Understanding the Referendum

“Marriage may be contracted in accordance with the law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”Proposed amendment to Article 41 of the Constitution

This referendum is very straightforward. By voting in favour of the amendment on May 22nd, voters in Ireland will achieve two simple things:

  • We will eliminate all doubt that our Constitution does not provide for equal access to civil marriage.
  • We will empower the Government to introduce legislation to achieve this.

The vote is not about ‘changing’ marriage, it’s simply about giving more committed couples access to it – so that any two adults who want to get married will be able to do so on the same basis as every other loving couple.

If passed, Ireland will become the first country in the world to equalize access to marriage by a national public vote.

The referendum vote will not ask you to alter any existing marriages in any way and it will not affect the existing legal relationships between parents/guardians and their children, no matter what type of family you live in.

The Government has established a fully independent Referendum Commission to provide impartial advice to voters on the forthcoming vote. You can access all of their information at their website, which is available here.

Are you registered to vote?
In order to vote you’ll need to be registered. You can find out how to check to see if you’re on the register, and the simple steps you need to follow to register yourself, on our Get Registered page.

Homosexuality was decriminalised in Ireland in 1993 after a lengthy legal battle on the part of Senator David Norris and others including, at various stages, future presidents Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson.

Over time, Ireland moved to introduce an expanded number of legal protections for citizens in the area of non-discrimination and equality, including LGBT citizens.

The issue of partnership rights and marriage started to advance on the political agenda from the early 2000s, and gradually political parties began to adopt an official position either in support of equal marriage or in favour of civil partnership.

In 2004, two Irish citizens, Katherine Zappone and Ann Louise Gilligan, asked for a judicial review of a decision by the Revenue Commissioners to deny them treatment as a married couple (they had married in Canada in 2003). In 2006, a High Court judge, rejecting their claim, decided that the Constitution does not provide for equal marriage and so constitutional change effectively became the only option for those wishing to see their equal status vindicated. In Ireland, only a vote of the people may amend the Constitution.

The first concrete political commitment to legislate for partnership rights came in 2007 and civil partnership legislation was eventually passed by the Oireachtas in July 2010, coming into effect the following January. Although this legislation was recognised as a step forward, it critically lacked many key legal protections that married couples enjoy, and did not provide for simple, full constitutional equality.

In 2011, a fresh political commitment was made to put the issue of equal marriage to the Constitutional Convention; a citizen/politician forum established by the Government in 2012 to consider specific constitutional reforms.

When the Constitutional Convention considered the matter of equal marriage on April 13th and 14th 2013, delegates made some very specific recommendations:

  1. 79% voted in favour of constitutional change to recognise equal marriage.
  2. 78% voted that, in the event that such a referendum does go ahead, the text should contain mandatory wording to bind the Government to introduce enabling legislation (i.e. the Government “shall” legislate as opposed to the Government “may” legislate).
  3. 81% voted to urge the Government to “enact laws incorporating necessary changed arrangements in regard to the parentage, guardianship and upbringing of children” in lesbian and gay headed families. This is a separate process to the referendum on equal marriage and is one of the areas addressed in the Children and Family Relationships Act.

On the 5th November 2013, the Government responded to the Convention vote by committing to hold a referendum by mid 2015.

This was later clarified by An Taoiseach to be 22nd May 2015.

The Netherlands was the first country in the world to move to equal marriage in 2001. Since then, a further eighteen countries have followed, and some federal nations have seen equal marriage introduced in subregions of their countries, including the vast majority of US states.

In total, over 820,000,000 people live in countries or states with equal marriage. The following 19 countries have enacted legislation permitting equal marriage as of 2015:

The Netherlands (2001)

Belgium (2003)

Spain; Canada (2005)

South Africa (2006)

Norway; Sweden (2009)

Portugal; Iceland; Argentina (2010)

Denmark (2012)

France; Brazil; Uruguay; New Zealand (2013)

Finland; United Kingdom – England, Wales and Scotland (2014)

Luxembourg; Slovenia (2015)

In addition, the following states/territories of federal countries have also legalised equal marriage:

United States: Alabama*, Alaska, Arkansas*, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas*, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi*, Missouri*, Montana, Nebraska*, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas*, South Carolina, South Dakota*, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming and in 22 Native American Tribal Reservations.

*The granting of marriage licences in these states is either inconsistently applied or stayed entirely pending judicial proceedings.

Mexico: Federal District, Quintana Roo and Coahuila.

Israel recognises foreign same-sex marriages, but does not permit it domestically; and the Mexican Federal Government and the US Federal Government recognise the same-sex marriages carried out in their respective constituent states.