Michael McDowell on family referendum: 'Why bother getting married?'

An information campaign on two referendums, including on constitutional references to family, is being launched
Jack Quann
Jack Quann

10.39 25 Jan 2024

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Michael McDowell on family ref...

Michael McDowell on family referendum: 'Why bother getting married?'

Jack Quann
Jack Quann

10.39 25 Jan 2024

Share this article

Plans to change the link between family and marriage in next month's referendum could have major unintended consequences for people in long-term relationships, Senator Michael McDowell has warned.

The former Justice Minister was speaking as the Government launches information campaigns on the two referendums - one on the family and the other on a woman’s place in the home.

The Government has said the General Scheme of the Family Amendment would change Article 41.1.1 to insert the words "whether founded on marriage or on other durable relationships".


Senator McDowell told Newstalk Breakfast the changes would further undermine the institution of marriage.

"I have a feeling that parents of children born outside wedlock very frequently marry after [the child is born]," he said.

"I don't think it is the case that people are opting 50/50 to discard marriage completely.

"But if they are, why bother getting married? Why not buy a wedding dress and go to a hotel and make vows together with nobody there?"

'Married or not married'

Senator McDowell said there could be unintended consequences for many people.

"If a farmer and his or her partner split up, a court can order a division of the farm in the case of a divorced couple," he said.

"If we now equate durable relationships with marriage, are we going to have a situation where people who have been living together for three years get a right over each other's property?

"Who's going to decide who is married or who is not married?

"If you're going to accord the same taxation deal to an unmarried couple with children as you give to a married couple, how do you establish that?

"Is the tax inspector to sit down and say, 'How long have you been living with your partner?'"

 Civil Partnership

Senator McDowell said that while the Civil Partnership Act from 2010 gives certain people living together certain rights "that has to be asserted in court".

"What's going to happen if this amendment is put through is that the status of durable relationships is one which the Government is deliberately leaving to the courts to decide," he said.

"You and I, if we aren't married, how do we know that are our relationship is now to be classified as durable for the purposes of succession law or tax law?"

divorce referendum File photo. Image: Sam Boal/

Senator McDowell said there are no automatic legal protections for such durable relationships.

"I think that most people do still see value in having marriage as the basis of a family," he said.

"We see families as institutions that you can't just walk in and out of by your unilateral choice.

"For instance, if two people are married and they want a divorce, they have to get a decree from a court and the court has to be satisfied that all the parties to the marriage - including any children - have been properly looked after.

"If we have a situation where so-called durable relationships can end just by one person saying, 'It's over,' you don't have those protections," he added.

Voters go the polls in the referendums on Friday March 8th.

Listen back here:

Main image: Senator Michael McDowell at the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle, 06-3-18. Image: Leah Farrell/ RollingNews

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Article 41.1.1 Civil Partnership Act Divorced Couple Durable Relationships Family Link In Bio Married Michael McDowell Newstalk Breakfast Referendum Succession Law Tax Law

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