Anyone looking for explanations for why Ireland voted overwhelmingly to legalize same-sex marriage needs to grasp one hardcore fact:
The reason that gay people will be allowed to marry in Ireland is that a majority of Irish citizens think gay people should be allowed to marry in Ireland.
This is not at all to cast asparagus on the legitimacy of gay marriage in those places on Earth where it has become legal by means other than a referendum. It is instead to stress the elementary point that this referendum was fair and open by all modern democratic standards and that the Irish electorate is as educated and sophisticated as any other polity you might care to name. Most Irish people in 2015 simply don't have a problem with gay marriage.
The reason to stress this is to do with this sort of shit from the Telegraph:
Whatever happened to Ireland? Its people used to be relied upon to reject social change – in previous referenda they have said no to liberalised divorce and abortion. But now, in the year of our Lord 2015, early returns indicate that the land of St. Patrick has said Yes to gay marriage. And it’s the first country in the entire world to do so by popular vote.
So what happened? First, foreigners spent a lot of money to get this passed. Both sides have accused each other of relying on outside cash, but nothing could really match the scale of that poured into a Yes vote. Second, the Irish were told that saying No might damage their economy. Third, almost the entire Irish political establishment rallied around the gay marriage issue: it enjoyed the backing of politicians in Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail. Finally, the press was biased. One election-eve study found that Irish papers had carried three times more Yes articles than No articles.
Yes. Those who run better political campaigns do indeed tend to win them. But again:
The Yes vote prevailed by 62 to 38 per cent with a large 60.5 per cent turnout.
That is about as decisive as it gets in a democracy. Chalking such a result up to about two thirds of Irish men and women being cowed by scare tactics is unpersuasive, and frankly obnoxious. I have been disgusted by the outcomes of previous Irish votes on divorce and abortion, but I never kidded myself that most Irish people secretly would have voted like I wanted except for some conspiracy.
But now we get to the fundamentally wrong point about the Irish vote that seems to be bubbling up a lot that is so deeply wrong:
It used to be that Irishness was defined by affection for the Catholic Church and resistance to European liberal trends. So stubborn was this identity that the country took longer than the rest of Western Europe to embrace secularism. But the paedophile revelations of the 1990s rightly rocked faith in the Church as an institution, while a series of recent scandals shook faith in its actual theology.
This is glib, and explains nothing. "England once had an empire, and then it didn't. The ramifications were enormous." Sure! But so what? Never mind that the tension between nationalism and Catholicism was always very raw, or that the Irish state always had a far more contentious relationship with the Vatican than is typically acknowledged.
To emphasise, the Yes vote was undoubtedly a reflection of growing tolerance towards gays and lesbians. But it was also a politically trendy, media backed, well financed howl of rage against Catholicism. How the Church survives this turn, is not clear. It'll require a lot of hard work and prayers.
No, it wasn't "trendy."
The Irish Catholic Church's monopoly over all forms of legitimate cultural expression in Ireland was always a historical anomaly, and was never as complete as it seemed.
The Yes vote was nothing more, nothing less, than the victory of Irish writers, artists, thinkers, workers, believers, citizens, and just plain folks working from the 1920s forward for a more humane and beautiful nation.