Ireland marked an historic moment in its history last weekend with a resounding yes vote in the same-sex marriage referendum. 61% of those who voted agreed that equality should win the day and that same sex couples be allowed to get legally married and have the same legal status as heterosexual couples who’ve tied the knot.
Why was a referendum necessary?
The reason behind the referendum wasn’t completely clear from the outset in some quarters of the media. Ireland has a written constitution and any proposed amendment to this has to be voted on by the general public in order to be passed.
The constitution had stated that marriage was an act to join a man and a woman together and didn’t mention two people of the same sex.
In Scotland, England and Wales, no referendum was needed. It was simply a case of the law being changed and applied. Holding a referendum on the topic certainly created a lot of publicity and the outcome was closely followed by the media from all over the world.
What the ‘yes’ vote means
The yes vote means that a man and a man or woman and a woman can be legally married and be recognised as a family and be entitled to the same constitutional protection and legal status as what people see as traditional families, with a man being married to a woman.
Now the vote has passed, married gay people will have a constitutional standing that can only ever be taken away by holding another referendum and the no side prevailing. Whoever is in charge politically in Ireland will not be able to pass a bill through parliament to change or amend the result of the recent referendum.
How does the yes vote affect civil partnerships?
Since 2010, it has been possible for same-sex couples to enter into civil partnerships in Ireland which comes with its own legal status and certain levels of protection. However, this came into force because of a change in the law and any government has the right to amend this law again in the future if they so wished.
All existing civil partnerships will retain their status, but there will be no new civil partnerships. Couples will be free to choose to remain in their civil partnership or get married. If a same-sex couple in a civil partnership choose to get married, their civil partnership will then be dissolved and they will have the full range of constitutional rights the same as any other couple who’ve entered into marriage.
Will same-sex marriages be allowed to take place in churches?
The Marriage Bill 2015 states that priests or any other solemnisers will not be obliged to perform same-sex marriages.
Despite the change in Ireland’s constitution, there will be no pressure or obligation put on any church to perform gay and lesbian marriages. Whether they do or not, is a matter for them to decide.
Bringing Ireland into line with Great Britain
In many quarters, this change in Ireland’s constitution has been considered somewhat overdue. In England and Wales, same-sex couples have been legally allowed to marry since March 2014. In Scotland, the legislation was passed in December 2014. While Ireland voted yes in May 2015, it will still be a number of months before the change in constitution is officially confirmed and same-sex marriages are able to take place.
Which countries still don’t allow gay marriage?
While Ireland’s yes vote has rightly been seen as a major victory for equality, there are still some countries where same-sex couples don’t have the right to be married. Northern Ireland in particular is coming under intense scrutiny, because of its close proximity to Ireland.
As was the case with Ireland, there are a number of political and religious issues at play in Northern Ireland. As well as planned protests at home, there may be political pressure applied from other countries who want to see Northern Ireland stand up and embrace equality for all, like so many other neighbouring countries have in the past few years.
However, on the 27th April 2015 the Northern Ireland Assembly voted again on the recognition of same-sex marriage. The motion was defeated by 49 votes to 47.
Despite this recent vote, the issue looks like one that will run and run and stay in the media spotlight until something is done about it.
There’s also growing pressure in Australia for a change in the law to give gay and lesbian couples the opportunity to marry and have the same rights as other married couples. While there have been calls for a referendum, this has been ruled out as Australia doesn’t need to change its constitution. Any new law would need to be passed in parliament by its politicians.
In America, same-sex marriages are legal in 36 states, which means not everyone in the country can enjoy the same rights, depending on where they live.
There are a number of other countries throughout the world where same-sex marriages are currently not permitted or recognised in law. These include Germany, Italy and Russia.
Does the yes vote have any other implications?
As well as the issue of whether gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to marry, there has also been a lot of talk in Ireland regarding surrogacy and adoption.
At present, surrogacy is not covered by any laws in Ireland (although it will be in the future), so the yes vote has no impact on this issue whatsoever.
In cases of adoption, even before the referendum result was known, a bill was passed that meant adoption was open to same-sex couples as well as single people and married couples. The referendum verdict will have no impact on this new law.
Equality and human rights
The issue of human rights is a hot topic in the news at the moment and a country giving its citizens the same legal standing irrespective of their sexuality is one that continues to be debated all over the world.
There is bound to be a lot more press coverage on this topic in the coming months both nationally and internationally.
Here’s a quick overview of the article and the yes vote in the Irish marriage referendum.
- A referendum was necessary to change the country’s constitution
- Almost two thirds of people in Ireland voted yes
- The result has no impact on adoption law
- Northern Ireland is now under pressure to pass similar legislation recognising marriages between gay and lesbian couples
- Other countries such as Australia, Germany and Italy currently don’t recognise same-sex marriages
- Churches in Ireland are free to make up their own minds regarding whether they want to perform same-sex marriages. They are not legally obliged to do so.
We have a wealth of experience in dealing with co-habitation rights, civil partnerships and marriages in Scotland as well as child adoption.
If you live in Scotland and have any questions regarding a civil partnership or same-sex marriage, please get in touch with Fiona below for tailored legal advice.