In a surprise move out of Ireland, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny announced that he is in support of same-sex marriage at a meeting with business leaders in Dublin last night. Enda Kenny, in recent months, had been dogged by the press and Tanaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) Eamon Gilmore to take a stand on the subject. In addition to supporting gay marriage, Kenny made clear that he and his government would support a national referendum legalizing the practice in Ireland, which he expects to be put to a vote by the middle of 2015. While it is very significant that the conservative Kenny would back marriage equality, it is a far bigger deal than people realize, considering Ireland's conservative attitudes and close relationship with the Roman Catholic Church. It also shows how conservative marriage actually is.
Ireland is a very conservative country, second only to Poland in the European Union in terms of conservative attitudes. This is especially the case on social issues: Abortion laws in Ireland are among the strictest in Europe, with the exemption allowing abortion when the mother's life is at risk only made legal in 2013 after extensive opposition and foot-dragging. The two major parties in the Dáil Eireann (Irish Parliament) of the last 50 years, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, are both conservative, with their differences being more toward Irish identity. Fine Gael, Enda Kenny's party, is the more conservative of the two, and maintains very close ties with Catholic Church.
While the issue of same-sex marriage will no doubt bring strife from within Kenny's own party, that the Taoiseach is even considering a referendum will bring it in direct conflict with the Catholic Church. While Pope Francis has been far more tolerant to the LGBT community, homosexuality is still considered a sin in Church canon. The Church remains an incredibly powerful force in Ireland, with the Archbishop of Armagh Seán Brady (no relation to the writer, especially given that accented a) being a leading figure in the country's social politics. This, in spite of the Church coming under severe fire in Ireland for covering up the endemic sex abuse of children throughout the country following several investigations in 2009.
Enda Kenny has a big fight to face with this national referendum. But if there is anyone the Taoiseach can rely to back his marriage equality agenda, it is neighboring Prime Minister David Cameron, who passed same-sex marriage early in 2013 in the UK. When asked about same-sex marriage, he concluded, "I don't support gay marriage in spite of being a conservative. I support gay marriage because I am a conservative." In a way, he is right: Marriage is, and has always been, a conservative institution, one built on commitment, trust, and property. There was a reason the left was so incredibly hostile to concept of same-sex marriage in the early years of the same-sex marriage movement, especially the gay left: Marriage is an institution of tradition. Kenny would be wise to follow Cameron's beliefs, and use it to legalize same-sex marriage in Éire.