Public vote is final hurdle for Irish marriage equality

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It appears inevitable Ireland will soon hold a public vote on whether to enact equal marriage. The call for a referendum to amend the country’s constitutional definition of marriage comes after an opinion group decisively voted on Sunday in favor of change. 

A constitutional convention debating marriage equality was held in Dublin on April 13 and 14, comprising of both lawmakers and Irish citizens. Almost four out of five attendees recommended that Ireland’s constitution ought to be amended to allow civil marriage for same-sex couples.

An immediate public vote is not expected, given that the government has four months to reflect on the convention’s recommendation. However, the result of this sample poll was resounding and legislators will have little excuse to delay. 

Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister, Eamon Gilmore, has previously said the “time has come” for equal marriage and that it was “the civil rights issue of this generation.” This type of support has filtered into more socially conservative political parties such as Fine Gael, whose Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, commented there was now a “reasonable prospect” of a referendum following the convention. 

It is anticipated that the government will bide its time in deciding the next course of action. Editor of Irish LGBT publication GCN, Brian Finnegan, believes that lawmakers will wait on a legal challenge from Katherine Zappone and Ann-Louise Gilligan, a couple whose Canadian marriage is not recognized in Ireland, before attempting to legislate. 

“The government will likely wait on this case before taking a decision,” said Finnegan.

He thinks that when a referendum occurs opponents will raise significant funding for a no campaign, including money from anti-gay campaigners in the US, in an effort to bridge the considerable lead for equal marriage supporters.

“I imagine there will be a heavily funded campaign to make the Irish people vote no,” Finnegan added. 

Civil partnerships became available for Irish same-sex couples in 2011, offering some of the benefits of marriage. Over one thousand partnerships have since been recorded.

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