The ‘Convention on the Constitution’ Committee that is meeting to recommend changes to the Irish Constitution has voted in favour of legalizing Gay Marriage in Ireland.
The Committee is comprised of 66 members of the Irish public, who were chosen by random, with 33 politicians from the various political parties and a chairman making up the 100 strong group. The Committee voted by a margin of 79 to 19 in favour of recommending the Constitution be changed to allow Gay Marriage. The Government is now obliged to have a Parliamentary debate on the subject within four months and to then set out a timescale for a Referendum.
The timing of this decision will certainly cause problems for Fine Gael. The main Party in Government is regarded as being more conservative than their rivals Fianna Fail and certainly more conservative than the left-wing Labour Party who are in Government coalition with Fine Gael. They are now faced with being perceived as the Party that quickly brought both the abortion issue and the Gay Marriage issue to the Irish public, many of whom would prefer to just leave these issues alone.
The decision to legislate for the X-Case on foot of the tragic death of Savita Halapanavar has put the abortion issue front and centre. Not all Fine Gael T.D’s (members of parliament) are at all happy with the proposed abortion legislation with many set to oppose the provision allowing for abortion in Ireland where there is a risk of suicide by the person seeking the abortion. Many Fine Gael T.D’s are concerned that this will amount to ‘abortion on demand’ and are not assuaged by the assurances that any such provision would be strictly policed.
By also putting the question of Gay Marriage to the Irish people there is a fear within Fine Gael that the Party may be seen to be acting too radically or liberally, and too quickly. Of course asking the question about Gay Marriage of the Irish citizenry does not automatically mean the Referendum will be passed. The Irish public has in the past demonstrated itself to be liberal in the opinion polls and conservative at the ballot box.
An example of his occurred in the 1995 Referendum to allow Divorce in Ireland. The measure was enacted by a margin of 50.28% to 49.73%, and this despite the fact that it looked as if the measure would easily pass in the opinion polls prior to the actual vote. A previous Referendum on the same subject in 1986 was rejected by the Irish people by 63% to 37%, thus preventing the introduction of divorce in the country and again when opinion polls indicated that the Referendum would be easily passed. (note 1)
Consequently those who are in favour of Gay Marriage in Ireland will certainly not be taking the result of any future Referendum for granted.
The Local and European elections that are due to be held in 2014 also complicate the matter for Fine Gael. They will certainly not want these mid-term elections to become a de-facto vote on their decision to hold a Referendum on Gay Marriage. They have enough to be concerned about with Fianna Fail surging in the opinion polls and their austerity policies attracting ever-increasing criticism.
The battle-lines are being drawn up already with the Labour Party delighted to have a policy that they can promote as one of their own. Party Leader Eamon Gilmore:
I believe myself that same-sex couples have the right to marry, I’m glad the Constitutional Convention has recommended that
It is possible that Fine Gael may delay any actual Referendum until the next term of Government, making it a General Election issue or they could reject the recommendation altogether which, for a somewhat conservative Party would be quite a radical move.