Civil Partnership and Ireland: How a Minority Achieved a Majority

Published: November 2012

Type: Publication

The Gay and Lesbian Equality Network played a crucial role in working toward marriage equality in Ireland. This advocacy case study offers a chronological account of how advocacy for civil partnership legislation unfolded, critical elements of the advocacy strategy, and transferable lessons for advocates and funders. 


The story of how Ireland’s landmark civil partnership legislation was achieved for same-sex couples holds insights and lessons for any advocacy group trying to achieve legislative change. While some of the circumstances are particular to Ireland, many of the advocacy approaches taken can provide valuable learning for other organizations, particularly those seeking legal protections for minority groups.

For years leading up to what became some of the most far-reaching protections for gay and lesbian couples the world, the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN), along with its many supporters and collaborators, worked quietly and methodically to pass civil partnership legislation. GLEN was founded in 1988 as a loose volunteer network when Ireland was one of the most reactionary countries in the world on socio-sexual issues. Divorce and abortion were still illegal, as was homosexual conduct. Ireland had little in the way of formal gay and lesbian organizations to promote the rights of homosexuals.

In 2005, GLEN received a sizable long-term grant from The Atlantic Philanthropies that allowed it to increase its organizational capacity and to pursue its ambitious advocacy strategy for advancing equality for gays and lesbians in Ireland.

Many advocates working toward the goal of marriage equality in Ireland played important parts in this story. This case study, however, focuses specifically on GLEN. It looks at how its advocacy unfolded during a six-year period, how the strategy adapted to changing social and political opportunities and setbacks, and what transferable lessons might apply to other advocates and advocacy funders.