws in Tennessee, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio that discriminate against same-sex couples and prohibit marriage.

ACLU represents the plaintiffs in the Kentucky and Ohio cases and argues that state marriage bans violate the due process and equal protection provisions of the U.S. Constitution.

The transformation of this country's attitude toward marriage equality is striking. Polls show 61 percent support for marriage equality nationwide.

In 2013, only 13 states recognized same-sex marriage; today 37 states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex couples to marry. America's largest corporations, law firms, and medical and legal organizations are supporting the case before the Supreme Court.

The stage is set for final resolution of the marriage equality debate.

We are long past due for a uniform national rule that respects the equal treatment and protection of all loving adult couples.

Today, as we await the decision, I am hopeful that the justices will take note of Ireland's vote and of the guarantees of our Constitution.

Then, for the second time this summer, I can witness the making of history.

Hedy Weinberg is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Tennessee.

This op-ed appeared in The Tennessean on June 10, 2015.