Those who warned that the referendum on same-sex marriage might be lost because of complacency by its advocates and determined opposition by the Catholic hierarchy have reason to be concerned. The gap between those favouring and opposing constitutional change on marriage remains substantial, according to an Irish Times/IpsosMRBI opinion poll. But it has closed significantly within the past three months, raising the spectre of previous, last-minute voting surges that maintained the status quo.
Excluding undecided voters, those in favour of same-sex marriage lead by 48 points, 74 to 26 per cent. But that gap has closed since December and, with almost two months remaining until polling day, opposition is likely to intensify.
Legislation clarifying children's rights and ensuring that priests and other celebrants will not have to perform same-sex marriages has failed to provide sufficient reassurances. There has been a slippage in support among the over 65s and a majority within the farming community is now opposed to change. Resistance is particularly evident within Fine Gael's core vote where support for the measure has fallen by 10 points to 59 per cent. Approval within Sinn Féin has fallen by eight points to 70 per cent and by six points to 54 per cent within Fianna Fáil. Support within the Labour Party's core vote remains steady at 80 per cent.
The slide in support within Fine Gael will be of particular concern to Taoiseach Enda Kenny because he will not wish to preside over another botched campaign. Whether he can convince reluctant TDs and party activists to canvass for the measure is another matter. The part played by the constitutional convention in advancing this agenda, where three-quarters of its members advocated reform, offers impartial support.
A second referendum, involving a proposal to reduce the age of presidential candidates from 35 to 21 years, has failed to capture the public’s imagination. Two-thirds of those questioned were opposed to the proposition and in the most affected 18-24 age category only a very small majority favoured it. Across all other age groups and social classes, age was regarded as a necessary maturing factor for candidates.
As things stand, the referendum on same-sex marriage will be carried while that designed to reduce the age of presidential candidates will be soundly defeated. In the former case, the volatility of the electorate and the ability of the Catholic Church to mobilise support in defence of its traditional teaching should not be ignored.
Apparently unassailable leads have been overturned in the past. Without a vigorous campaign to extend important civil and legal rights to those LGBT citizens who continue to be subjected to arbitrary discrimination, there can be no certainty that change will come.