Just over two decades after Ireland decriminalised homosexuality, the Irish government announced on 5 November that it will call a referendum on the issue of gay marriage in the first half of 2015.
The announcement follows lobbying from the deputy prime minister, Labour’s Eamon Gilmore, and has been given support by the Fine Gael prime minister Enda Kenny.
In April, constitutional amendments to allow gay marriage were overwhelmingly endorsed by the Constitutional Convention, a body established in 2012 compromising mostly of randomly-selected citizens and some politicians from both sides of the border.
The recent movement on gay marriage comes months after the government granted partial liberalisation of Ireland’s highly restrictive abortion laws, and four years after Ireland recognised legal rights for same sex couple for the first time in the civil partnerships bill in 2009.
This will be a further blow to the influence and prestige of the Catholic Church, which has suffered from the revelations over its handling of widespread abuse by priests and members of religious orders. The Church has announced that it will actively campaign against the changes.
Though the government has said that it will campaign for a yes vote in the referendum, there is disquiet in Fine Gael, with some rural TDs understood to be opposed to gay marriage. A wider layer of the party is worried about holding another referendum after the government was weakened by its failure in the vote to abolish Ireland’s second chamber, the Seanad.
The government has announced that in the run-up to the vote, it will prepare legislation on adoption and other measures.
According to a poll carried out by Marriage Equality, 75% of people would vote yes in a referendum to extend civil marriage to same-sex couples.