SAME-SEX couples are likely to
be able to marry in the Irish Republic as soon as the autumn, after
the government pledged to fast-track the enabling legislation
following last weekend's landslide vote in favour of the
On Saturday the Republic became
the first nation in the world to approve same-sex marriage by
popular vote. Voter turn-out, at 60.5 per cent, was among the
highest ever in a referendum since the founding of the State, much
of it attributed to young people, who travelled home from as far
away as Thailand, Australia, Africa, and the US specifically to
exercise their franchise. Social media is thought to have played a
key part in getting out the vote.
All but one of the 43
constituencies in the Republic voted strongly in favour of the
measure to insert into the Constitution the clause: "Marriage may
be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without
distinction as to their sex." In a two-to-one affirmation
nationwide (62 to 38 per cent), only the western Roscommon-South
Leitrim constituency bucked the trend, and that by only two per
The result also demonstrated
that on social and moral issues, the traditional urban-rural
divide, so obvious in past referendums on issues such as divorce
and abortion, has disappeared. As has the influence of the Roman
Catholic clergy, whose bishops had been a strong force in the no
campaign. Absent, also, was the bitterness between opposing sides
in the debate, although some no voters claimed to have been
intimidated into silence by the influence of the yes campaign.
Despite warnings from the Roman
Catholic Church of possible legal implications for those who might
refuse to solemnise a same-sex marriage on grounds of faith or
conscience, the Oireachtas (legislative body) has promised that
legislation will ensure no one is not obliged to do so.
Senator David Norris, a
prominent campaigner for the amendment, said: "There's been such
utter rubbish spouted. No Catholic priest is going to be forced to
marry gay people - although it wouldn't kill them to give a couple
a blessing. They're happy to bless bombs, pets, agricultural
implements. You'd think a blessing for two people who love each
other would be easier than blessing a couple of goldfish."
Reacting to the result, the RC
Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin, said that the Church must
ask itself whether it had alienated young people.
"I think really that the Church
needs to do a reality check, a reality check right across the board
- to look at the things it's doing well, to look at the areas where
we really have to start and say: 'Look, have we drifted away from
He said that he appreciated how
gay men and women felt. The vote reflected a social revolution that
the Church had perhaps not understood. "It's very clear that, if
this referendum is an affirmation of the views of young people,
then the Church has a huge task in front of it to find the language
to be able to talk to and to get its message across to young
people, not just on this issue but in general."
The Church of Ireland
Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Michael Jackson, attended the official
announcement of the ballot on Saturday in the grounds of Dublin
Castle, where 2000 people had gathered to celebrate the result. He
echoed Dr Martin's call for a reality check, and said it prompted a
debate on family in the "new civic space" that had been
He spoke of "the discussion
which will now have to be held, as a matter of some urgency, with
honesty, integrity, respect, and compassion around what constitutes
family. . .
"The urgency of this
conversation has been heralded already by politicians who
facilitated the discourse preceding the referendum. This provides
both an opportunity and a challenge to all Churches. It also chimes
with the words of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, which speak into the
situation of all of us, that the Church now has to engage in a
An official statement from the
Church of Ireland indicated that the referendum result would not
change its practice. "The Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of
Ireland wish to affirm that the people of the Republic of Ireland,
in deciding by referendum to alter the state's legal definition of
marriage, have, of course, acted fully within their rights.
"The Church of Ireland,
however, defines marriage as between a man and a woman, and the
result of this referendum does not alter this.
"The Church has often existed,
in history, with different views from those adopted by the state,
and has sought to live with both conviction and good relationships
with the civil authorities and communities in which it is set.
"Marriage services taking place
in a Church of Ireland church, or conducted by a minister of the
Church of Ireland may, in compliance with church teaching, liturgy
and canon law, continue to celebrate only marriage between a man
and a woman.
"We would now sincerely urge a
spirit of public generosity, both from those for whom the result of
the referendum represents triumph, and from those for whom it
Despite this statement, the C
of I House of Bishops is known to be divided. Two bishops, both
from the Republic, have come out strongly in favour of same-sex
marriage: the Bishop of Cork, Dr Paul Colton, and the Bishop of
Cashel, the Rt Revd Michael Burrows. All of the Northern bishops
are either opposed to the measure or have not made their views
Dr Richard O'Leary, of Faith in
Marriage Equality and Changing Attitude Ireland, the pro-gay
Anglican lobby group, said: "As people of faith, we are delighted
that so many other people of faith have voted yes to embrace their
gay and lesbian fellow citizens. We would like to thank those
prominent lay people of faith, the individual priests and nuns, and
the two Church of Ireland bishops who declared publicly for yes,
and so encouraged others to do likewise.
"Faith in Marriage Equality
would also like to again reassure those people of faith who voted
no that this vote for yes will not impact negatively on their lives
and we hope that they too will eventually be reconciled to this
positive social change."
Dr Richard O'Leary went on: "We
hope that the Catholic Bishops and Protestant Church leaders in
Northern Ireland will notice how many ordinary people of faith in
the Republic of Ireland have voted yes, and that they, too, might
be encouraged to support the extension of civil marriage equality
to same sex couples in Northern Ireland."
The Northern Ireland Assembly
dominated by the Democratic Unionist Party has so far blocked
attempts by Nationalist Sinn Féin to introduce similar legislation
in the Province on four occasions. DUP MLA Paul Givan is seeking to
bring forward a so-called conscience clause that would allow
businesses to refuse to provide services they believed could
compromise their religious beliefs.
The Irish government must now
tackle the implications of the new amendment to the constitution,
not least a form of wording to deal with civil solemnisers, and the
matter of surrogacy, currently unregulated, which may come before
the courts should a same-sex couple assert such a right.
The government is also looking
at the judgment given in the Ashers' Bakery case in the North (News, 22 May).
It is understood that a printing company, Beulah, in Drogheda, may
face a civil action for alleged discrimination in the Republic's
courts for declining to print wedding invitations for a gay
As the new reality in Ireland
dawns, another referendum has been flagged by Dr James Reilly, a
former health Minister and now Minister for Children, who is
calling for a change in the country's highly restrictive abortion
law to allow for the procedure in the case of foetal abnormalities
and possibly in cases of rape or incest.