Same-sex marriage vote should not be taken for granted - Minister
Frances Fitzgerald says referendum may not support extending civil marriage to same-sex couples
Frances Fitzgerald: said referendums had their own ‘momentum’ and that recent history showed attitudes could shift dramatically during a campaign. Photograph: Eric Luke
Victory for the Yes side in the same-sex marriage referendum should not be taken for granted, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has warned.
While early opinion polls put support for extending civil marriage to same-sex couples at more than 70 per cent, Ms Fitzgerald said referendums had their own “momentum” and that recent history showed attitudes could shift dramatically during a campaign.
She confirmed that, unlike the 2012 referendum on children’s rights, which was held on a Saturday, the marriage vote in May would take place on a Thursday or Friday.
“The actual period of debate is very important. We have experience of support being high and changing, being low and changing.”
She cited the children’s rights vote, which she oversaw as minister for children, as an example of the unpredictable dynamic of referendum campaigns. Polls at one stage showed 80 per cent in favour of that proposal, which was supported by all parties, but the Yes vote was only 58 per cent.
“I wouldn’t take anything for granted in relation to a referendum on anything,” Ms Fitzgerald said.
“The case has to be made, the rationale has to be clearly understood and people have to put their points of view out there.”
All the major parties are calling for a Yes vote, and Ms Fitzgerald said Fine Gael was fully behind the campaign. “I was so impressed at our ardfheis, when we passed the motion and we had literally hundreds of people in the room,” she said.
“This is a topic that elicits a range of views, understandably, but in terms of putting it to the people and changing our Constitution, I believe it will get the support it needs.”
The Government hopes to have enacted the Child and Family Relationships Bill, which provides for adoption by same-sex couples, before the referendum.
She said removing surrogacy was “a very practical decision” on a “very complex issue” that the Government felt should be dealt with separately.
“There was nothing to do with the adoption issue in the decision around surrogacy,” she said. “It was quite separate. There was no plan to remove surrogacy in order to do anything else with the Bill.”
Ms Fitzgerald said the Department of Health was working on the heads of a new Assisted Reproduction Bill, including surrogacy, and these would be published this month.
The new version will retain the ban on commercial surrogacy, about which Ms Fitzgerald said she had “deep concerns”.