Friday was a huge day for Ireland, and frankly, for the world, as Ireland became the first country in the world to pass gay marriage rights via a popular vote. The “Yes” campaign did a fantastic job of registering young voters and getting their message of equality for all out there. And in the end, it was a landslide victory. The air in Dublin yesterday as the results from each constituency came in was absolutely electric. And when the referendum was declared officially passed at about 7pm last night, I think nearly all of Ireland united in one big cheer of sheer joy.
And this in a country where homosexuality was a crime until 1993. Utterly amazing. The times they are a changing, indeed.
Now, I am not gay and I am not married, yet as a human being, the results of this referendum were very, very important to me. I hated that I could not cast a vote. Only Irish citizens in Ireland are allowed to vote. I talked a bit about voting in a previous post, but I’ve learned more about my voting rights since then. As an EU citizen I am able to vote in European elections and in local elections here in Ireland, but not in referenda.
And honestly, though I desperately wanted to vote in the referendum, I understand why I couldn’t. I am not an Irish citizen. I live in Ireland and have for over two years but I do not know how long I will live here, so should I have a right to vote on something that will change the Irish Constitution? I don’t think so. And so, though it pained me to be on the sidelines, I understand not being able to vote.
As an American citizen and an Italian citizen, I do have the right to vote in both those countries even though I do not live there. Heck, I have NEVER lived in Italy but I still have a vote. Italy used to have the same rule as Ireland where you had to physically cast your vote in country even if you were living abroad. However, that was changed in 2001 when a law allowing Italian citizens living abroad to vote by postal ballot was instituted. And sure enough, whenever Italy holds an election, I get my ballot via special delivery post. But even though I have the right to vote in Italy I do not always exercise it. Sure, I could just tick a box or two on this ballot written in a language I don’t read or speak, but is that being a responsible citizen? I do not live in Italy. I do not know that I ever will. But nevertheless, I have been given a vote and I take that very seriously. I only vote in Italian elections in which I am well-informed and on which I have a strong opinion.
I am also still a registered voter in the US and I will always vote in those elections. As someone who has spent most of her life in the States and whose family is still there, I have a vested interest in the outcome of American elections. So you can bet that I remain an informed and active voter even though I no longer live there.
A vote is a right, but I also think it is a privilege and something to be taken very seriously. As I witnessed yesterday, something as simple as a vote can change the world. And that is a powerful thing.