Michelle Flynn

The Evolving Definition of Marriage in Ireland


This paper will chart the trajectory of the evolving definition of marriage in Ireland through a number of pivotal decisions of the Irish Superior Courts. Traditionally, Ireland has been regarded as a religiously homogenous country with a vast majority of Roman Catholics, however within the last three decades Ireland has experienced seismic changes to its population and attitudes towards religion as a result of increased multiculturalism and secularism. This has resulted in several constitutional referenda being held to reflect these changes in society including those pertaining to both marriage and divorce.
Prior to 1996, there was a constitutional ban on the dissolution of marriage by way of divorce. As a result of a constitutional referendum, the Family Law (Divorce) Act 1996 allowed for divorce on limited grounds. Thereafter, case law ensued in the Irish courts which explored the contours of the legal concepts of both marriage and divorce. Other significant changes have occurred including the introduction of same-sex marriage in 2015 by way of constitutional referendum, and in May 2019 a further referendum was passed which reduced the criteria for obtaining a divorce in Ireland. Nevertheless, questions remain regarding certain aspects of the law governing marriage and divorce in Ireland, and further questions arise concerning the possibility for religious accommodations in these matters. Thus, there is real value in assessing the trajectory of the evolving definition of marriage in Ireland over the last twenty-five years.


Michelle Flynn is an Irish barrister and academic. A former member of the academic staff at the Faculty of Law at KU Leuven, and a Visiting Researcher at Yale Law School, Michelle is currently a Researcher at the Department of Law and Anthropology at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Germany. Her areas of research include law and religion, constitutional law, human rights, and legal pluralism. She holds degrees from the National University of Ireland, Galway (B.A. and LL.B.), the Honorable Society of King’s Inns, Dublin (Barrister-at-Law), and KU Leuven, Belgium (LL.M. in International and European Public Law). Michelle is currently a PhD candidate at the Faculty of Law at KU Leuven, Belgium.