Support for marriage equality

Mon, Apr 7, 2014, 01:00

Public support for the introduction of same-sex marriage continues to grow, according to the latest Irish Times /MRBI opinion poll, with three-quarters of the electorate now in favour. The Government parties would be unwise to take the outcome of a referendum for granted, however, as previous last-minute reverses left them with bloody noses. Committed, intensive campaigning offers the only guarantee of success. That was conspicuously absent on social-religious issues in the past when politicians declined to challenge their conservative supporters.

A referendum on same-sex marriage is due to be held before the summer of 2015. Some of the groundwork has been laid. As recommended by the Constitutional Convention, legislation on parentage and the guardianship of children has been circulated, in response to predictable concerns. Members of the Catholic hierarchy have made their opposition clear and, as on previous occasions, they are likely to mount a formidable challenge.

As might be expected, people who regarded themselves as “very religious” were most protective of orthodox teaching. Even there, however, a small majority now favour the extension of married status to same-sex couples. Farmers and men were less willing than women or urban dwellers to accept same-sex marriages. Fewer than 10 per cent of all respondents between the ages of 18 and 50 described themselves as “very religious” and the great majority favoured change. However, 30 percent of people over 65 years described themselves as “very religious” and their level of opposition crept close to 50 per cent.

The groups most likely to vote in a referendum – because of religious or other convictions – contain a sizable percentage of determined activists. In the absence of a resolute political campaign, and faced by well-organised opponents, the margin in favour of same-sex marriages could be quickly eroded. With Ministers up to their knees in Garda-related controversies, a referendum on same-sex marriage may not be high on the Government’s agenda. But the promised referendum is only a year away and, without adequate preparations, Fine Gael and the Labour Party could sleepwalk to another political disaster.

A loss of confidence in authority – particularly in politics and business – was exposed in last week’s opinion poll. Reputational damage was caused to the Garda Síochána and the Government because of the treatment of whistleblowers and the tapping of telephones. Doctors and judges attracted the highest level of public trust. In many other sectors, however, confidence in ethical behaviour was low. Disaffected voters gravitate towards Sinn Féin and Independents. There is a message there for Government.

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