Government to back the 2015 same-sex marriage referendum

A referendum on the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Ireland will take place in 2015 Photo courtesy of Carlos Melia via Flickr

A referendum on the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Ireland will take place in 2015 Photo courtesy of Carlos Melia via Flickr

Recent polls in Ireland suggest that 75% of the population are in favour of legalising same-sex marriage. Colin Layde looks at the reaction to the Government’s announcement that a referendum will be held  on the issue in 2015

The Government’s announcement that it intends to hold a referendum on legalising same-sex marriages in 2015 comes just two decades after Ireland decriminalised homosexuality.

News of the referendum follows the Constitutional Convention’s overwhelming vote in favour of granting same-sex couples equal rights to civil marriage.

It was also announced that the cabinet will seek to reform family law, to ensure gay and lesbian headed families are afforded equal legal protection.

The Government has indicated it will support the amendment and actively campaign for it when the time comes. Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore have both voiced their support for the proposals, with the Tánaiste saying it would be “important to win the referendum”.

The announcement comes just three years after Ireland introduced civil partnerships for same-sex couples. So far 1,500 Irish couples have secured civil partnerships, with Dublin 8 having the highest concentration of civil partnerships in Ireland.

Tiernan Brady, director of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN), believes that the decision has only been made possible by the persistent campaigning of gay rights activists.

“Its fantastic news the Government has responded to the resounding decision of the Constitutional Convention. This is not a snap decision, this is a decision that has been based on 10 or 15 years of debate and campaigning”.

Mr Brady believes that the success of the introduction of civil partnerships has been instrumental in the Government’s decision to grant same-sex couples full access to marriage.

“The Civil Partnership Bill was a massive advance; it was the first time that there was any legal recognition of gay and lesbian relationships. It has been so successful that it has pushed the issue of marriage to the forefront much quicker.”

Initial opinion polls indicate that over three quarters of the Irish electorate support the introduction of gay marriage. Should same-sex couples be granted equal access to marriage in 2015, it will mark another huge advance for gay rights in Ireland.

Homosexuality was not decriminalised in Ireland until 1993, largely as a result of the efforts of Senator David Norris. The law was repealed after Senator Norris challenged the legality of the criminalisation of homosexuality at the European Court of Human Rights. He was successful and the law was later repealed.

Mr Brady says that the treatment of gay and lesbians has been an incredible “Irish success story”.

“It’s a phenomenal change, for most young people it’s even hard to consider that decriminalisation only happened in 1993. It’s been 20 years of amazing success, with decriminalisation, followed by equal status, civil partnerships and now marriage and family law reform.”

Despite the progress, there remains a distinct lack of gay and lesbians in political life. Mr Brady is running for the Fianna Fáil nomination in Dublin for the forthcoming European elections. He believes that it’s important that there are more openly gay politicians.

“Visibility of gay and lesbian people at every level of society is a critical component of changing people’s attitudes, whether its visibility in the community, workplace or politics. It sends a powerful message that gay and lesbian people are full members of society and running for office should be the most natural thing in the world”.

Despite the huge strides made in the area of gay and lesbian rights, Mr Brady and organisations including GLEN are aware of the discrimination many Irish gay and lesbians still encounter.

“Changing the law doesn’t mean that the daily experience of people improves automatically. We still know the number one group of people most likely to be bullied at school are young gays and lesbians.”


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