Aidan Johnson is a city councillor for Ward 1 in Hamilton.
Oscar Wilde said: "It is only the modern that ever becomes old-fashioned." His full name was Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde. He was an Irish republican and one of the most important writers of the late nineteenth century.
If Wilde had been alive last Friday, he would have been very happy to see the Irish vote on gay rights: 62 per cent of those who cast a ballot in the Republic of Ireland voted in favour of legalized same-sex unions. The Irish constitution now gets its 34th amendment – an explicit protection for gay marriage.
Of all parts of Ireland, Wilde's home city of Dublin had by far the densest concentration of pro-gay ballots. Wilde would approve.
Ireland is now the first country ever to create marriage equality by popular vote. It is arguably a dubious distinction. There is a precariousness to trusting human rights to referendums. But at least the Irish modern – gay rights – can now become reliably old-fashioned.
"You will always be fond of me," Wilde wrote. "I represent to you all the sins you never had the courage to commit."
He was half-right. The Irish loved Wilde when he was a young celebrity. But they disowned him in 1895. That year, Wilde was sentenced to two years of imprisonment and hard labour for the crime of gay sex. Jail broke him. Three years after his release, Wilde died a lonely, shame-ridden death.
Last week's vote was in part an apology for Ireland's role in that famous chapter in the story of homophobia.
"Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes," Wilde wrote. He was referring in part to the old Irish mistake of believing British lies about Irish racial inferiority. He was also thinking of the ethical flaws of Britain's colonial project. The Irish drew lessons from those mistakes. The result was rebellion against British tyranny, climaxing in the 1922 founding of the Irish Free State.
But the Free State became the more socially conservative Irish Republic in 1937. It made mistakes of its own. Among the worst was legal inequality for Irish women and gay men.
In the gay rights vote, the Irish applied lessons drawn from their errors. Specifically, they drew from the experience (mistake) of believing traditional Christian lies about sexuality, and from the even broader mistake (experience) of trusting blindly in the Church.
Wilde wrote: "Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead."
As a proud Irish-Canadian, and as a man married to a man, I had a deep emotional stake in the referendum. But I was not very aware of it until I read the results. Unexpectedly, I was overjoyed.
I had thought that I was over the fact that many of my fellow Irish Catholics see my bourgeois gay marriage as a sin. This was a mistake of self-observation (a sin by Wilde's standard). Good fortune let me learn of this error in a happy way – through my reaction to the vote. LGBT people and straight allies around the world shared my joy. It was a positive experience.
In some ways, it is a very small thing, what the 62 per cent of Irish voters did. They voted for change. But it made a big difference for those many people, of all sexual orientations, who have been traumatized by Irish homophobia. It is too late for Wilde. But it is not too late for Ireland and the Irish diaspora today.
"It is absurd to divide people into good and bad," Wilde wrote in one of his most moral statements. "People are either charming or tedious." In voting to enshrine same-sex union rights in their constitution, a national majority has shown traditional Irish charm to be its truth.
Wilde died a broken man. But he lives in Irish memory this spring.