Catholic bishops call for No vote in both March referendums

Statement read at Masses on Sunday argues Yes votes would weaken incentive to marry and remove motherhood from Constitution

Ireland’s Catholic bishops have advised the electorate to vote No in the two referendums next month.

In a statement read at Masses on Sunday, they say that the proposed family amendment is likely to weaken the incentive for young people to marry while the second proposed care amendment would abolish all reference to motherhood in the Constitution.

In referendums to take place on March 8th, the Government proposes expanding the definition of family in the Constitution to recognise “durable relationships”, such as cohabiting couples and their children, and replacing the language around “women in the home” with language recognising care within families.

The bishops encouraged people to vote in the referendums, noting that “in a democracy that guarantees the freedom to vote, it is important that citizens cast their ballot ... with matters of such importance at stake.”


In their statement the bishops will say that the proposed family amendment to the Constitution “diminishes the unique importance of the relationship between marriage and family in the eyes of society and State and is likely to lead to a weakening of the incentive for young people to marry”.

The family, “based on the exclusive, lifelong and life-giving public commitment of marriage, is the foundational cell of society and essential to the common good,” they write.

“While ‘marriage’ entails a public and legal commitment, the term ‘durable relationship’ is shrouded in legal uncertainty and is open to wide interpretation. It does not make sense that such an ambiguous reality would be considered ‘antecedent and superior to all positive law’ and acquire the same ‘inalienable and imprescriptible’ rights as those ascribed to the ‘family founded on marriage’. Various commentators have suggested that the term ‘durable relationship’ risks leading to unforeseen and unintended consequences,” they write.

Where the proposed care amendment was concerned, they said that “in an age when people, and especially women, often emphasise the desirability of balancing work and domestic commitments, it is noteworthy that the Constitution already recognises and seeks to facilitate the choice of mothers who wish especially to care for the needs of the family and the home.

“Contrary to some recent commentary, the present constitutional provision emphatically does not state that ‘a woman’s place is in the home’. Neither does it excuse men of their duties to the home and family.”

The bishops write that they feel it “reasonable to ask what benefit is it to Irish society to delete the terms ‘woman’ and ‘mother’ from the Constitution of Ireland? People generally recognise the enormous commitment that women in Ireland have given, and continue to give, in relation to care, love and affection in the home.”

They write that they have similar concerns about the removal of the term “home” from the article.

In their view “rather than removing the present acknowledgment of the role of women and the place of the home, it would be preferable and consistent with contemporary social values that the State would recognise the provision of care by women and men alike.”

The proposed amendment “would have the effect of abolishing all reference to motherhood in the Constitution and leave unacknowledged the particular and incalculable societal contribution that mothers in the home have made and continue to make in Ireland.”

It was the case that “the present constitutional wording does not in any way inhibit women from working or taking their proper place in social and public life. It does, however, respect the complementary and distinct qualities that arise naturally within the family. The role of mothers should continue to be cherished in our Constitution,” they write.

They concluded that “as pastors, concerned for the common good as well as the moral and spiritual wellbeing of God’s people, we offer these reflections in order to help inform the consciences of Christians and others who are concerned to preserve and foster the dignity and value of family life and motherhood.”

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Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times