One year ago, the Irish people approved by referendum an amendment to the Irish Constitution which states that “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with the law by two persons without distinction as to their sex”. The referendum passed by a majority of 62.07 percent with a turnout of 60.52 percent. Ireland thus became the first sovereign people in the world to choose marriage equality by popular vote.
Parliament can vote to change the constitution in the Slovak Republic, however, to change the constitution in Ireland, a Bill must be passed by both houses of parliament and submitted by referendum to the Irish people for decision. Thus the journey to marriage equality in Ireland involved the entire nation. In 2012, the Irish Parliament decided to establish a Convention on the Constitution of Ireland to consider constitutional change in several areas. Marriage equality was amongst the issues considered. Following a recommendation from the Convention, a Bill containing a proposal to change the Constitution to allow marriage to be contracted without distinction as to sex was passed by both houses of parliament and the referendum date set for May 22nd, 2015.
During the campaign, political parties, civil society organisations and people from all walks of Irish society participated in public discussion on the issue. Differences were debated and fears worked through as part of the democratic process. The importance of marriage and family was reaffirmed. Many families of all generations, friends, neighbours and businesses played a role signalling their support for equality to the nation.
Following the passage of the referendum, a Marriage Act was enacted in October 2015 and the legislation commenced on 16 November 2015. The first marriage of a same-sex couple took place on 17 November 2015. There were 22,025 marriages in Ireland in 2015 of which 91 were celebrated by same-sex couples. By 1 February 2016, a total of 140 marriages were registered and a further 304 marriage notifications submitted by same sex couples.
Coverage of the first weddings of same-sex couples in Ireland has shown how important it is for couples to finally have their relationships recognised as equal by our society and protected by the Constitution. Parents, grandparents, siblings, relatives and friends of LGBTI citizens have expressed their happiness that civil marriage, an important rite in Irish society, previously denied to their loved ones, has become accessible to all in our modern age.
One year on, the marriage equality referendum remains a source of pride for the nation. It reflects values of solidarity and inclusiveness. It also demonstrates an ambition for equality in line with the ideals contained in a proclamation signed by the leaders of the 1916 Rising, a key moment in Ireland’s path to independence. Written 100 years ago, the proclamation states that the Irish Republic “guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally”. Those principles are still relevant today.
Formal and legislative equality for LGBTI people in Ireland is an important achievement, however, more needs to be done to ensure that legislative changes are embedded in social attitudes. For this reason, Ireland’s Department (Ministry) of Justice and Equality will commence the development of a LGBTI inclusion strategy later this year. The aim is to foster the necessary changes in society so that being LGBTI is unremarkable and LGBTI people are valued throughout society.
Anne-Marie Callan is the Ambassador of Ireland to Slovakia
25. May 2016 at 20:43 | Anne-Marie Callan