Ireland: Same-sex marriage referendum is successful, but opponents will not disappear

The result is pretty clear for the Yes camp (62.07% : 37.93%), but what do you expect from the opponents in the future, e. g. Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin just said that the reality check needed for Church to connect with youth? Read few comments.

Kenneth McDonaghLecturer in International Relations, School of Law and Government, Dublin City University

On the result, it’s pretty much as the polls predicted (4 last weekend averaged at about 63% in favour), what wasn’t expected was that the Yes vote would win in almost every electoral region (42 out of 43 voted in favour) normally on social issues it is a contest between the urban (particularly Dublin) and rural with a much larger margin needed in the cities to offset conservative rural voters. That this vote was supported in places like Donegal and Cavan-Monaghan is truly remarkable.

That said, I think it may be more of a reflection of the particular issue and the campaigns than a fundamental change in the society. The Yes campaign did exceptionally well in conveying this as an issue of personal rights and essentially about love. Their campaign literature and spokespeople were excellent in telling their personal stories and they made sure to bring out the parents and grandparents of gay people as well as several prominent sports (the GAA) and media personalities (Gay Byrne, Daniel O’Donnell and Ursula Hannigan [the latter a prominent TV journalist who came out at the age of 54 during the course of the campaing]) that would appeal directly to more rural conservative voters. They also canvassed extensively and used social media to engage and mobilise younger, urban voters.
The no side on the other hand relied on abstract arguments and a number of claims that were even shot down by the independent Referendum commission. Essentially my view of their problem in the campaign was that they were motivated by religious views of homosexuality that they knew would only be shared by a minority of the population and therefore had to try other arguments to win more support. The campaign was led by a small number of groups closely linked to each other but interestingly at arms length from the Catholic Church itself. The same three or four spokes people represented the campaign throughout (particularly David Quinn and Ronan Mullen, and Paddy Manning and Keith Mills two gay men who joined the no campaign) and they lack any significant popular movement for door-to-door campaigning. That said they postered, leafleted and had a sponsored video on youtube that interrupted Irish viewers for the last week or so of the campaign racking up around 600,000 views as a result. Money did not appear to be an issue for the No campaign.

Given the margin of victory (62% yes) and the level of turnout (60% – extremely high for a standalone referendum), the no-campaign is unlikely to raise this issue again. The Catholic Church was relatively inactive in the campaign, there were letters read at masses but several priests and at least one nun also publicly advocated voting yes and apparently have done so without any sanction. However the next major social issue is likely to be around abortion. In 1983, Ireland inserted a provision to the constitution to guarantee the right to life of the unborn (Art, 40.3.3) as a result Ireland has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world. After several court cases working right the way up to the European Court of Human Rights, the current government legislated for abortion in very limited circumstances where the mother’s life was at risk. The debates (and dramatic events, including the tragic death of a pregnant woman Savita Halipanavar) around this legislation have sparked conversation on abortion with opinion polls showing support for abortion in other limited circumstances such as rape, incest and particularly, cases of fatal foetal abnormality. However the current governments view is that this would require a repeal of the 8th amendment (Art 40.3.3) and therefore requires a referendum. They have ruled this out in the lifetime of the current government (elections are due in April 2016 at the latest). If there is a proposal to repeal the 8th Amendment, I think that would be a truer test of the cont. influence of the Church. They would not sit on the sidelines of such a debate and I think there would be a return to the rural/urban faultlines of previous referendums – Abortion 2002 (defeated), Divorce 1995 (passed barely), Divorce 1985 (failed), Abortion 1983 (passed).

I suspect part of the reason for the muted Church involvement in the current campaign has been a sense that they, recognising their position in society has weakened over time, are choosing their battles. Similarly the No campaign would be able to mobilise significant resources from the global Pro-Life movement, particularly from the US.
In sum – very significant that the Yes vote carried country wide, but abortion would probably be a truer test of the balance between conservative and liberal forces in Ireland.

Lisa SmythLecturer in Sociology, Queen’s University Belfast

I  think this result is a huge challenge to the Catholic Church’s treatment of sexuality and gender, in Ireland and beyond. It’s difficult to see how it might recover legitimacy amongst Yes voters in the near future, since this will require a radical rethinking of the Church’s attitude to these questions.

Frank HägeLecturer in Politics, Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Limerick

They all seem to have accepted the outcome of the referendum as reflecting the will of the people. The Irish church didn’t play much of an active role in the campaign on the ‘no’ side anyway (at least not outside the churches); it was more socially conservative think tanks and lobby groups (especially the Iona Institute) that did the campaigning. I assume they will continue their lobbying efforts against other controversial reforms of policies that touch moral issues, especially fight against any liberalization of abortion legislation. The issue of surrogacy will be legislated in the near future as well (although no referendum will be required for that).

David Farrell, Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, University College Dublin, President, Political Studies Association of Ireland

He’s one of the more liberal of the Catholic bishops and so his reaction isn’t that surprising. The declining affiliation with the Catholic church has been evident for some time. This week’s result merely confirmed just how far Ireland has come down the modernisation road. But there are still significant road blocks, most obvious of all the ban on abortion. There will be a lot of reluctance among our political class to take on the might of the Catholic church on that issue any time soon.

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One Response

  1. Ireland just voted to protect the real meaning of marriage… and let everyone that loves someone have the option to get married.

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