There are many people and organisations to credit for the outcome of the marriage referendum, not least the incredible campaign mounted by the Yes side, as described by Noel Whelan in today’s Irish Times.
A question to ask is whether this referendum would ever have happened but for the huge endorsement this issue received from the Constitutional Convention, which debated this matter in April 2013. Would a socially conservative Fine Gael have been willing to accept its junior coalition partner’s desire for a referendum on a matter that hadn’t been included in the programme for government? Would the issue have attracted quite such a degree of all-party consensus?
On the first point, today’s assessment by Stephen Collins is instructive:
Former tánaiste Eamon Gilmore initially got a chilly response from Fine Gael when he suggested that same-sex marriage was the civil rights issue of this generation. It was only after the constitutional convention recommended the change that the holding of a referendum in the lifetime of the Government became inevitable.
And here’s what Alan Shatter (former Justice Minsiter) had to say on the matter of cross-party debates in an interview on today’s RTÉ’s Morning Ireland:
The constitutional convention, which produced a recommendation that all parties in the Oireachtas supported, which took – if I could put it this way – the party politics out of this, meant that we had a conversation about the real human dilemmas of individuals affected by our laws. I think that was the key to the outcome of the referendum’.
Without the Convention would there have been a marriage equality referendum in this parliament? Counterfactuals are impossible to prove, but I’m inclined to agree with the assessments of Messrs. Collins and Shatter.