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Irish government loses public votes to update ‘sexist’ constitution

The Irish government conceded on Saturday that it had lost two referenda to change what it called “sexist” language in the constitution in an embarrassing defeat.

Ireland went to the polls on Friday in votes deliberately timed to coincide with International Women’s Day to replace two constitutional references.

One said that the the family unit was “founded” on marriage, the other that a woman supports the Irish state through “her life within the home.”

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Saturday afternoon said it was clear that the referenda had not passed.

“I think it’s clear at this stage, that the family amendment and the care amendment referendums have been defeated,” Varadkar said at a press conference in Dublin.

Official results for both votes are expected to be announced separately later on Saturday.

Varadkar had championed the vote as a chance to change “very old-fashioned, very sexist language about women”, according to Reuters.

There was a low turnout reported throughout the day, in some areas less than 30% of registered voters, PA Media reported.

If the votes passed, the constitution was to say the family is based “on marriage or on other durable relationships.”

Religious and socially conservative groups who campaigned for a “No” vote took issue with the concept of a “durable relationship” and argued in support of the constitution’s original wording.

In a charged RTE debate days before the vote, conservative campaigner Maria Steen clashed with the Irish deputy prime minister, Micheál Martin, insisting that “the reality is that the majority of women do the majority of work in the home.”

Ireland’s constitution, published in 1937, was strongly influenced by Catholic social teachings, according to legal scholars. In recent decades Catholic influence has slowly decreased, and the country’s Church has been rocked by a series of abuse scandals involving the clergy.

Ireland has held referendums on a number of social issues in recent years, with voters repeatedly supporting progressive changes to the country’s constitution.

In 2015, voters overwhelmingly supported the legalization of same-sex marriage. Three years later, they cast ballots to end an abortion ban, and in 2019, divorce laws were liberalized after another referendum.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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