Ireland Wisely Rejects Efforts to Separate Family From Marriage

By Published on March 14, 2024

The resounding defeat of two separate constitutional amendments in Ireland last Friday that sought to redefine both the family and a woman’s role in it came as something of a surprise for a country that had only recently voted to legalize both same-sex marriage and abortion.

The “Family Amendment” would have expanded the constitutional definition of what defines a family away from marriage (“on which the family is founded”) and instead declare that family is based either “on marriage or on other durable relationships.”

Meanwhile, the “Care Amendment” sought to delete what supporters deemed archaic and sexist language. Voters were asked to approve the deletion of the statement, “Mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.” A “Yes” vote would have replaced that with a clause claiming support for “the provision of care by members of a family to one another.”

Despite polls suggesting majority support for both efforts, the ballot initiatives went down in flames by wide margins. Nearly 68 percent of Irish voters voted “No” on the redefinition of the family. Nearly 74 percent voted to reject the amendment redefining a mother’s role.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who championed both amendments, was candid in defeat.

“A Lot of People Got This Wrong”

“Clearly we got it wrong,” he admitted. “While the old adage is that success has many fathers and failure is an orphan, I think when you lose by this kind of margin, there are a lot of people who got this wrong, and I am certainly one of them.”

Analysts are attributing the losses to a wide range of factors — everything from low voter turnout to vague and confusing language in the amendments.

Could the Irish electorate be more socially conservative than originally thought?

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Ireland, like much of Europe, is experiencing a major demographic shift. With just over five million citizens, the Emerald Isle has gone from being nearly exclusively Catholic (94.9 percent in 1961) to a more eclectic society (69 percent Catholic in 2022). That’s still a strong majority, but the Catholic beliefs of sixty years ago are quite different than today’s.

The Catholic Church’s influence on Ireland’s founding principles may have survived this latest vote, but the electorate has shown a willingness to liberalize in recent decades. A constitutional right to divorce and remarry passed in 1995 and was further expanded in 2019. Same-sex marriage became law of the land in 2015. The legalization of abortion passed in 2018.

Ireland has previously thrived thanks to its strong Christian roots, which includes its acknowledgement that marriage and family are inexorably linked. It is an unquestionable fact of history that a Christian worldview played an instrumental role in the foundation of the country – which is but one more reason we’ll be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day this weekend. This annual worldwide day is set aside to remember the fifth-century British missionary who used creative methods to convert the men and women of Ireland to the faith.

St. Patrick’s Wisdom

Saint Patrick understood that the best way to win someone to his beliefs wasn’t by demonizing their current beliefs, but to take some of those traditions and adapt them. Maybe it was because he knew how to make the best of difficult situations. For example, the patron saint of Ireland capitalized on the Irish penchant to worship gods with fire and encouraged them to use bonfires to celebrate Christ’s resurrection at Easter.

Knowing that the sun was a popular Irish symbol, he superimposed it on the Christian cross, making it all the more attractive to hang in homes. That version is what’s become known as the “Celtic Cross” today. 

After six years in slavery in Ireland as a young man, Saint Patrick escaped, regrouped and eventually returned to the Emerald Isle, where he began his legendary missionary career. In just a few short years, he went from his world almost ending to changing the world one person at a time.

Progressives will likely keep up their campaigns to reimagine and redefine Ireland’s foundational principles. The country’s traditionalists would be wise to keep reminding its officials and people of its Christian foundation. Ireland was right to reject both constitutional amendments. History is to civilization what memory is to individuals. Lose your memory, and your life is filled with chaos, uncertainty, and confusion. The same happens to nations, particularly when it comes to the importance of marriage, family, and faith.

 

Jim Daly is president of Focus on the Family.

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