Gay couples of Ireland woke up Sunday in what felt like a nation reborn, with dreams of wedding plans dancing in their heads.
This new reality was sinking in after the Irish people voted with a surprisingly strong 62 percent "yes" to enshrine the right to gay marriage in the country's conservative 1937 constitution. Thousands of revelers of all sexual identities celebrated until dawn after the result was announced Saturday night.
The Justice Department confirmed Sunday it plans to draft a marriage bill this week that will permit those taking vows in civil ceremonies to choose either to be "husband and wife" or "spouses of each other." It will ensure that no church is required to perform a gay marriage.
Deputy Prime Minister Joan Burton said she expects the bill to become law by early July. Because existing law requires a minimum three-month notice for any civil marriages, the first gay weddings cannot happen until the fall.
For Sen. Katherine Zappone and Ann Louise Gilligan, their day has nearly come. Since 2003 they have fought for legal recognition of their Canadian marriage, suffering setbacks and delays as they sued the state all the way to the Supreme Court.
"For so long, I've been having to dig in my heels and say ... Well, we ARE married. I'm a married woman!" said Zappone, a Seattle native who settled with her Irish spouse in Dublin three decades ago.
"We are now entering a new Ireland," said Gilligan, a former nun.
Zappone, Ireland's first openly lesbian lawmaker, and Gilligan thrilled a crowd of thousands of rainbow flag-waving revelers Saturday at the results center at Dublin Castle with a playful promise to renew their vows. Zappone dramatically broke off from a live TV interview, stared directly into the camera, and asked Gilligan to marry her all over again.
"I said yes to Katherine 12 years ago at our marriage in Canada," Gilligan, nearby, shouted to the crowd. "And now we are bringing the 'yes' back home to Ireland, our country of Ireland! Yes, yes, yes!"
In a more sober mood Sunday, the couple reflected on their long road to social acceptance and the remaining wait to get officially hitched in Ireland, before Christmas they hope.
"There aren't that many moments in life where you are surrounded with an exuberance of joy. These are rare moments," said Gilligan, a former Loreto nun who left the order in her mid-20s to pursue social justice as a lay Catholic. She wasn't sure about her sexuality until Zappone entered their first theology class together at Boston College in 1981.
"The door opened, and this gorgeous woman came in," Gilligan recalled with a laugh. " I didn't know I was lesbian. I'm a late learner."