Commentary: What we could learn from the Irish

By John Krull
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS – So, same-sex marriage now is legal in lovely green Ireland.

John Krull, publisher, TheStatehouseFile.com

John Krull, publisher, TheStatehouseFile.com

Column by John KrullA few days ago, voters on the Emerald Isle cast their ballots overwhelmingly in favor of allowing people of the same gender to commit themselves to each other in marriage. A little more than 61 percent of Irish citizens voted yes to a referendum question about same-sex unions. Only one of Ireland’s 43 parliamentary constituencies voted against gay unions – and that was by a narrow margin.

Observers saw the vote as a significant for at least a couple reasons.

The first is that it made Ireland the first country in the world to legalize gay marriage by popular vote. Every other nation that recognizes same-sex marriage – and there now are many of them – has done so through judicial decision or legislative act.

One argument that opponents of same-sex marriage like to make is that it is a change being imposed by elitists and extremists. Ordinary people, given a chance to express themselves, won’t stand for gay marriage. Their faith and their consciences, same-sex marriage opponents say, will dictate their opposition.

Except that isn’t what happened in Ireland.

The Catholic Church has been a dominant force in Irish life – in fact, it often has been the dominant force in Irish life – for centuries. The church opposed the same-sex marriage measure and, officially, directed Irish Catholics to vote no.

Many priests, though, broke with the church leadership and urged their congregations either to vote yes or – here’s a novel idea – to vote their own consciences.

And, after consulting their faiths and their consciences, the people in one of the more religiously devout nations on earth voted, overwhelmingly, in favor of same-sex unions.

So much for the argument that ordinary people won’t support gay marriage.

But, important as those reasons are, they weren’t the thing about Ireland’s vote I found most intriguing.

That came after the ballots had been cast, the votes had been counted and it was clear the “no” side had lost.

The folks who opposed same-sex marriage in Ireland worked hard in the campaign. They cared a lot about the issue and had the conviction that right was on their side.

They could have been bitter in defeat.

They could have gone on a prolonged social media tirade – as Indiana Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, did when Indiana’s proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage went up in flames – and called everyone who doesn’t think exactly the way they do moral cowards. For good measure, like Delph did, they could have threatened to kick the, uh, posteriors of folks who had the temerity to question them.

Or they could have gone the Eric Miller and Micah Clark route. Miller and Clark are perhaps the two most prominent leaders of the religious right in Indiana – Miller as the head of Advance America and Clark as the executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana.

They also were the architects of the ill-named and ill-considered Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was designed to “punish” gay and lesbian activists for winning the same-sex marriage fight in Indiana.

In the aftermath of a RFRA debacle that made Indiana a national and international joke, we Hoosiers still are tallying the costs of the damage done by that little exercise in legislative score-settling.

The leaders of the Irish opposition went a different direction. They didn’t throw a temper tantrum – ala Mike Delph – or opt for vindictiveness as Eric Miller and Micah Clark.

No, once it was clear his side had lost, the leader of the no campaign sent a message to the members of the yes campaign. He congratulated his opponents on their victory and said:

Well done.

In other words, he acted like an adult and accepted disappointment with all the grace he could muster.

We Hoosiers could learn some things from the Irish.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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