An addendum was made to our referendum FAQ concerning adoption and surrogacy. Click the link below to view
Why should I vote yes? - Your Questions Answered
As it currently stands, lesbian and gay couples are discriminated against because they are denied access to civil marriage. A yes vote in the marriage equality referendum would end that discrimination.
Why is Amnesty International campaigning for a Yes vote?
For decades, Amnesty International has been campaigning against the violence and discrimination so frequently endured by LGBTI around the world. This discrimination is often reflected in how states deny LGBTI people many basic rights other people take for granted. One key example is access to civil marriage. Amnesty International opposes discrimination in civil marriage laws on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and calls on states to recognise families of choice.
In 2007 the members of Amnesty International globally voted to oppose discrimination in civil marriage laws on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Our members here in Ireland voted in 2008 to campaign on this in Ireland.
Since then, Amnesty International has encouraged the Irish Government to ensure that people are not denied the right to civil marriage on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Is this a human rights issue?
Yes. As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says, “all people are born free and equal in dignity and rights”.
People have a right to be free from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity in the enjoyment of their human rights - including their right to marry and found a family. If a state recognises, protects and values loving, intimate, committed relationships in its laws, it should not deny this recognition and protection to some just because of their sexual orientation.
There is no objective justification for denying access to civil marriage to same sex couples. It serves no legitimate social purpose or national interest. Allowing lesbian and gay people to get married will have no detrimental effect on anyone else’s marriage. Therefore to deny them the right to civil marriage is discrimination.
Denial of an equal right to civil marriage also stigmatises those lesbian and gay relationships in ways that can fuel other prejudice and discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. So it is a wider human rights issue.
Why do people object to marriage equality then?
Arguments against marriage equality are often grounded in negative attitudes and beliefs around sexual orientation and gender identity. Sometimes this stems from lack of awareness and information. Sometimes these are prejudices more deeply entrenched. Provision for an equal right to civil marriage can help combat wider prejudices and discrimination.
What does international human rights law actually say?
Article 2 of the UDHR and Article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights provide the right to be free from discrimination in the enjoyment of human rights. Article 26 of the ICCPR provides for equal protection of everyone before the law. For over a decade sexual orientation has been considered a prohibited ground of discrimination under international human rights law. So any less favourable treatment on this ground must be fully justified by reference to a pressing social need.
The right to marry and found a family contained Article 16 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in Article 23 of the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) is one such right. While being phrased in “men and women” terms did limit that right to opposite-sex couples, these articles should be viewed through the lens of today’s norms and values - not those applying half a century ago. Now that sexual orientation and gender identity are prohibited grounds of discrimination under international law, the right to marry should be interpreted in that light.
The European Court of Human Rights stated in 2010 that similar wording in the right to marry in the European Convention on Human Rights is today no longer limited in all circumstances to opposite-sex couples. While it still has not decided that states are required to allow same-sex couples to marry, on the basis that the majority have not yet provided for marriage equality, it seems to be moving in that direction.
The more states that permit marriage equality, the firmer a human right it will become. This is how human rights law evolves. Ireland can help lead from the front in this march to full equality if the Irish people vote ‘Yes’.
Why are we having a referendum on this issue now?
The Government has said the Constitution does not allow it to legislate for marriage equality for same-sex couples. Rather than commit to a referendum, this current Government (in its 2011 Programme for Government) said it would put this question to a Constitutional Convention (comprising 33 politicians, 66 members of the public and 1 independent chair). The Constitutional Convention debated the issue in 2013. There were 1,000 submissions from the public and civil society organisations (including Amnesty international), three quarters in favour of marriage equality. The Convention voted overwhelmingly (79%) to ask the Government to amend the Constitution to provide for marriage equality. The Government accepted the Convention’s recommendation and will hold the referendum on 22 May 2015.
The polls show that most people will vote yes. Is a yes vote certain?
A March 2015 Paddy Power/Red C public opinion poll showed 78% support for marriage equality (81% of women and 72% of men). 22% said they would vote no. Only 3% were undecided.
Nothing is certain though. Those in the “no” group may be more motivated to turn up and vote. The secure “yes” group (i.e. those with no reservations about same-sex couples adopting or about same-sex relationships) is currently 60% (an increase from previous polls though). Also, on the “yes” side, people aged 18 to 24 years show highest support, with support declining as the age of those polled increases. So getting “yes” supporters, especially young people, motivated to actually turn up and vote is crucial. Also important is continuing to challenge misrepresentations and misdirection about adoption, so we can build the confidence of the less firm “yes” vote.
Amnesty International and our partners are working to ensure that the good will reflected in the polls translates into a massive turnout and strong yes vote at the ballot boxes on 22 May, when the only poll that truly matters will occur.
It is likely that turnout will determine the outcome of this referendum. If the turnout is below 45%, it is likely that the referendum will fail. Motivating people to go and vote in the referendum is critical. Every vote will count.
How can people of the Roman Catholic or other faiths vote yes for something their church says is wrong?
This is not a battle of faith versus human rights. The two co-exist. The human rights framework protects people’s freedom of religion or belief - but says that that this cannot be allowed to erode the rights of others. The international human rights system was designed to place this role of balancing competing rights and interests on the State, not on individuals. So people can vote for laws that respect everyone’s human rights while deciding they themselves will observe the different rules laid down by their particular faith.
Will churches be forced to marry gay and lesbian couples?
Civil marriage is different and distinct from religious marriage. Civil marriage is a state-recognised legal contract between spouses (via signing the civil marriage register) that establishes rights and obligations between them and towards any children they may have. A civil marriage takes place in a registry office or other non-church venue.
Religious marriage involves both a civil marriage and a religious ceremony - the religious ceremony happens first and is considered a religious vow recognised by the Church in question. This is followed by the signing of the civil marriage register to complete the legally binding part.
What is being voted on in this referendum is civil marriage equality- that is, access to civil marriage for for any two people, as will be provided for in civil law, regardless of their gender.
Therefore no religious institution would be forced to marry a lesbian or gay couple against their beliefs as religious marriage remains a separate process.
Should registrars be allowed to refuse to register civil marriage between same-sex couples on the basis of their conscientious objection on religious or moral grounds?
No, they should not be allowed to refuse as this would be discrimination. While freedom of religion or belief must always be weighed in the balance when a state is determining policy, it cannot be allowed to override the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. (The same principle applies to the general provision of civil marriage services, such as owners/operators of venues that provide for civil marriage ceremonies.)
How can this conscientious objection be a crime?
It is up to the state to decide when a criminal penalty should be attached to non-performance of statutory duties - human rights law simply requires that the penalty must serve a legitimate aim and be proportionate to that aim. Under the 2004 Civil Registration Act it is an offence for a registrar to refuse or fail to register a birth, death or marriage, or issue a form for same. There is no reason why refusing to register a marriage for a same-sex couple should be any less an offence than in the case of marriage registration for other couples. To make one less of an offence would be permitting discrimination in the exercise of state functions.
The 2010 Civil Partnership Act applies the same approach to a refusal to register a civil partnership.
Would marriage equality affect my marriage?
No. Allowing lesbian and gay people to get married will have no effect on anyone else’s marriage.
Why can’t same-sex couples be happy with equal access to civil partnership? What’s the difference?
Civil partnership is one form of state recognition of intimate relationships bringing many rights and obligations that marriage does. It is fine for those same-sex couples who prefer it. But it falls short of full equality for lesbian and gay couples. Only an equal right to civil marriage can deliver that.
There are many significant differences between civil partnership and marriage, such as in the areas of family law, and housing.
But even if all rights and entitlements flowing from partnership and marriage were equalised, the fact would remain that one form of state recognition of loving, committed relationships is denied to same-sex couples for no good reason. And that is discrimination.
How can I get involved?
Contact us and let us know you would like to join the campaign.
What about children, how will this referendum affect them?
This referendum will have an impact on the lives of children in Ireland, a positive one. If it passes it will mean that every child in Ireland, will be guaranteed that they are fully equal citizens regardless of the gender of the person they wish to marry, i.e. the gender of the person with whom they may go on to form adult, loving, committed, care-giving relationships when they grow up.
It will also mean that children who are LGBTI grow up knowing that they are equal before the law when it comes to civil marriage, but it can also mean that the Irish people value them, and their dreams and aspirations, in exactly the same way as we value their straight sisters, brothers and friends.
It is important that we set out how this referendum will not affect children, because it has been suggested that it will have adverse effects on children that it simply will not have. So, we can confidently say the following. It will absolutely not alter the current rules on adoption or surrogate births of children. It will not mean that children are denied their human right – conferred on them by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – to know and be cared for by their parents insofar as that is possible and in their best interests.
That is why all the leading children’s welfare and children’s rights charities have come out to call for a Yes vote. Organisations that work on the front line, every day, to protect children and defend their rights such as Barnardos, the ISPCC, the Children’s Rights Alliance, BelongTo, Foróige, Youth Work Ireland, , EPIC and many, many others have all joined the calls for a Yes vote. They know that this will be good for children and will not undermine their existing rights.
What about surrogacy though, will be referendum affect this issue if it is passed?
This referendum is about one thing, and one thing only. It is about allowing any two people, in accordance with the laws set out about civil marriage, to get married regardless of their gender. That’s it. No more nor no less. If it passes it will have no effect on surrogacy here in Ireland.
Mr Justice Kevin Cross, the Chair of the independent Referendum Commission, has made this very clear in the replies he has given to questions about this issue. He is the High Court Judge appointed to head the independent commission which has a legal obligation to ensure that the electorate have independent, expert advice on the impact of the referendum proposal. He is accountable to the courts, not the government, so is entirely independent.
He has said that whatever laws are introduced to regulate surrogacy, will “apply whatever the result of the referendum”. So this is an entirely separate matter that applies to opposite sex couples (or even single people) equally.
There are no laws in place in Ireland at the moment to regulate surrogacy. The government has said that it will bring in laws, and have indicated that it will ban commercial surrogacy and have already banned anonymous donation of sperm and eggs for the purposes of assisted human reproduction. But the referendum will have no effect on these laws or on any planned laws.
Some on the No side have said that the referendum, if passed, will grant same-sex couples a constitutional right to access surrogacy. This is untrue.
There is no right to surrogacy for opposite-sex married couples in Irish constitutional law. The right to marry and found a family in the Irish Constitution does not grant a right to fertility treatments such as IVF or surrogacy to married couples who are infertile now, and no such right will apply if the referendum passes and same-sex couples are allowed to marry.
But doesn’t the constitution grant married couples the right to found a family, which mean’s that same-sex couples would have a right to have children?
Some on the No side have said that the right to found a family means that there is a right to have children. This is untrue. There is no such right in the Irish Constitution. A family in Irish constitutional law is a married couple with or without children. Any two people who marry have founded a family the moment they marry, regardless of whether they intend to, or can, have children.
There is a right that flows from the Constitution to procreate. But this is a limited right, and limited to natural procreation only. So infertile married couples do not now have a right to have children, and neither will same-sex couples if the referendum passes.
What about adoption? Will the result of the referendum affect adoption law in Ireland? Will it give same-sex couples the right to adopt?
There is no right to adopt in Irish law, or in international law. No adult, of whatever gender or sexual orientation, has a right to adopt a child. Adoption is about children, and under Irish law (and international human rights law), decisions affecting the care and custody of children, including adoption, must be made based on the best interests of each individual child.
The Irish people already decided that, when they voted to enshrine that principle in our Constitution in the Children’s Rights Referendum two years ago. So, regardless of whether or not the marriage equality referendum is passed, that will continue to be the case.
Geoffrey Shannon, the independent Chair of the Adoption Authority, has confirmed that the result of the marriage equality referendum will have no impact on the Irish adoption process.
He has explained that no one has a right to a child, but rather that a child has a right to a family, and that decisions on what family should adopt a child are made in the best interests of that child, and not on the gender or sexual orientation of the adoptive parents.
He has explicitly stated that “Whether people vote yes or no, the adoption process is not going to change.”
It is already the case that LGBT non-married people can and do adopt children in Ireland. And since the passage into law of the Child and Family Relationships Act 2015, same-sex couples in civil partnerships can apply to jointly adopt a child. This will not change regardless of the outcome of the referendum.
Mr Justice Kevin Cross, the Chair of the independent Referendum Commission, has also made it clear that the outcome of the referendum will not affect adoption in Ireland, regardless of the result of the public vote.