· Minister Frances Fitzgerald publishes wording of the proposed Thirty-Fourth Amendment of the Constitution on Marriage Equality

· Wording proposes to add new section to Constitution: ‘Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex’

· Referendum to be held in May 2015

21 January 2015

Frances Fitzgerald TD, Minister for Justice and Equality, has today announced the wording agreed by the Government for the constitutional amendment on Marriage Equality. The wording is contained in the Thirty-Fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015 which was today approved by Government and which will be published in the coming days.

Minister Fitzgerald said: “People will be asked to decide whether the following new wording should be added to the Constitution: ‘Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex'.”

The Government has decided that the Marriage Equality referendum will be held in May 2015.

Minister Fitzgerald also confirmed that the Government is separately preparing an Implementation Bill which will address the changes to legislation that will be needed if the referendum is carried.

This will include changes to the Civil Registration Acts to remove the impediments preventing same-sex couples from being able to marry. The Minister will bring the General Scheme of the Implementation Bill to Government in February.

The Minister stated: “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.”

“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. I would encourage everyone entitled to vote in these referendums to participate fully in our democracy by ensuring that they are registered to vote and to go to the polls in May.”

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Note for editors:

The Thirty-Fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015 to be published by the end of the week will include the wording of the proposed amendment of the Constitution that will be put to the people in a referendum in May 2015.

The wording is as follows: ‘Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex'.

The constitutional amendment will involve the insertion of an extra section into Article 41 of the Constitution. The section will be Article 41.4 and will come at the end of the provisions on marriage of that Article. No change is proposed to the existing constitutional provisions on marriage.

If the wording is approved by the people, the establishment of the right of two persons to marry without distinction as to their sex implies a corresponding obligation and requirement on the state to respect and vindicate that right in its legislation. Therefore, it would not be open to the state to maintain in being legislation which prohibits the marriage of same-sex couples.

Explanatory notes on wording:

The word “contracted” has been chosen as it is the word already used in Article 41 in relation to marriage.

The phrase “without distinction as to their sex” reflects language already used in Article 16 of the Constitution. The phrase is intended to make marriage available to same-sex couples and to opposite sex couples, so that being a same-sex couple would not be an impediment to marriage.

The phrase “in accordance with law” has been included in order to retain the current system whereby marriage continues to be regulated by legislation and by common law, for instance provisions relating to notice, consent to marriage and registration.

Timeline:

1. The Referendum Bill will be published this week.

2. The Referendum Commission will be established next week by the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government.

3. The Dáil will commence consideration of the Referendum Bill in the next fortnight, following which the Referendum Commission will be able to begin its work.

4. The Minister will bring the General Scheme of the Implementation Bill to Government in February, which will outline the changes needed to primary legislation. This will include:

- Removing the existing impediments which prevent same-sex couples from marrying;

- Addressing the situation of civil partnership;

- And updating the terminology of existing legislation to reflect the new provision.

The General Scheme of the Implementation Bill will be published next month.