Confounding Language

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Irish voters overwhelmingly rejected two referendums aimed at changing the country’s constitution in areas relating to women and family, votes that observers called embarrassing defeats for the government, the Financial Times reported over the weekend.

On Friday, two referendums had proposed recognizing families based on “durable relationships” – not just marriage – and removing references to a woman’s “life within the home” by including other family members among caregivers.

But voters rejected the government-backed proposals, with roughly 68 percent voting against the new definition of family, while nearly 74 percent voted “no” in the caregiver referendum.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that voters had delivered “two wallops” to the government, adding that many people had “got this wrong and I’m certainly one of them.”

Observers explained that the amendments, if passed, would mark another example of Ireland moving to shed its conservative past: The country legalized divorce in 1995, same-sex marriage in 2015, and repealed a ban on abortion in 2018, Euronews noted.

Friday’s referendums had the support of the ruling coalition and were aimed at removing “some very old-fashioned, very sexist language” from the 1937 constitution, according to Varadkar.

But critics and opposition parties complained that the referendums’ wording was confusing.

The opposition Sinn Fein party said the wording would lead to legal disputes and most people “do not know what the meaning of a durable relationship is.”

Meanwhile, disability rights’ advocates noted that the focus on caregiving portrays disabled individuals as burdens, rather than recognizing them as individuals entitled to rights that should be ensured by the state.

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