The 22nd of May aims to be the day to hold the referendums on marriage and the age of Presidential candidates in the Republic of Ireland. The marriage referendum proposes to include a new clause in the constitution allowing two people to marry regardless of their sex. In turn, in the age of Presidential candidates’ election the proposal is to change the age at which citizens are eligible for election to the office of President from 35 to 21. The marriage referendum may signify the changing face of marriage in western society. The legal recognition of same sex marriage has already been reached in other EU member states such as France, Spain, Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
Civil partnerships are legal, since the Irish government enacted the Civil Partnership Act in 2010. The first ceremonies took place in early 2011 and have taken place in every county. The legalisation of same sex marriage may be seen as the next step for relationship equality. If the constitutional amendment is passed then it may permit children to have a legally recognised relationship with their parents as well as a biological one. Equally, it might boost the rights of same sex couples to social supports that can be needed in challenging financial situations whilst also changing the status of the home of civil partners to a ‘family home’ which promotes support for dependent children and partners.
The four biggest Irish political parties; Fine Gael, Labour, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin have publically called for a ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum. The umbrella group Yes Equality, which incorporates various groups promoting marriage equality, has coordinated with grassroots organisations that specialise in street demonstrations. These have appeared to be effective in cities such as Dublin through the allocation of ‘Yes’ campaign material. On the other side, the most prominent challengers to the ‘Yes’ campaign are the Iona Institute, a religious think-tank, and the Independent Senator Rónán Mullen. The Roman Catholic Church is in opposition to the ‘Yes’ campaign and, with its ability to mobilise parishes and circulate material, may play an important role in the campaign. Mothers and Fathers Matter, a group organised to challenge the recently passed Children and Family Relationships bill, is seen to be an important organisational actor for this side.
The proposed amendment is contained in the Thirty-Fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015, according to the Referendum Commission. The proposed amendment is to add “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex” to Article 41 of the Irish constitution. Essentially, it regards the extension of civil marriage rights – and any church may retain the right to marry whomever it wishes. Internationally, 17 countries as well as some US states have allowed same sex couples to marry through either their court systems or a parliamentary vote. However, if the referendum were to pass, the Republic of Ireland becomes the first country to approve a national referendum guaranteeing same sex marriage in its constitution.
The referendum has the possibility of equalising marriage regardless of sexuality and highlights the differences in society between traditional values and changing cultures. The referendum itself may highlight the increasing social acceptance of same-sex marriage in Ireland. The recent passing of the Children and Family Relationships bill is to allow civil partners and cohabiting couples who have resided together for three years to adopt.
These social changes can be seen further afield as well with the Supreme Court in the United States reportedly beginning to hear same-sex marriage cases and, if interpreted as a constitutional right, may legalise it across all 50 states. If the referendum were to pass, the Republic of Ireland may add its name to a growing list of countries and states where same-sex marriage is legal. The traditional concept of family is, increasingly, just one possible structure of familial life with the growing general acceptance and legality of different forms.
How may the legality of same sex marriage show the changing social values in the Republic of Ireland?