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Topics In the News
Irish Constitutional Convention Recommends Referendum on Marriage Equality
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 04/14/13
Last updated on: 04/14/13
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On April 14, 2013, Ireland's Constitutional Convention voted overwhelmingly in favor of authorizing a referendum to amend the Constitution to extend equal marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples. Some 79% of the members voted to recommend that the Constitution be amended, while 19% voted against the proposal.

Rudham Mac Cormac reports in the Irish Times that supporters cheered and wept when the result was announced. They hailed it as a landmark on the road towards equality for gay and lesbian couples and urged the government to act swiftly by calling a referendum. The Convention's recommendation will now be sent to the government, which has pledged to hold a debate in the Oireachtas, or parliament, within four months.

The Constitutional Convention met for the first time in December 2012. It was established to discuss proposed amendments to the Constitution of Ireland. It has 100 members: a chairman; 29 members of the Oireachtas; 4 representatives of Northern Ireland political parties; and 66 randomly selected citizens of Ireland. The Convention is mandated to consider eight specified issues, one of which is marriage equality, and may initiate more proposals if time permits.

The Convention voted that the referendum on marriage equality should be on a "directive" rather than a "permissive" amendment: i.e., "the State shall enact laws providing for same-sex marriage" not "the State may enact laws providing for same-sex marriage."

In addition, the Convention also recommended that the State pass laws "incorporating changed arrangements in regard to the parentage, guardianship and the upbringing of children."

Whereas most glbtq communities are opposed to subjecting equal rights issues to referenda, in the case of Ireland, where the Constitution may be amended only by means of a referendum and recent judicial rulings have interpreted the current Constitution as not permitting same-sex marriage, gay activist groups campaigned vigorously in favor of a Constitutional amendment. In opposition to a referendum on the issue is the Roman Catholic Church, which has in other jurisdictions frequently called for referenda on the issue.

Recent polls show that 75% of Irish voters are in favor of marriage equality.

More than 1000 submissions were made to the Convention regarding the issue of same-sex marriage. The vote followed a weekend of discussion on the topic at the Grand Hotel in Malahide, north Dublin, where members heard from legal experts as well as supporters and opponents of the proposal.

In a joint statement issued following the announcement of the vote, advocacy groups Marriage Equality, the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN), and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties welcomed the outcome as "an historic step."

"It is a major milestone on the remarkable journey to full constitutional protection for lesbian and gay people and families in Ireland," said GLEN director Brian Sheehan. "It builds on the extraordinary progress we have achieved over the last 20 years, and clearly demonstrates that Ireland is ready to take the next step to complete that remarkable journey."

In contrast, a spokesman for the Catholic Communications Office said, "While the result of the constitutional convention is disappointing, only the people of Ireland can amend the constitution. The Catholic church will continue to promote and seek protection for the uniqueness of marriage between a woman and a man, the nature of which best serves children and our society."

Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) Eamon Gilmore welcomed the result, saying he had always believed "that our laws reflect the past, not the future" on this issue. "It's not the role of the State to pass judgement on who a person falls in love with, or who they want to spend their life with," he said.

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said he welcomed the support expressed for "the reform and modernization" of laws in relation to parentage, guardianship, and upbringing of children.

"Essential work has been undertaken on the preparation of a new Family Relationships and Children's Bill to address these issues in relation to children and details of the bill will be published in the coming months," he said.

Ireland did not decriminalize homosexuality until 1993, but in the last two decades it has made steady progress in the struggle toward equal rights for all its citizens. In 2010, a civil unions bill, modeled on the U.K.'s civil partnership bill and sponsored by openly gay Senator David Norris, was finally passed. It grants to gay and lesbian couples nearly all of the rights and responsibilities of marriage except the right to adopt children.

Key to the success of the glbtq rights movement in Ireland has been the precipitous decline in influence of the Roman Catholic Church. The scandals involving the abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests and nuns weakened the moral authority of the Church and enabled politicians to work for social justice without worrying about political pushback from the Church.

The video below presents the announcement of the results of the consideration of same-sex marriage by the Constitutional Convention.

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