The Northern Irish Assembly has just voted against Marriage Equality for the third time. Last month, the first gay couples married in England and Wales, and marriages in Scotland are expected to start taking place before the end of the year. Ireland, both Northern and the Republic of, is now the last major vestige of inequality left in Western Europe. The situation in Northern Ireland is disappointing, and there is more hope for us in the Republic. We have a referendum on marriage equality provisionally set for 2015, but as our neighbors have shown us, a popular vote isn't the way to extend civil liberties.
Around the world, marriage equality has come about in three major ways: popular ballot, court ruling or legislative action. Ireland is following the example of US states like Maryland, Washington and Maine, where the people were given the right to decide the liberties of their fellow citizens.
But where is the precedent for this? The civil rights of other minorities weren't put to a popular vote in those states because such an idea goes against the basic principles of democratic republics. Prejudice and hatred will never disappear completely, which is why we trust our elected officials to rise above personal feelings and act in the interest of everyone.
Every country that currently has marriage equality saw it come about either through legislative or judicial action. True, there was major support from the people for such moves, but the fact remains that it is the government's responsibility to ensure the rights of LGBT citizens.
Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny's decision to opt for a national referendum shows a lack of responsibility and leadership. That being said, he's given the Irish people the chance to shine.
Ireland has the great opportunity to show how much it values equality, how seriously it takes human and civil rights. The people's support is not just needed in an abstract way -- we're being called upon to actively engage in the extension of so central an institution as marriage.
A referendum on marriage equality may not be tasteful, but it holds a lot of power. Unlike our neighbors, we've been given the opportunity to prove our moral character. A victory for marriage equality next year will be a victory of all of Ireland, because it is being put to the vote.
Polls indicate a clear majority favors marriage equality, which seems to indicate that Kenny's referendum will succeed. But just because there's reason to be hopeful, doesn't mean that the way the government is going about this is correct.
This post was first published on The Outmost, Ireland's queer magazine for over 25 years.