Belfast Telegraph

Ireland to vote in May on whether to allow same-sex marriage

Irish voters will decide in May whether to allow same-sex marriage, it has been confirmed.

The vote comes as Northern Ireland remains the only region in the UK to not allow same-sex marriage.

The wording of the proposed reform was agreed by government ministers at a special cabinet meeting with Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald saying voters were being given an option of removing impediments to marriage for gay people.

"The issue is one of equality, marriage equality. It is about removing the barriers which deny some couples the chance of marrying and of having relationships that are constitutionally protected," she said.

"The question is whether or not a new category of couples can have an equal right to marrying and to enjoying the protection of marriage afforded by the Constitution."

"Ultimately it is for the people of Ireland to decide. I hope we can have a constructive and respectful debate which will help to inform and engage citizens on this important issue."

If the proposal is passed it will be the 34th amendment to the Constitution.

It says: "Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex."

Gay people in Ireland can currently only enter into civil partnership rather than a full marriage commitment.

The announcement of the wording for the referendum comes after Health Minister Leo Varadkar became the first openly gay minister in an Irish Government.

In an RTE Radio interview on Sunday morning in which he discussed his sexuality, Mr Varadkar said he wanted it to be clear that he had no hidden agendas during the referendum campaign.

Gay rights campaigners hailed the announcement as historic.

Chair of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network Kieran Rose said the referendum was about moving a step closer to full inclusion for gay people in the Constitution.

"The referendum, if carried, will complete the remarkable 25-year journey to constitutional equality for lesbian and gay people in Ireland," he said.

Mark Kelly, director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, said the proposals were about removing the last roadblock to recognising in law the full equality and dignity of same sex couples.

"We have made great progress towards equality based on the generosity and fairness of the Irish people and we are confident that we can appeal to this sense of generosity and fairness once more," he said.

Grainne Healy, chair of the Marriage Equality group, said she hoped the campaign focuses on the value of marriage to everyone in Irish society and explains why marriage matters to lesbian and gay couples.

"Irish people rightly take constitutional change very seriously and our job over the next four months will be to engage in a national conversation with the citizens of Ireland to understand and assuage any concerns, and to encourage people to have their voices heard on the day," she said.

Ireland decriminalised homosexual acts in 1993 following a campaign spearheaded by Senator David Norris and backed by high profile figures including former presidents Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson.

Civil partnerships - weddings involving same-sex partners in front of a registrar office - have been taking place in Ireland since the start of 2011.

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