LGBT rights flags hang in the windows of a building in central Dublin as Ireland holds a referendum on gay marriage.

2015 Reuters

(Berlin) – The “yes” vote in Ireland’s referendum on May 22, 2015, will guarantee marriage equality and diminish discrimination against Ireland’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender citizens, Human Rights Watch said today 

It is predicted that up to two-thirds of voters voted to recognize the right to marry without distinction as to sex or sexual orientation, making Ireland the first country in the world to endorse marriage equality by popular vote, and to enshrine its protection in its constitution. This means that it cannot be removed except through another referendum. 

“The people of Ireland have expressed support for the fundamental right of same-sex couples to marry,”said Boris Dittrichlesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “The vote also indicates the majority of Ireland’s voters rejected the opposition’s fear-mongering tactics.” 

Dittrich initiated the debate on marriage equality as a member of the Dutch Parliament in 1994. After heated debates in parliament and in society at large, parliament approved same-sex marriage legislation in 2001, making the Netherlands the first country in the world to legally recognize same-sex marriage. No societal problems have emerged after marriage equality that can be attributed to same-sex couples having the right to marry. More than 70 peer-reviewed scholarly studies from around the world have concluded that children of gay or lesbian parents fare no worse than other children. And for LGBT children, growing up in an environment of non-discrimination and equality serves their best interest.

Other countries have followed suit. Same-sex marriage is now legal in the Netherlands, Luxembourg, BelgiumSpainCanadaSouth AfricaNorwaySwedenPortugalIcelandArgentinaDenmarkFranceBrazilUruguayNew Zealand, and the United Kingdom, as well as in parts of Mexico, and in 36 states and the District of Columbia in the United States. The US Supreme Court heard arguments on same-sex marriage in April 2015. 

Ireland introduced civil partnerships for same-sex couples in 2010, but the institution has fewer fundamental rights protections than marriage and is not protected by the constitution so can be altered or abolished by simple legislation. With marriage equality a constitutional right, LGBT couples and families will have equal protection.

But by making the right to marry subject to approval by referendum, it means recognition of a fundamental right of a minority was left to the whim of the majority, Human Rights Watch said. It has also meant that the personal lives of Ireland’s LBGT community have been subjected to extraordinary intrusion, scrutiny, and public debate for months simply to secure a right already enjoyed by the majority of those living in Ireland. 

“Enshrining marriage equality in the constitution lays an important bedrock for continuing LGBT rights improvements in Ireland,” Dittrich said. “The referendum outcome is positive, but the government should now promptly bring all of its laws and policies in line with international standards on sexual orientation and gender identity.” 

In March, Ireland’s parliament debated a gender recognition bill, the country’s first attempt to allow transgender people access to legal gender recognition. The bill contained flaws, including a mandate that married people who want to change their legal gender must first get a divorce. The government has published additional draft legislation to be enacted following successful passage of the marriage equality referendum. It includes a section outlining a proposed amendment to the Gender Recognition Bill to ensure that marital status will no longer be a barrier to recognition.