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break it down

You probably need this: A last-minute, 500-word explainer on the two referendums

As little legalese as possible.

The Journal / YouTube

THERE’S A LOT going on in the two referendums Ireland will be voting on this Friday. 

Speaking to people on the street, it’s clear there’s much confusion about what they’re both about. 

So in an effort to change that, this is The Journal’s go at summarising the votes in 500 words or less. 

The summary is not about the arguments on either side, of which there are many and available here, but rather it’s a quick guide to what the votes are about.

500 words, go…..

The referendums are separate but are connected because one is about how the Constitution defines the family and the other is about how it recognises care.  

The Family Amendment

Essentially, this would mean that a family doesn’t have to involve a marriage. 

As it stands, the Constitution explicitly links ‘the family’ solely with ‘marriage’ and voting Yes to this referendum extends the definition beyond marriage. 

The meaning of marriage won’t change either way and the family is still considered ‘the fundamental unit group of Society’. Indeed, the Constitution says the State must ‘guard’ marriage ‘with special care’. 

What the proposal does do is change the definition of the family, saying it would instead be ‘founded on marriage or on other durable relationships’. 

The phrase ‘durable relationships’ is not defined as part of the referendum wording but the independent Electoral Commission says it means ”different types of committed and continuing relationships other than marriage”. 

If this referendum is passed, families based on durable relationships would have the same constitutional rights as families based on marriage.  

If a case comes before the Courts, a judge may have to decide if a relationship is ‘durable’ and in doing so they would take account of existing laws. 

No new legislation has been proposed in tandem with this referendum.

In some previous referendums, such as the Eighth Amendment, proposed new laws were published in advance. In others, such as the Blasphemy referendum, they were not. 

The Care Amendment

As it stands, the Constitution has a specific section dedicated to women and their ‘life within the home’. 

The section is in two sentences and, though it does not specifically mention care, it says that this ‘life within the home’ is good for society because it assists ‘the common good’. 

The Constitution adds that the State should try to make it so that women are not forced to do any work ‘to the neglect of their duties in the home’. 

This current wording has little, if any, legal effect as women are not prevented from taking up work outside the home, nor are they supported to the extent that every woman who wishes to work only at home is able to do so. 

If there is a No vote, the two sentences will remain in the Constitution. If it’s a Yes they will be removed and replaced with the following sentence: 

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.

So essentially,“care” is referenced for the first time in the Constitution. It says that care is provided by “members of a family to one another” and that where this is the case the State must “strive to support” this. 

Again, the Courts may be asked at some point to decide if a government has sufficiently strived to support care in a particular case. 

Electoral Commision chair Justice Marie Baker has said that there is no legal definition for ‘strive’ but that “obviously it means try or try very hard”. 

“Courts would look at the general use in language, and it is a strong word,” she said.

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