Today Ireland will the only place in the world where the electorate will have a choice whether to enshrine marriage equality in its basic law. Voters will choose whether to vote in favour or not of the following proposed amendment to Article 41 of the Irish Constitution:
“Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”
Further details can be found on the Referendum Commission’s website. Details of legal opinion in favour of marriage equality can be found over at Human Rights in Ireland.
The Amendment has deep links to Canada. As Angela McConnell notes in her chapter in Defining Events (Manchester UP: 2015) the campaign for full marriage rights for same-sex couples by MarriagEquality has its roots in a 2004 case taken by Katherine Zappone and Ann Louise Gilligan. In 2004 Katherine and Ann Louise were married in Vancouver. They sought to have their marriage recognise by the Revenue Commissioners in Ireland to avail themselves of tax benefits accruing to married couples in Ireland. While the action was unsuccessful, the case (the KAL case, as it became known) drew attention to the inequality of treatment of same sex couples under Irish law.
Civil partnerships were made legal in Ireland in 2011. However as Fergus Ryan explains here there are significant differences between civil partnerships and marriage under the Irish Constitution, which specifically protects marriage as a the “natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society, and as a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights and superior to all positive law.”
The referendum has been unprecedented in how engaged people have become with the democracy. The organisation YES Equality has organised canvasses all over Ireland, with social class being reported as an influencing factor in how people will vote. Emigrants, mostly victims of the recent recession that hit Ireland’s young people particularly badly, do not have the right to vote if they have been away for more than one and a half years. I am one of those people. However, many of the 60,000 emigrants who left more recently are making the journey home from the UK, Canada and Australia).
One of the most striking aspects of the YES campaign has been its creativity: See here and the poignant Noble Call against homophobia by artist Panti Bliss in the Abbey Theatre last year. In April, a four story mural of a gay couple embracing went up in South Great Georges Street in Dublin city centre. This week the artist Joe Caslin unveiled a sister mural on the side of castle in Galway. The picture accompanies this post.
Anyone wishing to follow the referendum over the next few days should use the twitter handle #Marref.