For countries to make progressive changes toward equality and freedom, the government must lead its people. Though governments can be slow to follow the nation's mood at times (*cough* Civil Rights *cough* apartheid *cough*), at others it must be the trailblazer. Scotland stormed ahead of the rest of the Union and legalised it without so much of a second thought (or at least, so it seemed from across the border) and as the argument for change gathered momentum in England and Wales, parliament rode the crest of the wave. But just as we discovered in the election this month, just because there are a lot of very vocal proponents for a cause, if it came to a vote, it would be the silent majority who would be the deciding factor in the end. What we will probably never know is just how numerous this voiceless opposition actually was. Which is, I believe, a good thing. Because in five years time, the majority of their minds will probably have changed.
Progressive changes have been embraced by the Irish people in the recent past. But in the early half of the twentieth century, the Catholic Church had a "special position" within the state that gave it great influence over Ireland's laws. Homosexuality was outlawed, as was abortion, contraception and divorce. But in 1972, 85% of the people voted in a referendum to remove the Church's influence from politics and ever since, the freight train of progressive equality has ploughed ahead at full speed. However, while homosexuality was decriminalised in the UK in 1967, it took Ireland until 1993 to follow suit. The age of consent was equal from the outset (something the UK took over a decade to catch up with), but while we had 47 years to go from illegality to full legal equality, it would mean that Ireland will have only taken 22. If they vote 'Yes'. On the one hand that sounds great - a hyper-visible about turn in the space of a generation... But is that generation's voice the only one that we are currently hearing? Have the other generations actually changed their opinions at all? Or are we just not hearing what they really think? The proof will come in the result tomorrow.