Family and Sexuality
The referendum on divorce held in November 1995 brought more or less to a close some three decades of loud and often bitter controversy on ‘moral’ questions in Irish public life. Contraception was the big issue of the late 1960s and 1970s, and abortion and divorce took over in the 1980s (for a detailed account, see Hug, 1999). The final rumbles of the contraception debate passed away only when the Health (Family Planning) (Amendment) Act, 1993, introduced a fully liberalised regime on ‘artificial’ contraception. The constitutional referendum on divorce held in 1995, which followed a previous referendum on the same subject in 1986, opened the way for the Family Law (Divorce) Act, 1996, and thereby settled the divorce question quite decisively. The triple referendum on abortion held in 1992, which followed the first referendum on abortion in 1983 and the ensuing Supreme Court decision in the ‘X’ case in 1992, had a less decisive effect, in that it left key issues unresolved, and a further referendum on abortion took place in 2002. Nevertheless, the 1992 referendum took most of the steam out of the abortion question and by comparison with the grand battles of that period, the referendum of ten years later was a low-key affair.
The rise and decline of political controversy on these issues echoed the changing tempo of developments in cultural values and behaviour. The 1960s, 1970s and 1980s were decades of sexual and gender revolution and of rapid change in family patterns, while in the past ten years the pace of change has slowed and a certain degree of stabilisation has emerged in a number of areas. Beginning in the 1960s, sexuality escaped from the strictures of a repressive Catholic culture and a censorious State and gained a new freedom of expression, carried forward both by more liberal interpretations of the nature and moral value of sexuality and by commercial exploitation through advertising, the media and pornography.
KeywordsTotal Fertility Rate Sexual Attitude Marriage Rate European Community Household Panel Lone Parenthood
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