London, 26 May 2015
On Friday 22 May 2015, Ireland voted 62.1% in favour of legalising same-sex marriage and is set to be the nineteenth country in the world to recognise an equal right to marry regardless of sexual orientation. The Equal Rights Trust strongly welcomes the ends, but issues caution on the means employed.
The majority support for same-sex marriage equality marks a great success for the Irish equal rights movement and, when considering that same-sex sexual conduct was a criminal offence until as late as 1993, Friday’s result also shows how much the country has changed.
However, at this time of celebration for the rights of same-sex couples in Ireland, it is important to be mindful about the best way to advance the equal rights of those in countries which have yet to legalise same-sex marriage.
In Ireland, the adoption of a constitutional definition of marriage which explicitly encompassed both different-sex and same-sex couples required an amendment to the Constitution. A political consensus had emerged that a referendum – a necessary prerequisite to amending the Constitution – should be held to guarantee marriage equality. As a matter of a principle, however, the fundamental human rights of a minority group should not be determined by the popular will of the majority. The Equal Rights Trust is of the firm view that the right of same-sex couples to marry should be recognised by the state regardless of the will of the majority.
Following the referendum result, Ireland will now draft a Bill allowing same-sex couples to marry, making their relationship eligible for the special protection provided for the institution of marriage under Article 41 of the Irish Constitution.
For an up to date overview of the legal status of same-sex marriage in other countries see Freedom to Marry.
For an historical reflection on the path towards marriage equality in Ireland, see “In Pursuit of Marriage Equality in Ireland: A Narrative and Theoretical Reflection” by Senator Katherine Zappone in Volume 10 of the Equal Rights Review.