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Religious Tolerance logo

Same-sex marriage (SSM) in Ireland

Outline map of Ireland 1

Introduction and overview of the successful
battle to make marriage available to
same-sex couples in Ireland

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Two brides Same-sex marriage (SSM) in Ireland and other large English-speaking countries:

By the end of 2014, same-sex couples in 19 countries could obtain marriage licenses and marry. This included most of the large English speaking countries: Canada, England, New Zealand, Scotland, and Wales. In the United States, they could marry in 37 states, the District of Columbia, and within many Native reservations. During late 2015-JUN or early 2015-JUL, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling in the case Obergefell v. Hodges. Many observers predict that the High Court's decision will make marriage available across the remaining 13 U.S. states and the five territories.

At that time, the holdouts were three countries, all democracies, where the public is strongly in favor of same-sex marriage: Australia, Ireland, and Northern Ireland. Marriage equality appears inevitable there, within the next few years.

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About Ireland:

Ireland and Northern Ireland co-habit the same island, as is shown on the above map. Their island is located to the west of England and Scotland.

The predominate religion in both Northern Ireland and Ireland is Roman Catholicism whose hierarchy is totally opposed to marriage equality. They have stated that same-sex marriage would attempt to treat two different concepts -- opposite-sex marriage and same-sex marriage -- as equals even though the Church considers them very different.

Fortunately for the LGBT community, and the future of their civil rights, the authority of the Catholic Church in both countries has been severely weakened by the discovery of a horrendous tragedy among the Church membership. High levels of teen sexual abuse by a small minority of priests was exposed. The subsequent failed attempt by the Church to cover-up the knowledge of that abuse became public knowledge. Partly as a result of this, public support for marriage equality in Ireland may well be the highest of any country in the world. There was a near consensus among commentators that same-sex marriage in Ireland was inevitable. It is supported, with various levels of enthusiasm, by all of the political parties.

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Religious identification in Ireland:

During 2005 and 2012, the Gallup International Association conducted massive studies of religion among 57 countries worldwide and produced a "Global Index of Religion and Atheism." 2,3 They asked the question:

"Irrespective of whether you attend a place of worship or not would you say you are a religious person, not a religious person, or a convinced atheist?"

During the six years between 2005 and 2011, the polling agency found that the percentage of the adult Irish population who considered themselves a religious person dropped by an amazing 22 percentage points from 69% to 47%, and became a minority! Globally, people who claim to be religious dropped by only 9 percentage points. Vietnam was the only country with a drop greater than 22 percentage points. The margin of error in these surveys was ±3 to ±5 percentage points.

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Four major marriage milestones have occurred recently in Ireland:

  • In 2012, a public opinion poll showed that 75% of adults said they would vote yes in a referendum to extend civil marriage to same-sex couples.

  • In 2013, a Convention on the Constitution of Ireland was held. It issued an instruction -- not a suggestion -- to the Irish Government to implement marriage equality.

  • Following the instruction of the Convention, the Government of Ireland scheduled a referendum on same-sex marriage for 2015-MAY-22.

  • The people of Ireland voted by a substantial margin on that day to allow same-sex couples to marry.

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Past speculation about the results of the referendum:

The referendum was unique in history. Although some states in the U.S. have held referenda on marriage equality, Ireland was the first country to do so. Also, the U.S. referenda were held on election day along with the general election for political offices. That meant that the public was heavily motivated to turn out to vote for candidates. In American referrendums, there was an excellent turnout of voters to voted for or against marriage equality.

However, with the exception of residents Carlow–Kilkenny constituency where a by-election will be held on the same day, Irish adults only voted on two referenda: one on same-sex marriage, and the other to lower the minimum age for candidates for President of Ireland from 35 to 21 years. Only those adults who are sufficiently motivated will turn out to vote. A large percentage of those opposed to equal rights for the LGBT community were expected to vote. It was impossible to predict what percentage of those who favor equality would bother to turn out. That percentage might have been low because making marriage available to same-sex couples would not have any direct effect on the lives of the vast majority of Irish voters.

Tiernan Brady, the policy director of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) in Ireland expressed concern that the referendum might fail, for two reasons:

  • With the very encouraging levels of support for same-sex marriage found in the polls, he is concerned that the pro-equality majority might take victory for granted and back off on their efforts.

  • The stakes are very high. Ireland has historically been a conservative country and deeply Catholic. If they attain marriage equality then it might give a boost to campaigns in other countries. This may attract money from conservative groups in the U.S. into the Irish "NO" campaign. If U.S. religious and social conservatives can stop the equality movement in Ireland, then it might have a major effect on other countries.

Brady said:

"Our belief is that there will be major U.S. money involved. This is a critical vote for them." 4

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2015-MAY-23: Results of the referendum:

The plebiscite was held on Friday, MAY-22. More than 3.2 million people were eligible to vote.

By 4:30 PM on MAY-23, the final vote count was completed. The website reported that the final tally was:

"1,201,607 [Yes] votes to 734,300 [No]. That’s 62.1 per cent yes to 37.9 per cent no – with a total turnout of 60.5 per cent. ... This historic referendum puts Ireland with 20 other countries that have legalized same sex marriage.

In excess of 70% of the residents of the city of Dublin voted in favor of marriage equality.

A total of 31 of Ireland's 32 counties voted to allow same-sex couples to marry.

Older teens and young adults in the 18 to 25 years-of-age may have been a determining factor in the results. They total about 400,000 in number and were very heavily in favor of marriage equality. Another influential group were emigrants, mostly now living in the UK and Europe. Some of them returned to Ireland so that they could vote. 5,6,7,8

The Irish Oireachtas (Parliament) will have to ratify the referendum vote before same-sex couples will be able to pick up their marriage licenses and marry.

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The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. The outline map of Ireland that we used in this section was supplied by See: Used by permission.
  2. The terms "Gallup" and "Gallup Poll" often refer to the Gallup Inc. polls, located in Washington, DC. The poll cited above is by Gallup International Association, which is unrelated to Gallup Inc.
  3. "Redc Opinion Poll, Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism - 2012," WIN-Gallup International, at:
  4. Niall O'Dowd, "Will Ireland vote for gay marriage? Historic vote coming up," Irish Voice, 2014-OCT-01, at:
  5. "Counting to start in Ireland's landmark referendum on marriage equality," The Guardian, 2015-MAY-23, at:
  6. "Ireland same-sex referendum set to approve gay marriage," BBC News, 2015-MAY-23 at 1 PM Irish time, at:
  7. Tresha Barrett, "Ireland Votes ‘Yes’ To Legalizing Same Sex Marriage In Historic Referendum," Inquisitr, 2015-MAY-23, at:
  8. Olivia B. Waxman, "20 Other Countries Where Same-Sex Marriage Is Legal Nationwide," Time magazine, 2015-MAY-23, at:

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Site navigation: Home page > Homosexuality > Same-sex marriage > SSM Menu > Ireland > here

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Copyright © 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2015-MAY-24
Latest update: 2015-MAY-24
Author: B.A. Robinson

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