Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill 2012: Second and Subsequent Stages

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Before proceeding to outline the content of the Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill 2012, I compliment all those who worked so hard to prepare it, including various individuals and civil society groups that have advocated legislation in this area.

The Civil Registration Act 2004 provides for the notification, registration and solemnisation of marriage. Only the Health Service Executive and religious bodies can apply for registration in the Register of Solemnisers established under the Act. The Bill will amend the Act by providing for an extension to the type of organisation that can nominate marriage solemnisers to include secular bodies.

In Ireland marriage and the family unit are at the heart of the Constitution and part of our social fabric. When two people make a public commitment to each other by way of marriage, it is a cause of great celebration and an occasion on which not only do the two people wish to have their families and friends around them but also to celebrate in the belief system they hold dear. With this in mind, the Bill aims to extend the scope of marriage solemnisers across the spectrum of belief systems and formally acknowledge this in the registration system.

I propose to offer some general observations on the rationale and general principles informing the content of this amending legislation and then proceed to summarise the provisions of the Bill. The marriage provisions of the Civil Registration Act 2004 arose from recommendations of the interdepartmental committee on the reform of the marriage laws. The need for a universally applicable framework of clear and simple procedures to underpin the solemnity of the marriage contract was among the issues identified by the committee as requiring examination. The main provisions of the Act concerning marriage are: common preliminaries and a single set of documentation for all marriages; the introduction of the marriage registration form as a single licensing system; the establishment of a Register of Solemnisers; and choice of venue for civil marriages. Section 51 of the Act provides that a marriage may only be legally solemnised by a registered solemniser. Section 53 provides for the establishment of a Register of Solemnisers. Section 54 provides that a religious body or the HSE may apply to have a member of that religious body or a registrar, respectively, entered in the register.

It is clear that many citizens wish to celebrate their commitment to each other through a non-religious marriage ceremony. Of the 19,828 marriages held in 2011, almost 6,000 were civil ceremonies. This represents 29% of all marriages performed in 2011 and compares to a figure of 6% of marriages in 1996. The Bill will allow valid marriages to be performed by bodies that fulfil the criteria of a secular body as laid down in the Bill, reflecting the varied belief systems in a modern society which still holds marriage as a valuable life choice. In this regard, the Bill extends the definition of the term "body" in relation to marriages to include a "secular body". It sets out criteria which must be met by a body before it can apply to have marriages solemnised by one of its members.

While this limits somewhat the bodies that would be eligible, it respects the obligation of the State to safeguard the institution of marriage and ensures that the bodies involved have organisational stability. The body must be in existence for at least five years, be an organised group of people who have secular, ethical and humanist beliefs in common, have a minimum of 50 people and meet on a regular basis. The body must be a charity and cannot have the making of profit as one of its main purposes. In addition, a list of organisations are deemed, for the purposes of the Bill, not to be secular bodies, including chambers of commerce, organisations that are political, sporting-athletic, trade union representative in nature, and bodies that promote purposes that are unlawful, are contrary to public policy or morality, in support of terrorism or terrorist activities or for the benefit of an organisation of which membership is unlawful.

The body will be required to meet the criteria on a continuous basis and will be obliged to inform An tArd-Chláraitheoir if they cease to do so. In the event of the body not meeting all the criteria, its members will be removed from the register of solemnisers. There is scope within the Act to allow for appeals and reinstatement on the register where that is seen fit. In amending the Civil Registration Act 2004, this Bill adds in the concept of a "secular body" to those sections that had previously provided for a religious body.

I propose to summarise the main provisions of the Bill. Section 1 provides for the definition of the term "Principal Act" used throughout the Bill as the Civil Registration Act 2004.

Section 2 inserts and modifies definitions in section 45 of the principal Act, to provide for the broadening of the type of bodies that can apply to have a member added to the register of solemnisers, by including secular bodies. Section 45 provides for the definitions used in Part 6 of the Civil Registration Act 2004, which relates to the amendment of the law relating to marriages. Currently, the section only provides that a religious body and the executive, that is, registrars appointed by the HSE and who are included on the register of solemnisers held in the General Register Office, can conduct valid marriage ceremonies. This amendment and the insertion of section 45(A) as provided for in section 3 will allow bodies who fulfil the criteria of a secular body as defined to conduct valid marriages.

Section 3 amends section 45 and sets out the interpretation of the definition "secular body" for the purposes of this Bill. For the purposes of this Part, a body shall be a secular body if: it has not fewer than 50 members; its principal objects are secular, ethical and humanist; members of the body meet regularly in relation to their beliefs and in furtherance of their principal objects; any rules regarding marriage, or the solemnising of marriages, do not contravene the requirements of the Act or the law; it is shown to the satisfaction of An tArd-Chláraitheoir that it has appropriate procedures around the selection, training and accreditation of solemnisers; it has been in continuous existence for at least five years; it has for at least five years an entitlement to an exemption under section 207 or 208 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997; in respect of which a number stands issued by the Revenue Commissioners for the purpose of that exemption and that number stood issued for a continuous period of five years immediately preceding the date of its most recent application; does not have the making of profit as one of its principal objects; and maintains a register of members.

In addition, this section provides for a list of bodies which are deemed not to be secular bodies for the purposes of this Part. These are as follows: a political party, or a body that promotes a political party or candidate; a body that promotes a political cause; an approved body of persons within the meaning of section 235 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997; a trade union or a representative body of employers; a chamber of commerce; and a body that promotes purposes that are unlawful, contrary to public morality, contrary to public policy, in support of terrorism or terrorist activities, whether in the State or outside the State or for the benefit of an organisation membership of which is unlawful.

Section 4 provides for the amendment of section 51(3) of the principal Act to include solemnisers from secular bodies in the requirements to be met for a valid solemnisation of marriage. Section 51 provides that a marriage may only be legally solemnised by a registered solemniser. It sets out the elements required to be met so that a valid marriage takes place.

Section 5 provides for the amendment of section 53(4) of the principal Act to allow An tArd-Chláraitheoir refuse to register a person if he or she considers that the body concerned is not a secular body. Section 53 provides for the establishment of a Register of Solemnisers to be maintained by An tArd-Chláraitheoir. The register holds the names of all solemnisers who have been approved to conduct valid marriages and is open to inspection by the public.

Section 6 provides for the amendment of section 54 of the principal Act to include secular bodies in the categories of bodies that may apply for registration of persons on the register of solemnisers. An officer of the secular body must sign a certificate to the effect that, in their opinion, the nominated person is a fit and proper person to solemnise a marriage and confirm that the nominee has been selected, trained and accredited by the secular body in accordance with its procedures. The section also sets out procedures related to requesting additional information from bodies regarding an application on behalf of a member to become a registered solemniser.

Section 7 provides for the amendment of section 55 of the principal Act to include the cessation of a body as a religious or secular body as a reason the registration of a person may be cancelled on the register of solemnisers. Section 55 provides for the cancellation of the registration of a registered solemniser by An tArd-Chláraitheoir on a number of grounds, including a request for cancellation or that the marriage ceremony does not adhere to the necessary declarations. A registration may also be cancelled if the registered solemniser is convicted of an offence under the Act, carries on a business solemnising marriage for profit or gain, is not a fit and proper person to solemnise marriages or for any other reason. Section 55 sets out the requirements for An tArd-Chláraitheoir if he or she intends to cancel a registration. The amendment provides an inclusion of secular bodies in order that their registration may be cancelled under the same criteria, if required.

Section 8 provides for the amendment of section 56 of the principal Act to include secular bodies in the provisions to appeal against refusals or cancellations of registration in the register of solemnisers. Section 56 of the principal Act provides for leave to appeal to the Circuit Court if the Minister dismisses an appeal on the grounds that the body has ceased to be a religious body. This section provides the same appeal rights to a secular body. If the Minister dismisses an appeal on any other ground, a party to the appeal may appeal against the dismissal on a point of law to the Circuit Court. This section provides the same appeal rights to a secular body or to a party to the appeal who is not a member of a secular body.

Section 9 provides for the amendment of section 57 of the principal Act to allow for the granting of temporary authorisation to solemnise marriage to solemnisers from secular bodies. Section 57 provides for the temporary authorisation of members of a religious body to solemnise marriage.

An application made by a secular body under this section will be in such form and containing such particulars as may be determined by An tArd-Chláraitheoir. It must be made by an officer of the body. The certificate must be furnished in a satisfactory form stating that the person to be temporarily authorised is suitably trained and accredited as set out in section 45A(1)(e) and, in the opinion of that officer, is a fit and proper person to solemnise a marriage.

In addition, this section will provide for An tArd-Chláraitheoir to request further information on applications for temporary solemnisers from a religious or secular body. Currently, there is no provision for An tArd-Chláraitheoir to request additional information from religious bodies and this amendment will provide for such a request.

Section 10 provides for the Short Title, collective citations, construction and any necessary commencements. This Bill represents a significant and important change to the Civil Registration Act 2004, which sees us, as a nation, recognise the increasing desire of people to celebrate marriage in a way that can include their own secular, ethical and humanist beliefs. Marriage is an important institution and this Bill enhances its role both in Irish and English law.

I congratulate Senator Bacik who I know has worked on the Bill over a long period. It took some time to deal with all the detailed and legal considerations as Members will have heard in the descriptions of the sections. I have just come from DCU where I listened to the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. She spoke about the requirements of politicians to be both idealistic and realistic. Framing this proposal to meet the wishes of the humanist community in Ireland was a political act of idealism and vision. The slow boring of hard boards in the Office of the Attorney General brings that vision of change to fruition. We now have a Bill. I hope the people who will take on the role of solemnisers will have many successful, happy and fruitful weddings, which they will be in a position to celebrate as befits the humanist community in Ireland. I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, and thank her for her comprehensive contribution.

The Fianna Fáil Party is supportive of the Bill in principle. This is essentially the same as the Bill introduced in 2011 by Senator Bacik. I congratulate her on the work she put into it. It will allow groups, other than those who observe religious worship, to apply for licences to carry out weddings. As the Minister has outlined under the current Civil Registration Act, the only people who can legally celebrate a marriage are either HSE registrars or members of a religious body, designated by the chief registrar. This Bill will allow the Minister for Social Protection to designate other non-religious groupings such as the Humanist Association of Ireland and others to apply to local registrars for licences.

The Bill amends the Civil Registration Act 2004 which regulates the registration of civil marriages. The 2004 Act provides for the establishment of a register of solemnisers, those who can legally conduct marriages and make provision for a choice of venue for civil marriages. The category of people who may be registered as solemnisers is limited by section 54(1) of the 2004 Act, which provides that the HSE registrars and members of religious bodies are the only people who may celebrate legal marriages. Section 45 of the Act defines "religious body" as "an organised group of people members of which meet regularly for common religious worship."

The Bill seeks to address the anomaly that only HSE registrars or members of religious bodies may seek to be registered as solemnisers of marriage and it does this by inserting a new extended definition of "body" which the Minister has outlined. As the Bill is essentially the same as the Bill presented by Senator Bacik, it is a pity it does not bear her name. We wish it a speedy passage.

I welcome the Minster and the members of the humanist community in the Visitors Gallery. It is a case of déjà vu because we have been here before.

I too was at DCU this afternoon to listen to the former Senator Hillary Clinton. The comment that challenged me was when she said: "Let your value set guide you." I think that is what we are doing here today. As the Minister said by endorsing the Bill, which I do on behalf of the Fine Gael Party and I compliment Senator Bacik on presenting a similar Bill to the House in the first instance, we are embracing diversity. Clearly the people want to embrace diversity. Things have changed immensely in the space of 15 years, and this is borne out by statistics. In 1996, 6% of marriages were other than Catholic marriages, now the CSO has found in its last survey more people are looking for non-religious marriages than religious ceremonies. To each his own. It is time we embraced that diversity.

I am impressed by the driving philosophy of the Humanist Association of Ireland. As I understand it, humanism has a concern for humanity based on reason and compassion. I would like to think I have some of those qualities. Perhaps there is common ground between persons of faiths and those of none.

I do not wish to repeat the points made by the Minister or Senator Wilson because I endorse the Bill.

The Office of the Attorney General did well to spot that it would be better to correct Senator Bacik's Bill in order that the solemnisation of marriage would be lawful. I give the Bill my blessing. Go forth and multiply. The Humanist Association of Ireland has much time to make up.

A wide range of groups can conduct marriages and it is time that the Humanist Association of Ireland was added, as it has worked hard to achieve this. I know it will exercise judgment in the selection, training and accreditation of members who will be solemnisers of marriages. I understand they have officiated at 153 non-legally binding marriages in 2011 and almost 200 in 2012. I presume the Humanist Association of Ireland will call them back for a second day to confer legal marriage. This is a good new story.

I say "Well done" to the Minister, Deputy Joan Burton, and Senator Bacik.

My views are broken down into two parts. First, I extend a genuine and sincere welcome to the Bill. I congratulate Senator Bacik who prepared the original Bill, on which I seem to remember speaking, and the Minister on introducing this Bill.

May I say that this debate again shows the direct relevance of this Chamber? I hope the Minister will take this point back to her colleagues in the Government, not all of whom appear to be aware of it. She might be kind enough to say it to them. This is the second occasion this afternoon I have felt this. During our important debate on the question of abortion earlier today, Senator O'Donnell placed the details of a highly significant case - the D case - on the record of the House. The Government would do well to take account of the case in question. I stayed here for that important debate rather than attending another scheduled event. Having heard at second hand the catastrophic collection of cliches of which Mrs. Clinton delivered herself, I am rather glad I stayed here.

I approve of the Bill. We know the legislative history in this area. The various provisions have been recited. There is no point in going into them. It is highly appropriate that this right and entitlement should be given to this group of people. I am pleased to be part of the Chamber that is sanctioning it. In her opening address, the Minister said that this legislation "will allow valid marriages to be performed by bodies that fulfil the criteria of a secular body as laid down in the Bill, reflecting the varied belief systems in a modern society which still holds marriage as a valuable life choice". That is inarguable and perfectly reasonable. She continued:

The body must be in existence for at least five years, be an organised group of people who have secular, ethical and humanist beliefs in common, have a minimum of 50 people and meet on a regular basis. The body must be a charity and cannot have the making of profit as one of its main purposes.

She concluded:

This Bill represents a significant and important change to the Civil Registration Act 2004, which sees us, as a nation, recognise the increasing desire of people to celebrate marriage in a way that can include their own secular, ethical and humanist beliefs. Marriage is an important institution and this Bill enhances its role both in Irish and English law.

I absolutely agree with this.

I compliment and congratulate my colleagues. I note the presence in the Visitors Gallery of my old friend, Michael Nugent. Those who are atheists - I am most certainly not one of them - can be wonderful people with a dignity and an ethical system that sometimes reproves those of us who profess religious belief. I wonder whether the Minister understands in any sense at all how humiliating it is for me to stand here today and say that. Do the Minister and her Government colleagues have any imaginative capacity that enables them to understand what it feels like for me to know that whereas a serial murderer, a rapist or somebody convicted of incest can be legally married in this country, I cannot? One can be married by a druid, by a spiritualist, by a witch or by a wizard, but one cannot get married if one is gay. Although I feel the joy of those who have had the right to marry conferred on them, I wonder why we are so reluctant to give that right to another group. One can be married by the Bahá'í Community, the Chinese Gospel Church, the Mallow Street Christian Fellowship, the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries, the Mountain View Community Church, the Pagan Federation of Ireland, the Plumbline Ministries, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Society of St. Pius X in Ireland, the Solid Rock Church of God, the Soul Winning Pentecostal Ministries, the Spiritualist Union of Ireland, the Salvation Army and the Unitarian Church. I have given a random selection.

The Senator is going to run out of time.

I will make another point before I do so. It is a disgrace that the Unitarian Church, which is included in the list, is not permitted to solemnise marriage between people of the same sex as it wishes to do. It is right that the church I have named is being given the power to marry people under a fairly strict regime, but it is not right that it is being denied the religious freedom to do what it wants. It is an example of serious religious and sectarian discrimination against a religious group. I imagine that most of the secularist and humanist groups would also be happy to solemnise these marriages, and perhaps they should. I almost feel like proposing to one of the people in the Visitors Gallery in order that we can see how it works out. They are smiling their agreement. The second message I would like to send from Seanad Éireann - I am sure most of my colleagues support me in this regard - is that the Minister should get her skates on and accept that we want to celebrate. The acknowledgment we want is not just a humanist one. People who are debarred from-----

I have a message for the Senator. He is over time.

I have heard the Chair's message loud and clear. My final point is that those who go forth and multiply - that phrase is sometimes used in a disparaging way - should do so in a moderate fashion because we have been bred off this planet by heterosexual excess.

That is a hard act to follow. I welcome the Minister, Deputy Burton, to the House and thank her for the support she has given to this Bill. As others have kindly acknowledged, this is a reformulation of a Private Members' Bill - the Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill 2011 - that I initiated on behalf of the Labour Party group in this House on 10 November 2011. I welcome the members of the Humanist Association of Ireland who are in the Gallery, particularly Brian Whiteside, who has provided immense help and support with the Bill. I would also like to thank the Minister's advisers and officials who have been of great assistance in the reformulation of the legislation I drew up.

As I said, the Second Stage debate on the previous version of the Bill took place on 10 November 2011. It has been a long haul since then. I thank the humanists for their patience. I thank all of my colleagues in this House who spoke in support of the previous legislation on that occasion. I welcome the cross-party support that the Bill is receiving again this evening. The Bill before the House is essentially the same as the 2011 Bill in its purpose. It is a technical amending Bill. It amends the Civil Registration Act 2004, with the key effect of enabling members of the Humanist Association of Ireland and, potentially, other secular bodies to be entitled to perform legal civil wedding ceremonies. When the Bill has been passed, humanists will for the first time be able to legally perform weddings in Ireland, which is hugely significant.

Senator Norris is aware that I entirely concur with what he said about marriage equality. I hope that by the end of the Government's term in office, we will have corrected that anomaly in a way that ensures gay couples are able to marry. They should be able to be married by religious and non-religious bodies in the same way as straight couples. As the Senator knows, the matter is currently before the constitutional convention, which is due to report by the end of next year. He is also aware that I have acted as legal counsel in an ongoing case before the High Court that seeks to establish the right to gay marriage. Progress is being made on that front.

I remind Senator Norris and everyone else who supports marriage equality that it is not the purpose of the Bill. This legislation is making a small but important change to enable marriages to be celebrated by non-religious bodies, as well as by religious bodies. I am particularly conscious the day after the budget that at a time of great economic hardship, this may be seen as less than significant. However, judging by the number of people who have contacted me about it - I am sure Brian Whiteside and others in the Humanist Association of Ireland and Michael Nugent and others in Atheist Ireland have also been contacted - this Bill will have a significant effect on a number of people who have for a long time wished to get married in accordance with their own beliefs but have been unable to do so because humanist weddings have not been legally recognised. Such persons have had to arrange two wedding ceremonies - a civil ceremony with a HSE registrar for legal purposes and a humanist ceremony with friends and family to celebrate in their own way. This legislation will have an important impact on the people concerned.

As the Minister eloquently acknowledged, the changes being made in the Bill are in keeping with this country's move towards a more pluralist and inclusive society. That this Bill has been initiated here is in keeping with the traditional role of the Seanad as the House in which progressive social reforms have been brought forward during the years. I am proud that this legislation, in its original inception and in the Government version, is a creature of the Seanad. It was commenced in the Seanad in both cases. The Seanad was the first House, and is the only House to date, to acknowledge non-Christians in our opening ceremony. I refer to the one-minute silence that we have before the Christian prayer each day.

The Bill represents another way for us to accommodate difference in our laws, to show that we are inclusive and respectful of those who do not share the faith of the majority and to respect the values and belief systems of such persons. It is another step in the process of making our society more inclusive. That important factor in the introduction of the legislation must be acknowledged. The Minister has outlined the detail of the Bill.

It will expand the definition of those who are capable of celebrating legal weddings beyond the religious bodies and HSE registrars. We know from Senator David Norris's very colourful exposition that there is quite a range of groups included in the list of bodies authorised as religious bodies to solemnise marriages. The list includes the pagan federation and the spiritualist union. It is anomalous that the definition has excluded members of the Humanist Association which has carried out humanist wedding, funeral and naming ceremonies for many years. The Bill will address that anomaly. The Bill is much more elegantly drafted than my original version of the Bill. I am happy to admit that it covers a whole range of issues that I - not being a professional drafter - had not covered, including temporary authorisation. I am glad to note that secular body is to be covered in the same way as a religious body and be subject to exactly the same rules as in the 2004 Act. When the original Bill came before the House on Committee and Report Stages on 2 May 2012, we ran into difficulty debating how we would deal with defining "secular body". This definition works well.

It is important to note some issues about humanism and the Humanist Association. Humanism is an ethical philosophy of life, based on a concern for humanity. Many people in Ireland, many atheists, including me, would be proud to describe ourselves as having a humanist philosophy, irespective of whether we are members of the association. The association has a membership of more than 500 and has also become a voice for the non-religious who are, according to the most recent census figures, the largest belief group in Ireland, after Catholics. In census 2011 the numbers who ticked the "no religion" box increased to 270,000. Therefore, it is a significant group. It was good to see humanists represented with religious groups at the presidential inauguration of President Michael D. Higgins last year. Humanists are represented on the National Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in Education and, increasingly, are given status alongside religious bodies at official events.

Humanist wedding ceremonies are gaining legal status in many other countries and an increasing number of people here, as pointed out Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, have chosen to have humanist wedding ceremonies. There were 153 such weddings in 2011 and close to 200 couples will have had humanist non-legally binding humanist ceremonies by the end of the year. Humanists have 12 accredited celebrants and a detailed set of criteria of attributes for accreditation which people must go through before being accredited. It is clear that in a changing society we need to accommodate humanism and other viewpoints that do not fit with the majority religion. The Bill is entirely in keeping with that.

I am delighted the Bill is to pass all Stages today and that there is cross-party support. I thank the Minister for her support. It will go through all Stages in the other House on 20 December where, I hope, there will be cross-party support. I hope it can be signed and commenced by ministerial order by the end of December. Already many people have been disappointed because they could not have Christmas weddings. I hope the first humanist weddings can be held early in the springtime. Perhaps, the Bill can be progressed speedily and commenced swiftly once it has been passed through the Houses. I thank everyone for their kind words.

This is a good day. I thank the Minister for coming to the House and, as the Senator has said, reorganising the Bill to ensure it meets all the requirements, including being watertight, that humanists and others would have wanted. Drafting legislation is difficult. Having seen the Bill initiated here and come to fruition in a year is evidence of how difficult it is to get legislation right. It is correct that it is watertight. However, I was amused momentarily by the idea of a Labour Party or GAA solemniser. That would have been quite entertaining but I note correctly that is not the case.

I am grateful to the Senator for having had the vision to bring forward the amendment. It is a good day for Ireland. It is a sign that we are growing up as a society, that we recognise the need for greater inclusion and equality in marriage. I share some of Senator Norris's concerns. He knows as we know that the constitutional convention will address the issue of same sex marriage. We will wait for that because that convention is itself a recognition of the way we are changing. It is welcome that the Government can see that it is appropriate to invite members of the public to debate matters and make recommendations. I welcome the constitutional convention's role. Some people have said it will not do enough or it is not starting in the right place. It has to start somewhere and we made a good start last Saturday.

I welcome the Bill. I thank Senator Bacik, the Minister and her officials. It is a sign of our growing up and our capacity to legislate for things that are important. Even though it accommodates a small group it sends a signal to the world and society of what matters to us.

I welcome the Minister and those from the Humanist Association. I commend Senator Bacik for her work in bringing the legislation to this Stage and the Minister and her officials. The Bill is a sign that we are growing up and the position where legal marriages can only be conducted by a HSE registrar or a member of a religious body should be amended. We have to recognise that the number of people seeking civil wedding ceremonies in Ireland has increased, to the extent that this year the Central Statistics Office is predicting an even greater percentage of non-religious wedding ceremonies than religious wedding ceremonies.

While the term "religious body" includes a wide range of religious organisations, such as the Pagan Federation of Ireland and the Spiritualist Union of Ireland, it has excluded the Humanist Association of Ireland. If a couple wants a humanist wedding they must arrange two separate ceremonies, one at a registry office and the other at a venue they have chosen. By contrast, most Christian weddings do not require a separate ceremony because the marriage is legally registered at the church or chapel where the ceremony takes place. These arrangements are discriminatory in that they do not recognise the humanist wedding as legal. They effectively treat non-religious people as second class citizens. Humanists are, therefore, only seeking parity of esteem in which the same legal right should apply to both religious and non-religious ceremonies. I am pleased that the Bill is going through today and when finally sealed, I hope before Christmas, that the position will change. We have to move in line with other countries such as Scotland, Australia and Scandinavia where humanist weddings have legal status. Australia introduced such provisions 40 years ago. As Senator Bacik has pointed out we can be assured that the Humanist Association has a rigorous accreditation process for prospective celebrants, including the ten required attributes to accreditation.

I congratulate Senator Bacik on her hard work and the Minister and her officials. It is a great day for the country.

I thank Senator Ivana Bacik for the work she has done on the Bill. I thank also Senator Fidelma Healy Eames for the Fine Gael support for the Bill. I thank also Senator Diarmuid Wilson for the support which Fianna Fáil has offered. I understand Senator Norris's concerns and accept the references to the work of the Seanad in this and other areas. I recall that Senators from Trinity College Dublin such as Mary Robinson, Senator Norris and others worked together on a number of groundbreaking initiatives which were radical in Ireland for their time. That Senator Norris is here to speak in support of the Bill continues a tradition that has been represented by the Trinity College Senators in the House and it is being continued by Senator Bacik. That is a nice historical connection between generations of Trinity College Senators.

Senator Norris referred to gay marriage. That is an issue I would like to see provided for in the Constitution and law.

I was one of those who strongly supported the development of civil partnerships. As Senator Ivana Bacik said, the constitutional limitation on gay people getting married is now up for consideration at the constitutional convention. I hope to see this being adopted and made possible in constitutional and legislative terms. Senator David Norris is aware of my views in that regard.

This legislation is a small but significant piece of the mosaic in the development of social and personal freedoms in Ireland, the cornerstone of which is respect. We should respect people from different traditions and backgrounds and their ethical and moral frameworks. We should use the Oireachtas as the appropriate place in which to legislate to reflect all of the different religious, ethical and humanist frameworks in Ireland. This is very important, particularly for young people, because most of those who marry are young. However, nowadays many are marrying at a later age, particularly those entering a second or subsequent marriage. It is important that persons with humanist beliefs should have this opportunity also.

I thank Senators for their expressions of support. The 2011 Bill contained all of the core ideas, on which we have made progress. I thank the staff of the Department of Social Protection and the Office of the Attorney General and the Attorney General herself for taking a detailed interest in the progress of this legislation. Today we are taking the second last step with the debate in the Seanad which will finish before Christmas in the Dáil.

Judging by the number of couples who opt for a civil ceremony, the number opting for a humanist ceremony is significant. The people concerned wish to have their marriage celebrated in the presence of a humanist solemniser. I welcome this development and believe the measures and sections included in the Bill offer the appropriate structures and safeguards. They require a solemniser to have an appropriate qualification because it is important that a marriage be celebrated in a dignified and lawful way, not just in a happy and joyful way. This sends an important message about two people coming together to pledge themselves to each other, generally in the presence of family and friends. The institution of marriage is at the heart of this legislation, the commitment of two people to set out together. It is only right that we let them begin that journey by recognising their belief system under which they wish to celebrate their marriage.

I again congratulate Senator Ivana Bacik. I also thank the other Senators for their contributions.

Question put and agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At noon on Tuesday, 11 December 2012.

The Seanad adjourned at 6 p.m until noon on Tuesday, 11 December 2012.