Same-Sex Marriage - Why is Ireland holding a referendum?

Same-Sex Marriage - Why is Ireland holding a referendum?

In recent years the case for ensuring marriage equality regardless of sexuality has been building. Seventeen countries around the world in addition to some states in the US and Mexico have legalised same-sex marriage either through creating legislation or by interpretation of current laws by the courts. At present laws in both Finland and Slovenia are pending that will extend the right to a civil marriage to same-sex couples.


Ireland is the latest country to consider legalising same sex marriages, and will hold a referendum on the matter on 22 May. But why is a referendum necessary?

Today at Unlock the Law we look at the reasons Ireland is holding a referendum, and how this will change the law.

Why must Ireland hold a referendum?

Permitting same sex marriage would be a change to the Irish constitution. Under the Irish constitution the family is given a special status and awarded certain rights. Any amendment to the constitution must firstly be approved by the parliament and then put to the people of Ireland as a referendum. Following this procedure ensures that any change to the law would be legal in administrate law and would not be subject to challenge as an illegal amendment to the constitution.

Citizens will be asked if "marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex"

Who can vote in the referendum?

Only Irish citizens who are registered and living in Ireland may vote in the referendum.

What happens if there is a Yes vote?

There has been a lot of discussion and speculation over how exactly the law will change if there is a Yes vote in the referendum. The Referendum Commission has provided the following guidance on what will happen if the referendum is passed:

  • Two people of the opposite, or of the same sex will be able to marry each other.
  • Other detailed rules regarding who may marry under the law will continue to be set out in legislation.
  • The status of marriage under the constitution will not be changed.
  • Under the constitution, a marriage between two people of the same sex and a marriage between two people of the opposite sex will have the same status.
  • Both married couples of the same sex and married couples of the opposite sex will be recognised as a family and entitled to the Constitutional protections afforded to families.

The referendum will not redefine the meaning of marriage, only who can marry.

If the yes vote is passed the government will then have to legislate to implement the changes. At present, the Government has published a General Scheme of Marriage Bill 2015 which contains the general legal changes that the Government plans to introduce if the Marriage Referendum is passed. However, these changes are merely proposals and are not yet finalised.

UK Family Law Advice Guides

You can find more information in our family law guides & our constitutional law guides.

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