Ireland constitutional amendment to redefine family, woman’s roles rejected: Prime Minster

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Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has conceded defeat in the vote over two constitutional amendments that would have broadened the definition of family and of women’s roles.

Varadkar previously told constituents that the referendum was a chance to do away with “very old-fashioned, very sexist language about women.”

The first of the constitutional amendments asked citizens to expand the definition of family from one founded on marriage to also include “durable relationships” such as cohabiting couples and their children. 

The second of the amendments would replace language around a mother’s roles to “duties in the home” in an effort to recognize care providers.

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Ballots are being counted on two Irish constitutional amendments that would broaden the definition of family and remove language about a woman’s role in the home.  (Damien Storan/PA via AP)

Siobhán Mullally, a law professor and director of the Irish Center for Human Rights at the University of Galway, said that the referendum was a “missed opportunity” to provide a more-comprehensive definition of caretakers.

Mullally said that some disability rights and social justice advocates opposed the measure because it was too restrictive in defining caretakers. 

“It was a hugely missed opportunity,” Mullally said. “Most people certainly want that sexist language removed from the constitution. There’s been calls for that for years, and it’s taken so long to have a referendum on it. But they proposed replacing it with this very limited, weak provision on care.”

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar speaks to the media at Dublin Castle in Ireland about the twin referendum to change the country’s Constitution on family and care, in Dublin, Saturday.  (Damien Storan/PA via AP)

Varadkar, who pushed the vote, said that voters had delivered “two wallops” to the government.

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“Clearly we got it wrong,” he said. “While the old adage is that success has many fathers and failure is an orphan, I think when you lose by this kind of margin, there are a lot of people who got this wrong, and I am certainly one of them.”

'No' campaigners celebrating

“No” campaigners in Ireland celebrate at Dublin Castle as the result is announced in the first of the twin referendums to change the country’s Constitution on family and care, in Dublin on Saturday.  (Damien Storan/PA via AP)

Opponents of the constitutional amendments argued that the concept of “durable relationship” was undefined and confusing and that women and mothers were being “canceled” from the constitution.

“It was too rushed,” said Una Ui Dhuinn, a nurse in Dublin. “We didn’t get enough time to think about it and read up on it. So I felt, to be on the safe side, ‘no, no’ — no change.”

Caoimhe Doyle, a doctoral student, said that she voted yes to changing the definition of family, but no to the care amendment because “I don’t think it was explained very well.”

“There’s a worry there that they’re removing the burden on the state to take care of families,” she said.

Voting hall

Ballot counters tally votes for the twin referendum to change the Irish Constitution on family and care at the Royal Dublin Society (RDS), in Dublin on Saturday.  (Damien Storan/PA via AP)

The proposed amendments come as Ireland has slowly transformed from a conservative, Catholic country to an increasingly socially liberal society.

The proportion of residents who are Catholic fell from 94.9% in 1961 to 69% in 2022, according to the Central Statistics Office.

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The country of 5.3 million opted to end constitutional limits on same-sex marriage in 2015 and abortion in 2018.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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