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Ireland takes step toward gay marriage rights

Ireland's Constitutional Convention voted Sunday, with 79 percent in favor of extending marriage rights to same-sex couples. Next up will likely be a referendum.

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Ireland, a famously conservative country with a government dominated by the center-right, has taken a step toward legalizing same-sex marriage, following several other Catholic nations into what some say is belated equality – and others claim is murky legal and moral territory.

Ireland's Constitutional Convention, a body set up by the government to propose wide-ranging changes to Ireland's Constitution, voted Sunday, with 79 percent in favor of extending marriage rights to same sex couples.

Ireland's minister for justice and equality, Alan Shatter, issued a statement welcoming the vote and the "support expressed for the reform and modernization of our laws in relation to the parentage, guardianship, and upbringing of children."

The Constitutional Convention does not have the weight of law, but many feel it gives moral weight to the issue, effectively forcing the government to hold a referendum.

Any movement will not be swift: "I can't see a referendum coming for at least two years," says attorney Simon McGarr, citing the need for the executive to discuss the issue and then pass it to parliament before it is put to the people.

On the other hand, homosexuality remained officially illegal in Ireland until 1993. Conservative commentators point to the speed with which same-sex marriage has become an issue with some skepticism.

David Quinn of the Iona Institute, a multidenominational religious think tank, says the Constitutional Convention was only ever going to embrace same sex marriage.

"The outcome was 100 percent predictable," he says. "The public is being very heavily conditioned to be in favor of this, and the argument [being used] is highly emotive: we love each other, why can't we get married?' "

Mr. Quinn locates the rapidity of the shift in a consensus among the political elite seeking to distance itself from Ireland's often dark Catholic history.

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