This Friday Ireland goes to the polls to vote on the Marriage Equality Bill to decide whether to allow same-sex couples to marry with the same constitutional rights as couples of the opposite sex.
As the campaign enters its final week, the No campaign appears to have gathered momentum through a number of religious alliances that reflect Ireland’s relatively new and growing cultural diversity.
Throughout the campaign polls have put public opinion firmly behind the Yes campaign – from 80 per cent in January, through to over 70 from February to April, but the latest poll by the Irish Times Newspaper puts the Yes vote on 58 per cent and the No vote on 25 per cent – with 17 per cent undecided.
The Irish state’s long link to the Catholic Church has historically made it one of Europe’s most socially conservative.
African and other Christians from different countries who have come to settle in Ireland have, in my opinion, been missed by the Irish media and the pollsters
One of the last Western democracies to decriminalise consensual gay sex between men in 1993, contraception was only made legal in 1985, abortion remains tightly limited and a 1995 referendum on divorced was approved by a tiny margin of 50.3 per cent.
Bishops from the Catholic Church – uncharacteristically muted throughout the campaign over the weekend published a letter warning that the vote could profoundly change the understanding of marriage and parenthood.
The latest poll reversal is a result of a number of new Christian alliances between prominent Catholic laypeople and evangelical and Pentecostal churches.
Campaigner Paddy Monaghan told the Irish Times that new Christian Irish communities were mobilising to the get their vote out, and the polls were not reflecting how people were actually going to vote.
“African and other Christians from different countries who have come to settle in Ireland have, in my opinion, been missed by the Irish media and the pollsters’ radar. They would be a bit more nervous about expressing their true opinions but when it comes to voting they will get out there and vote no,” Monaghan claimed.
The 228,000 young, educated emigrants who left Ireland in the past five years after the economic crash – the so-called ‘exiled children’ – are not eligible to vote from abroad.
Under the 1963 Electoral Act, Irish citizens living abroad retain their right to vote in elections and referendums for 18 months after leaving Ireland – but since there is no postal or embassy voting they must return home to Ireland to do so.
There have been several high-profile campaigns encouraging Irish people living abroad to come home to vote, and even pleas made to budget airline Ryanair to give discount flights.
If the referendum passes, Ireland will be the first country in the world to pass a marriage equality bill by popular, national vote by amending their constitution.
The comfortable majority enjoyed by the Yes Campaign remains, but only just, and those campaigners who can remember the 1995 divorce referendum will be worried – as conservatives spoke out in the last week of the campaign, the 44 point lead disappeared to the paltry 0.3% majority the measure eventually passed by.
Same sex marriage was allowed in the UK for the first time last year, but it is not permitted in Northern Ireland at the behest of the Democratic Unionist Party, whose leader Peter Robinson is the First Minister.