Irish voters have overwhelmingly backed easing the country’s divorce requirements in a referendum, as part of a wider push to liberalize Ireland’s social policies in recent years.
More than 82 percent supported amending the constitution’s rules on divorce, according to a final vote tally announced Sunday. The government has said it would introduce legislation to cut the legal separation period before divorce from four years to two. It would also seek to enshrine recognition of divorces abroad in the constitution.
The result is the latest in a series of about-face votes on social issues in Ireland, which has strong Catholic roots: It only legalized divorce in 1995. In recent years, the pace of social change has accelerated, with 62 percent voting to allow same-sex marriage in a 2015 referendum and more than 66 percent backing repeal of Ireland’s abortion ban last year.
About half of the Irish electorate turned out for the divorce referendum, and the “yes” vote prevailed in all 31 constituencies.
Polls had largely predicted the results. A victory for the “yes” camp was considered such a foregone conclusion that there was hardly a campaign, and the Dublin Castle court that was filled with jubilant crowds watching the count in previous referendums stood empty.
However, Culture Minister Josepha Madigan, who managed the referendum campaign for the ruling Fine Gael party, said she was surprised by the decisiveness of the results — the second biggest margin of victory since 95 percent of voters backed the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
“This was not about rocking the system, it was about humanizing the system” for couples going through divorce, she said, according to broadcaster RTÉ.
A top opponent of amending the divorce provisions, Richard Greene of the Alliance for Defence of Family and Marriage, said officials had misled the public on the ramifications of the referendum, warning the Irish Times it gives the government a “blank check.”
Irish voters also cast ballots on Saturday in local and European elections. Exit polls showed the Greens making large gains.
Naomi O’Leary contributed reporting.