April 15, 2013 at 12:57 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Irish constitutional commission backs same-sex marriage

Brian Sheehan, Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, GLEN, Ireland, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) Director Brian Sheehan. (Photo courtesy of Brian Sheehan)

A commission charged with reforming the Irish constitution on Sunday overwhelmingly approved a recommendation to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Seventy-nine percent of the Constitutional Convention’s 100 members supported the recommendation to amend the country’s constitution on which they voted at the end of a two day meeting at a Dublin hotel. Eighty-one percent of them also recommended the government expand adoption and other rights to gay and lesbian couples and protections to their children that are not included under the country’s civil partnership law that took effect in 2011.

“We are delighted with today’s result at the Constitutional Convention on the issue of same-sex marriage,” Marriage Equality Director Moninne Griffith said in a statement. Her group worked with the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties to urge commission members to support the issue. “This proves that Ireland is ready for equality for same-sex couples and wants equal access to civil marriage for loving committed lesbian and gay couples.”

The Irish Catholic Bishops Conference, which argued against same-sex marriage alongside the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland and the Order of the Knights of Columbanus, criticized the vote.

“While the result of the Constitutional Convention is disappointing, only the people of Ireland can amend the constitution,” a spokesperson told the Irish Times. “The Catholic Church will continue to promote and seek protection for the uniqueness of marriage between a woman and a man, the nature of which best serves children and our society.”

The convention’s recommendation comes 20 years after the Irish government decriminalized homosexuality.

Ireland in 1996 began to grant asylum to refugees on grounds they suffered anti-gay persecution in their countries of origin. Laws that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment and public accommodation took effect in 1998 and 2000 respectively.

Ireland’s High Court in 2006 declined to hear the case of a lesbian couple who wanted the government to recognize their Canadian marriage. They subsequently appealed the ruling to the country’s Supreme Court.

Irish overwhelmingly back same-sex marriage

Recent polls show roughly 75 percent of the Irish people now support the extension of marriage rights to gays and lesbians.

GLEN Director Brian Sheehan noted to the Washington Blade during an interview from Dublin on Sunday a number of factors have contributed to this increased support. These include the decriminalization of homosexuality in the country, the Catholic Church’s diminished influence in Ireland over the last two decades, and former Irish President Mary McAleese and President Obama’s public support of same-sex marriage.

Sheehan also pointed out more than 1,000 couples have thus far taken advantage of Ireland’s civil partnership law. He noted newspapers across the country have featured what he described as “really positive stories” about these celebrations.

“The vision of lesbian and gay people has radically altered,” Sheehan told the Blade. “I’m not by any means trying to say that [the movement for LGBT rights is] over, but we have come a long way in a very, very short period of time.”

The convention approved the recommendation to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in the Irish constitution two days after the French Senate approved a bill that would allow gay and lesbian couples to tie the knot and adopt children.

Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Portugal are among the countries in which same-sex couples can legally marry. The British House of Commons in February approved a bill that would allow nuptials for gays and lesbians in England and Wales.

The Scottish Parliament is expected to consider a similar measure later this year.

The Irish government will announce within the next four months whether a same-sex marriage referendum will take place.

Sheehan said he expects it would occur next year.

“It is seen as the next step in a remarkable journey,” he said in response to the Blade’s question about how the Irish people feel about the potential same-sex marriage referendum. “Referendums in Ireland are complex for very many reasons and we may be in the position of having a referendum. But rather than a referendum to remove something, this is a referendum to enable something.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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