Ireland Rejects Constitution Changes, Keeping ‘Women in the Home’ Language


Voters in Ireland have rejected two proposed changes to the country’s Constitution that would have removed language about women’s duties being in the home and broadened the definition of family beyond marriage.

The results, announced on Saturday, were an unexpected defeat for equality campaigners and for Leo Varadkar, the taoiseach, or prime minister.

Mr. Varadkar, speaking late Saturday afternoon after most of the votes had been counted, said that it was clear that the proposals had been defeated, and that the government respected the results.

“As head of government and on behalf of the government, we accept responsibility for the result,” he said. “It was our responsibility to convince the majority of people to vote ‘Yes,’ and we clearly failed to do so.”

Irish citizens had gone to the polls on Friday to vote in two referendums to amend the country’s 87-year-old Constitution, which was drafted at a time when the Roman Catholic Church’s influence on many aspects of life in Ireland was immense.

Supporters viewed the proposed amendments, which all of Ireland’s political parties backed, as vital to ensuring that the Constitution reflected the country’s more secular and liberal modern identity. But many of those who cast their ballots in the referendums said “no” to both questions being considered.

Many analysts and politicians said the results were more complex than a simple rejection of the proposed changes. A lower-than-expected voter turnout and confusing messaging by the “Yes” campaign may have contributed to the proposals’ failures.

In Friday’s referendums, voters were asked to consider two separate questions.

The first was whether to amend the Constitution’s Article 41 to provide for a wider concept of family. The suggested language would have recognized a family, “whether founded on marriage or on other durable relationships, as the natural primary and fundamental unit group of society,” and eliminated another clause.

The second concerned Article 41.2, which equality activists and women’s rights groups had opposed for decades. It says that the state “recognizes that by her life within the home, woman gives to the state a support without which the common good cannot be achieved” and that it will “endeavor to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labor to the neglect of their duties in the home.”

The public voted against replacing that language with a new article recognizing all family caregivers.

The result on the “life within the home” clause was met with disappointment from women’s rights groups that had long campaigned for the language, seen as a relic of a patriarchal past, to be removed.

Even before the Constitution was first ratified in 1937, some women had opposed the introduction of the language, and this year, the National Women’s Council of Ireland recreated their protest outside government buildings.

In recent decades, the Irish public has made a series of significant changes that rolled back socially conservative policies. In 1995, Ireland voted to end its ban on divorce, with a later referendum in 2019 further liberalizing divorce laws. In 2015, the country voted to legalize same-sex marriage, and, in 2018, a referendum was held that repealed the amendment that prohibited abortion.

The latest referendums were called after a Citizen’s Assembly was held in 2020 and 2021 on gender equality that made a series of recommendations, including a change to the Constitution. Some people had argued that the planned changes did not go far enough, and that may have been part of the reason the proposals were rejected.

Some opponents of the amendments had argued that the proposed language about “durable relationships” was too broadly defined. Others had said that the care provisions outlined to replace the language about women’s duties did not go far enough toward compelling the state to protect carers.

Michael McDowell, a lawyer who is an Independent member of the upper house of Ireland’s legislature and a onetime deputy head of government, had campaigned for a “No” vote.

“The government misjudged the mood of the electorate and put before them proposals which they did not explain, proposals which could have serious consequences,” he told RTÉ, the public broadcaster, adding that the language had been rushed through the legislature without much consultation.


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