Irish voters defeat constitutional amendments to redefine family, role of women

Unsplash/Damien Perez
Unsplash/Damien Perez

Voters in Ireland have rejected efforts to change the language of the country's constitution regarding what constitutes a family and the role of women in the home, even after supporting progressive referendums in recent years. 

In referendum votes on Friday, International Women's Day, Irish voters were asked if they wanted to amend the Irish Constitution to remove language outlining the role of family and women in everyday life. Both efforts were defeated.  

According to the Electoral Commission of Ireland, the proposed 39th amendment to the Irish Constitution would have amended Article 41's proclamation that "the State recognises the Family as the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society, and as a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law."

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The proposal would have altered wording of the Article 41 to remove a statement stating that marriage is the institution "on which the Family is founded." The 39th amendment would have clarified that the definition of family extends to both "marriage" and "other durable relationships" and removed the text identifying marriage as the institution "on which the Family is founded." 

Article 41 of the constitution proclaims that "the state recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved." The document also declares "the State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home."

"The constitutional protection of the Family would be given to both the Family based on marriage and the Family founded on 'other durable relationships,'" The Electoral Commission of Ireland elaborated on the implications of the amendment. "The Family founded on marriage means the unit based on a marriage between two people without distinction as to their sex. The Family founded on other durable relationships means a Family based on different types of committed and continuing relationships other than marriage." 

"Different types of family units would have the same constitutional rights and protections," the Electoral Commission added. "The institution of Marriage will continue to be recognised as an institution that the State must guard with special care and protect against attack." 

The proposed 40th amendment would have replaced the portions of Article 41 describing the role of women and mothers with a statement reading, "the State recognises that the provision of care, by members of a family to one another by reason of the bonds that exist among them, gives to Society a support without which the common good cannot be achieved, and shall strive to support such provision."

Before Friday's vote, the Ireland Catholic Bishops' Conference released a statement opposing the proposed changes.

"We are concerned 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 the State and is likely to lead to a weakening of the incentive for young people to marry," they wrote. 

The bishops lamented that "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."

The bishops maintain 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," they added. "The role of mothers should continue to be cherished in our Constitution."

With a turnout of 44.36%, the proposed 39th amendment to the Irish Constitution was rejected by 67.69% of voters, while 32.31% approved of the constitutional changes. The proposed 40th amendment was rejected by an even larger margin, with 73.93% of voters expressing support for keeping the constitutional language as is and 26.07% supporting the proposed changes. 

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who enthusiastically supported both proposed constitutional amendments, reacted to the defeat of the referendums during a press conference over the weekend.

Varadkar indicated that his government accepted "responsibility for the results," adding, "It was our responsibility to convince a majority of people to vote 'yes,' and we clearly failed to do so."

"I think we struggled to convince people of the necessity or need for the referendum at all, let alone the detail and wording," he said. Varadkar vowed to continue pushing for "gender equality" and suggested that his government would support the proposal of additional constitutional referendums on unrelated subjects in the near future. 

The rejection of both amendments represents a sea change in Ireland, which has recently approved progressive referendums by large margins.

In 2018, voters in Ireland overwhelmingly voted to amend the Irish Constitution to repeal the historically Roman Catholic country's abortion ban. The right to abortion is now protected in the 36th amendment. 

Three years earlier, voters in Ireland approved a referendum legalizing same-sex marriage in the country. The referendum made Ireland the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage through a popular vote. The right to same-sex marriage is now established in the 34th Amendment. 

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at:

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