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Same-sex vote wording could be less cumbersome (that is to say, simpler)

“Should same-sex marriage be legal in Ireland?” … That’s what we’re being asked — but the question itself is quite a bit longer. Why? Read on.

THE WORDING FOR May’s same sex marriage referendum was published this week.

In case you missed it, here’s the question that will be put to the people in the vote, this May…

  • Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.

Most of us can probably makes sense of the above (after a second reading, anyway) — and there are a number of legal explanations as to why the sentence has to be put quite that way.

However, the folks at the National Adult Literacy Agency are suggesting a few possible alternate wordings.

For instance:

  • By law, two people, irrespective of their sex, may be married.

Or, ideally:

  • Should same-sex marriage be legal in Ireland? 

“These suggested plain English versions could be used to explain constitutional language and make it more accessible,” a NALA spokesperson said.

Source: Shutterstock/Sakuoka

The Agency, which is an independent charity, is campaigning to ensure all public information provided by the Government and State agencies is written in ‘plain English’. Short sentences should be used, in other words, specialised words should be clearly explained, and sentences should be kept to about 15 to 20 words, in a readable font type and size.

The question posed to voters in the Scottish independence referendum — “Should Scotland be an independent country?” — was commended for its simplicity, the NALA stressed.

Choice of language

In its explanatory notes on the wording of the referendum, the Department of Justice explains why certain language had been chosen.

“Contracted” is the word already used in Article 41 in relation to marriage, for instance.


‘The phrase “without distinction as to their sex” reflects language already used in Article 16 of the Constitution. The phrase is intended to make marriage available to same-sex couples and to opposite sex couples, so that being a same-sex couple would not be an impediment to marriage.’

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And while we’re at it:

‘The phrase “in accordance with law” has been included in order to retain the current system whereby marriage continues to be regulated by legislation and by common law, for instance provisions relating to notice, consent to marriage and registration.’

With around four months to go before the vote itself, there’ll be plenty of debate, commentary and information to take note of between now and then.

The Referendum Commission for the ballot will be established next week, according to the Government, and it will begin its work some time in February. Chaired by a former or current judge, the body is tasked with explaining the subject matter of referendum proposals to the electorate.

A report carried out by the last Commission — for the Seanad and Court of Appeal votes — found that more than one in ten voted ‘Yes’ when they meant ‘No’ on the question of whether or not to abolish the upper house.

Note: You can find out more about the National Adult Literacy Agency ‘plain English’ campaign here. 

Read: Doh: 13% voted Yes when they meant No in Seanad referendum

Read: Here’s the wording you’ll be voting on in same-sex marriage referendum

About the author:

Daragh Brophy

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