I move amendment No. 15:
In page 29, lines 6 to 12, to delete paragraph (b) and substitute the following:
"(b) by inserting the following subsections after subsection (9):
"(9A) A registrar who, without reasonable cause, fails or refuses to give a civil partnership registration form to one of the parties to an intended civil partnership in respect of which he or she has received a notification under section 59B(1)(a), or a copy of an exemption order under section 59B(2), commits an offence.
(9B) For the purpose of subsections (4), (9), (9A) and (9C) of this section, a registrar shall be deemed to have reasonable cause where—
(a) The registrar’s refusal or failure to act is based on a conscientious objection to the registration of the marriage or civil partnership grounded in a sincerely held religious or ethical belief, and
(b) The objection is not based on any of the discriminatory grounds identified in section 3, subsection (2), paragraphs (a), (c), (e), (f), (g), (h), (i) of the Equal Status Act, 2000, and
(c) The registrar has given notice in writing to his or her Superintendent Registrar of the said objection and its grounds within one week of appointment as registrar or at least 1 month prior to any refusal or failure to act in reliance on the said objection;
Unless the Superintendent Registrar, having taken all reasonable steps in the management, control and administration of the Civil Registration Service to ensure that the registrar's objection is respected and accommodated, concludes that it is necessary in all the circumstances of a given case for the registrar to register a marriage or civil partnership or give a marriage or civil partnership registration form to one of the parties to an intended marriage or civil partnership in order to avoid undue delay in the provision of the said registration services.
(9C) A registrar who, with reasonable cause, fails or refuses to register a marriage or civil partnership or to give a marriage or civil partnership registration form shall not be taken to discriminate against a person for the purposes of the Equal Status Act 2000.".".
We come to an issue that is of major concern to many people of goodwill. This is one of three amendments which I have proposed, the purpose of which is to protect freedom of conscience in various issues. This amendment concerns the role of a civil registrar. The law currently provides that a registrar who, without reasonable cause, fails or refuses to provide a marriage registration form or conduct a civil marriage commits an offence. We are aware that in Northern Ireland a person who would commit such an offence might lose their job but in this jurisdiction, under the law as it stands, people are subject to the full rigours of the law and prosecution.
Following on from that logic, this legislation seeks to amend the Civil Registration Act 2004 by providing for similar outcomes for a registrar who, without reasonable cause, fails or refuses to give a civil partnership registration form to one of the parties to an intended civil partnership in respect of which he or she has received a notification under section 59B(1)(a) or a copy of an exemption order under section 59B(2). In such cases, that person commits an offence.
I am starting from the perspective that there is a balance of rights to be struck in this case. The State has the right to implement a model of civil partnership if that is the will of the majority in the Oireachtas, and at the behest of the Government such a model of civil partnership is created and goes through the Oireachtas. I disagree with substantial parts of this legislation, which perpetuates new forms of injustice and discrimination. Even if I am wrong in that, as a democrat I am quite happy to accept the decision of the Oireachtas as to what our laws on marriage, family and same-sex partnership will be, subject to the Constitution.
A completely separate issue arises because in accepting the majority decision on this — at least the majority of the Oireachtas — a separate question arises for people who in good conscience and not just for religious reasons have difficulties with civil partnership for same-sex couples. There are people who have a profound religious objection to public State recognition of same-sex partnerships, and this does not make them homophobic, as has been claimed in some quarters. In many cases they are people with no problem with people's right to a private life and who would have supported the decriminalisation of homosexual acts between men in 1993.
Such people may subscribe to a different moral view and would not like to be implicated in any way in the facilitation of a contrary moral position repugnant to their own. The question is whether the State has a duty or right to impose this view. I will confine my comments to the position of a State official as separate arguments will be made on the discrete amendments proposed regarding religious or community institutions with a different ethos, or individuals involved in the provision of services. Does the State have the right to oblige such an official to do his or her job in all circumstances, regardless of how repugnant to his or her conscience carrying out his or her job might prove to be? If this matter was the subject of an opinion poll — the trouble with such polls is that the outcome always depends on how one frames the question — most people would agree that there were circumstances in which provision should be made for individual conscience, even in the case of those employed by the State. In the context of the fraught issue of abortion, it would be interesting to examine the laws that obtain in other countries in order to consider whether and how people in the employ of the State might be facilitated in some way in circumstances where they were asked to do something that ran contrary to their own deep personal sense of right and wrong, justice, what constituted good conduct, etc. It is important to bear this in mind.
Much of the debate in the past 24 to 36 hours has tended to denigrate the expression of conscience. I was particularly disappointed by the comments made by Senator Harris who seems to be of the opinion that conscientious objection emanates from some form of twisted religious tradition, according to which people do not think for themselves, hold no moral views of their own, are infantilised by a greater religious authority that tells them what to think and do and are not, in their own right, moral agents who possess a well thought out approach to life.