Today makes history: Ireland could soon become the first nation to pass marriage equality by popular vote

Ireland is probably not the country anyone was expecting to be in this position–they didn’t even legalize divorce until 1995. Still, today, May 22nd, the people of Ireland will be deciding through a referendum whether or not to recognize same-sex marriage equality under law. Right now, polls are showing that 78 percent of Irish citizens support granting marriage rights to same-sex partnerships, but there are some fears of a last-minute disappointment if the votes don’t turnout.

Lester Feder, an Irish correspondent for Buzzfeed writes: “After 20 years of fights in the U.S. and around the world, this is the first time LGBT rights activists have locked horns with conservatives in a battle for the direct support of an entire nation.” Ireland’s vote could have reverberations across Europe, where LGBT activists are trying to adopt marriage equality, while conservatives seek to constitutionally ban it.

19 Irish comedians supporting the #VoteWithUs campaign in favor of marriage equality released a funny video to urge Irish voters to pass the referendum. Comedian Aisling Bea explains: “We’re making this video in the hope people will back our battle for equality…”–only to be interrupted by fellow comedian Jason Byrne, interjecting “or filth.”

For some public figures, the issue did not come as a joke. Ursula Halligan, the political editor for Ireland’s TV3 news channel, came out as a lesbian amid the hateful ‘Vote No’ signs she saw on her way to work. She commented: “There have been times when I have even thought about death, of escaping from this world, of sleeping untouched by no-one forever. I have been so depressed, so sad and so confused. There seems to be no one I can turn to, not even God…I’ve never felt like this before, so empty, so meaningless, so utterly, utterly miserable.”

Halligan said that she was glad she had come out at 54, but wished that she had “broken out of [her] prison cell a long time ago.”

For everyone, a lot rides on this referendum in Europe. It has the potential to incite a wave of pro-LGBT equality across the entire region. Conversely, it has the potential to quiet one.

Many of us watching from the United States will be rooting for the referendum to pass, as we eagerly await our own country’s ruling over marriage equality currently set before the Supreme Court, at a time when a record-breaking 60 percent of us wish it will pass.