Prime Minister Enda Kenny approved a gay marriage referendum at the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday. The Cabinet decided to hold the referendum before the summer of 2015.
The electorate will likely vote on same-sex marriage and other constitutional changes, including a change in the voting age to 17 in May 2015.
Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore said about the referendum in the Irish Times, “It is important that we win this referendum. It is an important issue and we know from referenda on social issues before that it is important to do some preparation before the referendum is held.”
The Labour party wants to hold the referendum late next year or early in 2015, but Fine Gael wants to focus on other issues facing the government, particularly job creation. Additionally, Fine Gael is concerned that a referendum could distract from local and European elections, which will be held next May. FG Mayo TD John O’Mahony told the Irish Independent, “I think we can’t afford to get side tracked.”
Justice Minister Alan Shatter, who brought the memo to the cabinet said that 2014 will be a “referendum-free” year due to the public’s fatigue with referendums. Recently there was a referendum about abortion and one dealing with the abolition of the Seanad (Senate), which failed.
He said, “Having been in the Dáil for many years, I can’t recall so many referenda taking place within such a short space of time on so many very important issues. It may well be the case that 2014 is a referendum-free year and that if further referendums take place, possibly they should be in 2015.”
Those in favor of delaying the referendum argue that waiting will allow Shatter to enact the Children and Family Bill, which addresses a range of issues about the guardianship of children, including guardianship by same-sex couples. The heads of the Bill are scheduled to be published by the end of December and are expected to be enacted in the middle of next year. Same-sex marriage supporters believe it is important that this legislation is passed before the referendum is held.
Last April the Constitutional Convention voted to recommend that the Constitution be changed to allow civil marriage and not just civil partnerships for same-sex couples. The convention submitted its report to the government in June and the government had four months to consider.