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Ireland to vote on valuing women outside ‘the home’

by editor

DUBLIN — In Ireland’s constitution, a woman’s place is in the home — but not for much longer.

The Irish government on Tuesday announced long-awaited plans to drop the sexism from Ireland’s constitution, which declares that women shouldn’t be expected “to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.” It also describes “the common good” as dependent on defending women’s “life within the home.”

When Irish leader Eamon de Valera drafted that 1937 constitution in close consultation with the Roman Catholic hierarchy, he sought to shape a nation fit for what he called, in his most famous St. Patrick’s Day address, “the laughter of happy maidens” and “the life that God desires that men should live.”

Ireland has been gradually digging itself out of Dev’s conservative Catholic vision of the country by amending that constitution repeatedly — first in 1973 by removing its declaration of “the special position of the Holy Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church;” then in 2015 by becoming the first nation on earth to legalize gay marriage; and most recently in 2018, by legalizing abortion and removing “blasphemy” as a crime.

Now, in the next referendum set for March 8 — International Women’s Day — the government will ask voters to approve two proposed amendments to the constitutional section on family values. It will be only the latest change to a section that absorbed the legalization of divorce in 1995 and gay marriage 20 years later.

The first amendment proposed Tuesday will replace the clause limiting women’s place to the home with a new state commitment to value the work of all family carers.

The second will broaden the definition of the family to include all households with “durable relationships,” including the roughly third of couples with children born out of wedlock. That part of the constitution currently commits the state “to guard with special care the institution of Marriage, on which the Family is founded, and to protect it against attack” — a seemingly inflexible line now immediately followed by the right to divorce.

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who came out as gay during the 2015 referendum campaign, said the constitution was still “not truly reflective of the Ireland we live in today.”

Standing beside him, Foreign Minister Micheál Martin, whose Fianna Fáil party was founded by de Valera and long defended the constitution as his greatest piece of statecraft, said that Tuesday’s proposed changes “reflect the reality that many more diverse models of families make up our society today.”

However, against the recommendations of the all-party committee considering the matter, the government decided not to try to add a new “gender equality” provision to the constitution, in part because it risked turning a straightforward “yes” campaign into a toxic battle over transgender rights.

Varadkar said the three-party coalition had decided that the constitution already contains “an all-encompassing commitment to equality” and shouldn’t detail this further.

“We believe by elevating any particular category, for example that of sex-based discrimination, it could unwittingly downgrade others, such as those relating to disability, race or ethnicity,” he said.

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