In a historic event, Ireland legalized gay marriage by popular vote Saturday, after a referendum on the issue conducted Friday was met with a resounding “Yes.” The referendum’s positive outcome — with 62 percent of voters welcoming same-sex marriage — makes Ireland the first country ever to introduce marriage equality by way of a popular vote. Voter turnout was impressive, with over 60 percent of Ireland's 3.2 million eligible voters showing up to cast their ballot. The results have church leaders, in what was once a deeply conservative Catholic country, pondering the way forward. For others, what to do next seemed obvious: get married.
At least three marriage proposals had already taken place by Sunday, in the scanty hours since the referendum results were announced. Among the first pairs to capitalize on their new rights were Billie, 41, and Katie Stoica, 26, from Limerick. Just seconds after the tallies were announced, Billie dropped to one knee in the count center in Limerick’s University Sports Arena, and proposed to her long-term partner, according to The Irish Times. “Katie, we make a great team. I love you inside and out, head to toe. I don’t want to waste another minute of my life without you as my wife,” Billie said, in a moment that was captured on video. Bruno Mars’s “Just the Way You Are” was playing. Red petals were thrown. Katie, like much of Ireland, said “Yes.”
Billie (who did not disclose her last name) was born in Scotland but has lived in Limerick for the past 20 years, Irish Times reports, and had hinged her decision to propose on the outcome of the referendum. “I’d been planning this with my friends, but only for the past four days. I didn’t want to ask if it was going to be a No result, so I came today not knowing if I was going to be able to say it or not,” she told the newspaper. “But I bought the ring and my friends helped and it looks like it is going to be a Yes so I thought I would ask while I could.”
Buzzfeed reports that the couple have been together for more than six years, and are currently renovating the 180-year-old cottage they live in. Stoica, for her part, seemed stunned by the proposal: “I’m very overwhelmed right now and slightly mortified.” Her mother, Jacinta Stoica, was more eloquent on the significance of the moment. “I never thought this day would come. I am very happy for both of them and for everybody else as well,” she said.
The scene of joy, and perhaps some relief, was being enacted elsewhere across the country. Senator Katherine Zappone proposed to her partner Ann-Louise Gilligan in spectacular fashion, live on RTÉ (Ireland’s national TV and radio network). At the time, Zappone was at the atmospheric setting of Dublin Castle, speaking live about the strong “Yes” vote indicated by initial tallies, according to The Irish Independent. The couple had already been married in Canada, but their marriage went unrecognized in Ireland — something they had been battling in court since 2004. Gilligan’s response was unambiguous. “I said Yes 12 years ago in Canada and now we are bringing the Yes home. Yes, Yes, Yes!” She said. “Today we are free! Yes, Yes, Yes!”
Another couple celebrating their freedom were Linda Cullen and partner Feargha Ni Bhroan, in the Irish capital of Dublin. Cullen told BBC that she had proposed on Sunday morning. The couple have 5-year-old twin daughters. “The big thing for us is that our family is now recognized fully as a family under our constitution,” Cullen said. The couple have been together for years, and were out even before decriminalization — which only came to Ireland in 1993. “It was quite a lonely, difficult place to be in the late eighties in Ireland if you were lesbian or gay,” Bhroan said. “And that whole situation has been turned on its head by this referendum. ... It’s like we keep pinching ourselves to say, Is this really real? Has this really happened?”
“This autumn, I will be able to say that Linda is my wife,” Bhroan continued. “And it just makes me incredibly happy.”
Images: Mashable; BBC News