#OTD in 1997 – After a contentious court battle contesting the referendum, the new divorce law in the Republic is enacted.

The amendment was narrowly approved by 50.23 percent of the voters — a 9,118-ballot margin out of 1.6 million cast.

The first divorce in Ireland, granted to a terminally ill man who wished to marry his new partner, was a harbinger of the decline of the Catholic Church’s power over the Republic.

Fears that divorce would lead to the end of family life in Ireland have proven unfounded, according to ‘One Family’, the organisation that supports people parenting alone, sharing parenting, and separating.

The Irish Constitution of 1937 specifically forbade divorce. Though the constitution prohibits the state from adopting an official religion, Ireland is an overwhelmingly Catholic country, and the original document contained many elements of Catholic doctrine. The Church played an outsized role in Irish public life, even by the standards of other heavily Catholic countries.

Both Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa publicly endorsed the “No” side, a sign of the seriousness with which the Church opposed this perceived challenge to its authority. Nonetheless, the Church conceded that it would not be a sin for Catholics to vote “Yes.”

Reflecting on the anniversary of the introduction of divorce legislation in Ireland in 1997, a spokesperson for ‘One Family’ said the passing of the constitutional referendum on divorce almost 20 years ago was a groundbreaking acknowledgment of the reality that families in Ireland exist in many forms and that marriage cannot always be forever.

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