The decision by the Irish Government to hold a referendum on civil marriage for lesbian and gay couples has been welcomed by the Church of Ireland’s pro-LGBT group, Changing Attitude Ireland (CAI).

Ireland’s cabinet this week formally agreed to hold a referendum on equal marriage in 2015.

The issue of gay couples adopting children will be dealt with before then, so that the referendum can be solely on marriage equality.

Dr Richard O’Leary, CAI Chair said “The Government’s intention to hold a referendum to extend civil marriage to same-sex couples will facilitate discussion and challenge the ignorance, especially in the Churches, of the positive experiences of same-sex relationships.

“We hope that the Irish Churches will embrace the message of inclusion, which is shared by many Christians, and will not oppose the extension of full civil rights to gay and lesbian persons. In particular we hope that the minority Protestant churches in Ireland will empathise with the minority gay community and support legal equality for all the people of Ireland”.

Ahead of Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister, Eamon Gilmore, told reporters: “It is important that we win this referendum”.

Mr Gilmore had previously said a public vote could take place in late 2014 or early 2015.

In April, Ireland’s Constitutional Convention recommended that Ireland’s constitution be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry and have the same legal rights as the rest of the population.

Speaking before the cabinet meeting, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin, said the Constitutional Convention had recommended that there should be a referendum and that was the “view of a majority in cabinet”.

Mr Howlin said: “The Irish people in opinion polls had indicated their support for this issue and should be given the opportunity when practicable to express their views.”

Civil partnerships became legal in the country in February 2011.

Currently the Labour Party, the Green Party, the Socialist Party, Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil and Young Fine Gael all support same-sex marriage.

Earlier this year a poll commissioned by Marriage Equality Ireland showed that the percentage of people in support of equal marriage had risen by 12%, since 2008, and in 2012 was 75%.