Confusion in Ireland as 'Marriage Equality' Referendum Approaches | Michael Kelly | CWR
Changes in ambiguous wording, tepid warnings from Catholic bishops, and deep concerns about children are part of the tense lead-up to May 22nd vote
Just two months before a May 22nd 'Marriage Equality' referendum, many commentators predict Ireland will become the first country in the world to insert a constitutional amendment permitting civil marriage between two people of the same gender.
A distinctive feature of Irish democracy has been frequent recourse to constitutional referendums. May’s referendum will be the 35th time voters have been asked to amend the constitution in less than 80 years. The origin of this state of affairs may partly be traced to the unhappy split in the 1920s over a treaty with Britain, which led to a civil war after it was narrowly passed by a parliamentary majority. Prime Minister Éamon de Valera, who framed the 1937 constitution, felt strongly that future decisions on fundamental questions required more than a simple parliamentary majority.
Opinion polls currently predict that 77% of voters will back the constitutional redefinition of marriage while 22% of people say they will vote ‘no’. However, opinion polls on constitutional questions are notoriously unreliable in Ireland.
In 2013, for example, a referendum on children’s rights – which enshrined individual rights for minors in the constitution and granted the state greater powers to intervene in families – was just narrowly passed. An opinion poll had said just 4% of voters would oppose the motion, on polling day a significant 42% of citizens decided to vote against the children’s rights amendment.
There’s also the fact that many of those saying they are inclined to vote in favor of same-sex marriage have reservations.
According to John Downing, a political commentator and former government adviser, much of the apparent support for same-sex marriage in opinion polls is soft and many voters are not entirely convinced.
Only 59% of those who said they will vote ‘yes’ said they strongly held that opinion. The other 18% were more tentative about their voting intention. The pollsters also asked further questions about matters related to the issue of gay marriage. One-third of those prepared to vote ‘yes’ said they had reservations about gay couples adopting children.
Those who said they would vote ‘yes’ were further asked if they had reservations about the concept of the same-sex marriage referendum. In this case, 42% said they had reservations about the idea of the referendum.
When the question is a simple yes/no on whether the voter intends to support same-sex marriage the results are strongly in favor of a ‘yes’. However, when a series of more detailed questions are put into the mix, this number falls eventually to 44%.
Confused wording, last-minute changes
The Government’s ‘yes’ campaign has also been criticized by legal experts after Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald was forced to make a last-minute change to the proposed wording after fears the move could inadvertently ban traditional marriage.