19th Mar 2018

Ireland hopes same-sex vote will inspire others

  • Yes posters in Dublin ahead of the marriage referendum (Photo: William Murphy)

Ireland is hoping that other EU countries will be inspired by its landmark referendum in favour of enshrining same-sex marriage in the country's constitution.

“I hope that Ireland and what we’ve done will trigger a response now in other countries towards taking a more open and more generous approach towards the gay community," Irish agriculture minister, Simon Coveney, told EUobserver.

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Coveney led the Yes campaign on behalf of the government.

Ireland, until recently heavily influenced by the Catholic Church, on 22 May became the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote.

Coveney said the referendum doesn’t mean Irish people aren’t still strong in their faith.

“I don’t see any contradiction between Catholicism and voting Yes. This isn’t about the sacrament of marriage in the eyes of the Church, this is about a civil right”.

He hopes that Ireland’s experience will give other EU administrations the confidence to leave important civil rights decisions up to their people in public votes.

“You can get a response that’s really positive,” he said.

At present, only 10 countries in the EU permit same-sex marriage: Belgium; Denmark; Finland; France; Luxembourg; the Netherlands; Portugal; Spain, Sweden; and the United Kingdom (excluding Northern Ireland).

Seven allow civil partnerships, but same-sex marriage campaigners say these aren’t the same as full marriage and degrade the gay community to a second-class status.

Ireland’s strong Yes vote (62%) prompted soul-searching in some countries, particularly in Germany, which was among the first EU states to legalise same-sex civil partnerships (but not marriage) in 2001.

“It will hopefully give countries like Germany and others confidence to actually ask people to make the decision on something as fundamental as this,” said Coveney.

In several EU member states - Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia - same-sex unions are not legally recognised.

It’s a ban which stems from negative attitudes to homosexuality.

In Poland, for instance, a recent survey found that only 22 percent of respondents thought that being gay is morally acceptable. Twenty six percent didn’t consider it to be a moral issue, while 44 percent said that it’s unacceptable.

Coveney doesn’t think the EU has a role in enforcing the Irish model, however.

“I’m a big believer in countries making their own decisions on very personal issues like this. Whereas I would like to see Ireland encouraging other countries to do as we’ve done, or at least to think about it and debate it, to force them to do it might be a step too far at the moment,” he said.

He noted that Irish citizens’ attitudes evolved just recently.

“I think that if this vote had been taken in Ireland 10 years ago it would have lost 70-30 thirty. Maybe even more”, he said.


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