Ireland’s overwhelming vote to approve same-sex marriage represents an undeniable social revolution. Ireland, which only voted to legalize divorce by a razor-thin margin in 1995, is the first country in the world to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote.

Up until 1993 homosexuality was a crime in Ireland. Thirty years later a majority of the population have voted to allow people in same-gender relationships to be legally married in the eyes of the State.

Opposition to the move to legalize gay marriage in Ireland came predominantly from a predictable source:

On the gay marriage question, leaders of the country’s predominant faith, Roman Catholicism, have led the opposition.

Ahead of polling day on 22 May a series of Catholic bishops issued open letters to their congregations outlining their concerns about gay marriage and why the Church would not support the reform.

Eamon Martin, the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, even warned that, if the vote was passed, the Catholic hierarchy might reconsider its position on whether priests would continue to solemnise the civil aspect of a marriage.

It seems the church has been determined to locate itself on the wrong side of history.

But this morning, even the Archbishop of Dublin has woken up calling the church to take a “reality check:”

Diarmuid Martin, the archbishop of Dublin, told RTE, the Irish national broadcaster: “We have to stop and have a reality check, not move into denial of the realities.”

The church is clearly out of step with prevailing public opinion in Ireland:

David Quinn, leader of the Catholic think tank Iona Institute, said he was troubled by the fact that no political party and only a half-dozen politicians backed the “no” cause.

“The fact that no political party supported them must be a concern from a democratic point of view,” he said.

Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin, a Cork politician whose opposition party is traditionally closest to the Catholic Church, said he couldn’t in good conscience back the anti-gay marriage side.

“It’s simply wrong in the 21st century to oppress people because of their sexuality,” he said.

There are no doubt times when it is important for the church to be out of step with prevailing public opinion. Is this one of those times?

Canada legalized same-sex marriage ten years ago with the enactment of the Civil Marriage Act which provides a gender-neutral definition of marriage. As far as I can determine, in the intervening decade, the sky has yet to fall. People are still getting married, still celebrating fiftieth wedding anniversaries, and sadly still divorcing at an alarming rate with four in ten first time marriages ending in divorce.

The move to legalize same-sex marriage has not redefined marriage. It has simply acknowledged a redefinition that has already taken place. The “reality check” the church needs to take away from Ireland today is to question our understanding of how language works. The fact is that the meaning of words is not fixed for all eternity.

We may not like the fact that “marriage” for many people no longer means “one man and one woman for life.” But that is the reality many people live today.

It is difficult to know what grievous harm will befall Ireland in the light of the country’s clear choice to affirm the full equality of gay couples in their country. But the harm to the church’s credibility, as once again it is forced to drag itself into line with a social shift towards treating people in a more humane and respectful manner, is fairly clear.