We move on to the Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015 - Second Stage. No. 2, motion pursuant to section 23 of the Referendum Act 1994 in regard to the proposal to amend the Constitution, which is contained in the Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015, will be debated in conjunction with Second Stage of the Bill but will not be moved until Fifth Stage is concluded.
Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015: Second Stage
I am honoured to introduce the Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015 into Seanad Éireann. The Bill sets out the proposed constitutional amendment on the issue of marriage equality to be put to the people in the referendum on 22 May 2015. If the referendum is approved by the people, couples will have a right to marry without distinction as to their sex.
The Government agreed on 5 November 2013 that a referendum should be held in the first half of 2015 on the question of enabling same-sex couples to marry. The Government's decision was in response to the report of the Constitutional Convention. The convention's third report, "Amending the Constitution to provide for same-sex marriage", issued in June 2013, recommended that an amendment be made to the Constitution to provide for same-sex marriage. Obviously, I would like to acknowledge the contribution to these deliberations of the Senators who were members of the convention.
The Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015 was published on 21 January 2015 following Government agreement on the proposed wording. The Government has since agreed, on 3 March 2015, the general scheme of the marriage Bill 2015, which sets out the legislative changes that will be undertaken if the referendum is passed by the people. That scheme was circulated by me to Senators on 9 March 2015. The proposals provided for in the general scheme are, of course, conditional on the decision of the electorate on the referendum.
The Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015 provides that, if the referendum is passed, a new section will be inserted after section 3 of Article 41 of the Constitution. That section, Article 41.4, if approved by the people, will contain the following wording: "Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex." No other amendments would arise in respect of Article 41. The wording is intended to give a right to marry to couples without distinction as to their sex. If the wording is approved by the people, there will be a corresponding obligation and requirement on the State to respect and vindicate that right in its legislation. Therefore, it would not be open to the State to maintain in being legislation which prohibits the marriage of same-sex couples. Legislation would have to be enacted to enable marriages to take place between same-sex couples.
I propose to outline the rationale behind the wording proposed for the thirty-fourth amendment. The first element of the wording, "Marriage may be contracted," draws on the precedent of Article 41, which recognises marriage as an institution. The wording confirms that the right being proposed in the constitutional amendment relates to the issue of access to the institution of marriage. The decision to use the term "contracted" is for the following reasons. It is the term already used in Article 41.3 in regard to marriage. Furthermore, the term confirms that what is at issue is civil marriage, which is a contract between two persons in the eyes of the State. The phrase "in accordance with law" has been included in the proposed wording to confirm that marriage would continue, as at present, to be regulated by statute and by common law. The phrase "without distinction as to their sex" reflects language already used in Article 16 of the Constitution. Articles 16.1.1° and 16.1.2° use the phrase "without distinction of sex" with regard to the eligibility of citizens for membership of the Dáil and the right of every citizen to vote for members of Dáil Éireann. The wording proposed for the thirty-fourth amendment builds on the language of that precedent to provide for a couple, regardless of their sex, to be eligible to marry.
There has been some commentary on the decision to use the term "sex" rather than "gender" in the wording of the proposed amendment. The reason the term "sex" has been used is that it is the term already used in the Constitution. Furthermore, the barriers which prevent persons from marrying under Irish law are impediments relating to a person's sex rather than to a person's gender.
The Irish wording of the amendment was changed on Committee Stage in the Dáil in the interests of further clarity. The view of the Oireachtas translation service and of the other language experts that I consulted was that the concerns expressed regarding the proposed wording were unfounded. However, the Government considered it important that the electorate should have absolute confidence in the wording proposed for the amendment in both English and Irish. As a result, the Government decided to propose a more literal translation of the English wording. The amended wording, as agreed on Committee Stage in Dáil Éireann and based on the recommendation of the Oireachtas translation service, is as follows: "Féadfaidh beirt, gan beann ar a ngnéas, conradh pósta a dhéanamh de réir dlí." This wording essentially can be translated into English as: "Two persons, regardless of their sex, can contract a marriage in accordance with law".
Bravo. Well done.
What does the proposed constitutional amendment seek to achieve? What are the people being asked to decide in the referendum on 22 May? The people will be asked to decide upon a simple question, namely, who should have the right to marry in the eyes of the State. The answer to that question will determine whether or not the institution of marriage should be opened to same-sex couples on the same basis as opposite-sex couples. The people will decide if all couples who wish to marry should be able to do so. They will determine whether marriage should be reserved for heterosexual couples. The people will have the opportunity to decide whether the Constitution should contain a right to marriage equality.
Who are the same-sex couples that will be affected by the answer to these questions? They are our children, our grandchildren, our siblings, our friends, our colleagues, our neighbours and our fellow citizens. Many waited years to gain the public recognition of their relationships represented by civil partnerships. Many are now waiting again and hoping to be in a position soon to make the deepest commitment to a life partner, namely, to be able to marry him or her.
Marriage is important to us as a society. It is the foundation of many of our families. It is the public expression of a profound commitment to another human being. The referendum, if passed, would not affect existing marriages in any way. Neither would it have any impact on heterosexual marriages into the future. The proposed constitutional amendment would not redefine marriage. What the amendment would do, if approved by the people, would be to enable an additional group of people - same-sex couples who cannot marry at present - to have the right to marry. The existing structure underpinning civil marriage would remain in place. Marriages would continue to be registered in the same manner as at present. The same conditions would continue to apply. Each person entering a marriage, for instance, would have, as at present, to give full, free and informed consent. The legal consequences accruing for the couple would be the same for a same-sex married couple as for a heterosexual couple. Marriage and the family would continue to be protected, as they are at present, by Article 41 of the Constitution.
Furthermore, the proposed constitutional amendment would not have any impact on religious marriage, as the amendment relates exclusively to the issue of civil marriage.
Religious marriages would continue to be regulated by the respective religious denominations. The right of religious denominations to manage their own affairs is enshrined in Article 44.5 of the Constitution. This right is reflected in the legislation governing the registration of marriage. Section 51(3)(c) of the Civil Registration Act 2004 stipulates that a religious solemniser shall not solemnise a marriage except in accordance with a form of ceremony which has been recognised by the religious body of which he or she is a member. The general scheme of the marriage Bill, which I placed on the website of the Department of Justice and Equality and circulated to Oireachtas Members on 9 March last, confirms that nothing in the legislation which would be introduced into the Oireachtas if the referendum were passed would oblige: a religious body to recognise a particular form of marriage ceremony; or a religious solemniser to solemnise a marriage in accordance with a form of ceremony which is not recognised by that religious body. If the referendum were approved, those getting married in religious ceremonies would continue to do so in the same manner as at present.
I will say this again because it is critically important. There would be no implications for religious marriages. Of course, if a religious denomination were to choose to solemnise same-sex marriages, it would be free to do so. Nonetheless, the changes resulting from the referendum, if carried, would be exclusively to civil marriages - marriages in the eyes of the State.
Civil marriage is a legal contract between two persons, intended to be for life, which changes their status towards one another in the eyes of the State. It has implications for taxation, social welfare, property and succession. It has the protection of the Constitution. On what basis can we argue that some couples should get the legal and financial benefits that accrue from civil marriage but that these should be denied to others? On what basis can we argue that two persons should be prevented for the duration of their lives from making a lifetime's commitment to one another? On what basis can we continue to allow same-sex couples to be locked out of a union which has the protection of the Constitution?
Marriage has evolved with the norms of each age. The concept of marriage based on equality would have been unimaginable to our ancestors. Consider how different marriage was for women in times gone by. For centuries, women lost any independent legal existence once they got married. It was not until the Married Women's Property Act in 1870 that married women got the right to hold their earnings in their own right. Prior to the mid-19th century, it was common for marriages to be arranged. Married couples lived with parents, siblings and other relatives in larger family groups.
Even in our own lifetimes, marriage has changed fundamentally for women. A woman who got married 60 years ago would not have been able to sue in her own right. She was not entitled to sit on a jury. She was prevented by the marriage bar from continuing to hold a job in many areas of the public sector, right up until the 1970s in this country. The marriage of the 1950s was one in which it was routine for the woman to be the homemaker and the man the provider. However, today our understanding of marriage is very different. We expect now, on entering marriage, for it to be a relationship of equals. We consider it normal for a married couple to live together with their children rather than as part of a larger family group. However, the current concept of marriage as a relationship of equals, intending to fulfil both parties, has only been the norm for the past two generations.
Preventing couples from getting married because of their sexual orientation increasingly jars with our sense of fairness. For more and more people in our society, this issue at stake is one of equality.
When the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act was passed in 2010, it represented an important step forward in the public recognition of the relationships of same-sex couples. Significant changes were made then to legislation on taxation, social welfare and succession to enable civil partners to have rights which were equal to those of married couples in many areas. Civil partnership has been a successful mechanism through which many same-sex couples have made publicly binding commitments to one another. Some 1,467 couples had entered civil partnership by June 2014.
However, the tide of history internationally has shown that civil partnership is now viewed in many countries as a staging post along the path to full equality for same-sex couples rather than a final destination in itself. An increasing number of countries are giving same-sex couples the right to marry. The Netherlands was the first country to pass a law, in 2001, enabling same-sex couples to marry. Since then, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, Denmark, France, Brazil, Uruguay, New Zealand, Luxembourg, Finland, England, Wales and Scotland have all given same-sex couples the right to marry. It is possible for same-sex couples to marry in 37 US states. The US Supreme Court is currently considering whether or not that right should be extended across all US states. This month, the Slovenian Parliament approved a law in favour of marriage equality. More and more countries are choosing to extend the right of marry to same-sex couples, seeing it as an issue of equal rights for all.
Many same-sex couples themselves have indicated that while civil partnership has been welcome as an arrangement for its time, it is no substitute for marriage. They wish to participate as full citizens in all of the institutions available to others in the society. They wish to enjoy the same rights to marry as are now available in many countries. They wish their relationships to enjoy the same public recognition and respect as those of heterosexual couples. For them, it is an issue of equality.
For our society, it is also an issue of equality. We will have to decide whether or not we open up the institution of marriage, in the interests of equality, to same-sex couples as well as to heterosexual couples. We will have to decide if marriage should be defined against the prism of the past or a vibrant institution embedded in the modernity of the 21st century.
I was moved by the debate in the Dáil. I felt that we were at a privileged moment in our history when the manifold possibilities of the future were before us. I was reminded of Maya Angelou's famous poem On the Pulse of Morning, which urges us to embrace the possibilities of the new morning and to take the path of change:
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings. ...
The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage ... .
Once in a generation, people get the chance to make a life-changing decision which will have the effect of defining the priorities of that society. This is a moment when our society gets the chance to take a momentous decision. Ireland will be the first country to decide the issue of marriage equality in a referendum. It is the finest expression of our democracy that the decision will be a decision of the many rather than of the few.
Fianna Fáil strongly supports the legislation before the House today. We held a vote at our Ard-Fheis in 2012 where our members endorsed equal marriage for same-sex couples. They also voted in favour of equal adoption rights for same-sex couples.
As a republican party, we believe in equality for all citizens, be they male or female, black or white, gay or straight. It is a core principle of our party and it is one that was reiterated earlier this week when we held our own event to launch a programme of events to commemorate 1916. It is particularly fitting that this legislation is progressing now in advance of the centenary of the Easter Rising next year. As a people, we now have an opportunity to genuinely bring through the ideals of our founding fathers in the Proclamation and ensure that we deliver a society that treats "all of the children of the nation equally". For that reason, we support the referendum.
My party's director of elections, Deputy Niall Collins, has already undertaken a national tour organising public meetings around the country. For my own part, I am knocking on doors five times a week in my area and helping groups, such as Marriage Equality and Yes Equality, doing canvassing training to ensure that there is a ground war on this as well.
It is very important that people get an opportunity to interact with those who are campaigning for a "Yes" vote, to ask us questions and to understand for themselves what the campaign is really about. Unfortunately, much of that gets lost in the media coverage because of the restrictive rules based on the way the Coughlan judgment has been applied, which results in a situation in which there is a 50:50 debate on everything-----
That is absolute nonsense.
-----regardless of whether it is reflective of where anyone stands on an issue. In spite of the fact that all political parties, major children's rights organisations, human rights organisations, trade unions, medical organisations and every type of civil society group are in favour, media debates look as though it is an issue on which people are equally divided. People constantly tell me that makes the issue confusing for them. They come away from watching those programmes with nothing more than a headache and they are no more enlightened about the subject matter of the debate than they were previously. That is a serious issue, particularly from a public service broadcasting point of view. Public service broadcasters have a responsibility to enlighten people, to explain what referendums are about and not to leave people in a fog caused by ridiculous, contentious debates that do not help anyone. A door-to-door campaign is very important.
Let us be clear: the question before us in the referendum is incredibly simple. The Bill is between two and three lines long. I include the Title. There is a one-line question, which is whether two adults who love each other and are committed to spending the rest of their lives together should be able to get married, be they male and female, female and female or male and male. Love is the same regardless of gender. It is precisely because the question is so simple that the "No" side is deliberately trying to muddy the waters and confuse people - because they know Irish people are warm, understanding, empathetic people who do not like to see other members of society suffer for no good reason. When people are asked a straight question as to whether they think two committed adults in love with each other should be able to marry, the response is overwhelmingly "Yes."
I was part of the Constitutional Convention where the issue was discussed. We heard all the arguments on both sides over the course of two days, and at the end of the process the citizen members voted overwhelmingly in favour of marriage equality. It was a very emotional experience, because citizens who had come to the process not convinced - who said to me on the Saturday morning that they believed in equal rights for people but were not sure about marriage and were not convinced it was necessary - by Sunday afternoon, when the vote was announced, were in tears along with the rest of us, and we all hugged each other. It was such an emotional response, because they had listened to lesbian and gay people affected by this and they had seen the human side of it and the impact that discrimination and a denial of the right to marry have on people and their families. They had listened to incredibly articulate young people who had been brought up by lesbian parents. Any parent would have been proud to have those two people stand up and reflect their family and their upbringing. After the two young people spoke, the lady beside me turned to me and said "Oh my God. How could we justify this?". The two young people clearly said they had amazing parents and a great upbringing, with the same home environment as everyone else, yet society does not treat them the same. They said the only unhappiness they had as children was being treated differently by the State when they were clearly brought up in a loving and very supportive environment.
It is because people overwhelmingly respond positively when the question put to them is the one on the ballot paper - namely, whether two adults should be able to marry - that the "No" lobby is deliberately trying to confuse the situation and make the referendum about other issues. They claim the referendum is on adoption, which is a completely unrelated and entirely separate issue, one in which I have a considerable personal interest, as the Minister is aware. However, it has absolutely nothing to do with the referendum.
As things stand, gay people can adopt. As of today, they can only do so as individuals, which only penalises the children, because when a couple adopts and only one of the parents has a legal relationship with the child, that is damaging for the child because it does not give him or her a legal connection and support from the second parent. Under the family law Bill that is currently going through the House, by this time next week all cohabiting couples and people in civil partnerships will be able to adopt. The argument is a complete red herring. Regardless of whether people vote "Yes" or "No" in the referendum, same-sex partners will be able to adopt. It is important to look at the experience we have from fostering, as gay couples have been fostering very successfully for many years and providing a loving and supportive environment for children from very difficult circumstances whose earlier lives were very difficult, and giving them a second chance.
While people get obsessed with adoption, it is important to point out that only a handful of children are adopted in Ireland currently. In fact, it is probably not enough. Last year there were 112 adoptions, of which almost 100 were by family members involving step-parents or other relatives. It is most disingenuous that certain groups try to portray the referendum as being about issues such as adoption. Moreover, the important point is that regardless of whether people vote “Yes” or “No”, children are being brought up in same-sex families. Many gay people have children of their own from previous relationships, from a time when they were not comfortable coming out and ended up marrying someone of the opposite sex and going through the torment and pain of marital breakdown before setting up a second relationship. They have children and they are acting as parents. Voting “No” in the referendum just denies those children the protection and support they need. This is not about a referendum about notional children that might be created on 23 May; it is a referendum about real families that exist and that deserve support. No child should be discriminated against because of his or her family environment. Every child deserves the same support. Moreover, research shows that the most important thing from a child development point of view is that children are brought up in a happy and stable home. It does not matter whether that is by a single parent, by step-parents, by a widow, grandparents or two mothers or fathers. The most important thing is that a child is cared for and supported.
The kind of prejudice we see against families headed by same-sex couples is precisely the type of prejudice that was previously visited on single parents - women who were shamed because they left violent situations before we had divorce in this country. They walked away because it was safer for themselves and for their children, but they were ashamed because of an ideology in this country that said one had to stay with one’s husband no matter what, and their children were discriminated against as a result. That is precisely the same type of judgmentalism and discrimination that is experienced by same-sex families. It is also the same type of attitude that led to adopted people such as me – there are approximately 60,000 or 70,000 of us in this country - being forcibly separated from our mothers. My mother and many others got pregnant when they were not married, and Irish society made a judgment that one was better off being with any married couple than with one’s own mother. It is the same people who now talk about mothers and fathers who argued for a long time in this country that one was far better off with anyone else than one’s biological mother because they did not think one’s biological mother was worthy.
Senator Power is dead right.
Those judgments have done untold damage to us as a society. They have done untold damage to families in the past and they have done untold damage to children. It is time we put all of that prejudice behind us and ensured that all families, regardless of their shape, get equal support and recognition.
I wish to deal with one other red herring, namely, assisted human reproduction, AHR. Again, the “No” campaigners are trying to make the referendum about human reproduction and whether people should be able to conceive through sperm donation or surrogacy. They do not like to acknowledge the fact that AHR is mainly used by heterosexual couples, because it does not suit their argument, or that one does not have to be married to use it, which means that it is entirely irrelevant in a debate on marriage equality. Such people also ignore the fact that the legislation is addressing those issues. I do not agree with anonymous donation or commercial surrogacy and I am pleased the Government is outlawing both of those practices. It is correct that it do so.
The referendum is not about any of those issues; what it is simply about is equality. It is about equal respect and equal support. Gay men and women aspire to get married for the exact same reason as everyone else. They hope to find someone they love and want to spend the rest of their lives with. They wish to express that love and commitment in front of their friends and family and they want to share in the joys and overcome the challenges of married life. As a married woman I am a firm believer in marriage. I believe it is good not just for couples but also for families and the wider society. It is very positive that Ireland still has one of the highest marriage rates in the world. Divorce did not ruin marriage and neither will opening up marriage to a wider group of people. If my gay friends get married it will not affect my marriage or anyone else’s one bit, but it will make them happier. It will also send out a very positive message to young gay people in particular who are struggling to come to terms with their sexual orientation despite all the progress that has, thankfully, been made in recent years in LGBT equality.
Many young lesbian and gay teenagers still struggle when they realise they are gay. They worry about being rejected by their families and concerned they will not have the same opportunities in life as their heterosexual siblings. They fear being lonely, not able to marry, settle down and grow old with someone they care about. As a result, gay teenagers are much more likely to be depressed and even suicidal than their straight peers. We have an opportunity on 22 May to send them and the rest of our lesbian and gay citizens a strong message of love and solidarity by voting “Yes”.
I welcome the Minister for Justice and Equality to the House. Twice this week, I have stood up to agree wholeheartedly with Senator Power. That is the way politics should be in this country. I appreciated her testimonial and contribution on what is a ground-breaking Bill. The referendum which will follow this will be ground-breaking too. I have no doubt the Minister is very proud to put this legislation through the Houses and to see a successful referendum result. I can remember as a young fellow admiring the work she did when she was involved in the Council for the Status of Women. It was the same way that I admired Senator Norris in the late 1980s when he took Ireland to the European Court of Human Rights over the fact that homosexuality was still a criminal offence and won. As a result, in 1993 a Fianna Fáil female Minister - another important point to note - decriminalised homosexuality. Now we have a female justice Minister presiding over the most important referendum we will have in this country in a long time, notwithstanding the importance of the 2012 children's referendum. What this referendum will do for equality will put Ireland on the world stage. As has been pointed out, we will be the first country to pass this legislation by a referendum of the people as opposed to the few, which will make a very profound statement. Obviously, we have much work to do between now and then and it is important to ensure we win.
There are people like some of us in the House who are dedicated to equality and will be campaigning for a “Yes” vote. There are others, for their own reasons, who will be voting “No”. There are people who will be influenced by the campaign, how it is conducted and will certainly form a significant portion of voters. The people who will ensure this referendum gets over the line will know people in their own families, their social circles or at work who are gay but are being denied the basic equality of the right to marry.
I look at our workplace here and the leaders we have. I have already spoken about Senator Norris, the first openly gay Member of the Oireachtas, who campaigned tirelessly for equality. I am sure he will be delighted when he sees this referendum getting over the line. There is our other colleague, Senator Zappone, the first female gay Member of the Oireachtas. She achieved much in her career before she came into the Oireachtas. She was a leader in society and continues to be one as a Member of Seanad Éireann. We have had our colleague Senator Eamonn Coughlan’s powerful testimonial over the past several weeks of the journey he, his son and his family have had to make in this regard. If people are not moved by these stories and experiences, I do not know what will persuade them.
In the other House, we had the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, the first senior Minister to come out and openly discuss his sexuality, something which must have been very difficult. Those of us who know the Minister know him to be a very fine, capable public representative and a leader in society but also a very private person. I have known Leo Varadkar for the past 25 years and know he is a private person who protects his privacy. However, he felt a duty to other people, particularly the young person he listened to on “Liveline”, who felt he had no choice but to leave the country. Leo did the right thing and we are all extremely proud of what he did. I heard the interview he did with Miriam O’Callaghan live and it was exceptionally moving. Deputy Jerry Buttimer, another leader and great character, is doing enormous work to get this referendum over the line. There are Deputies Dominic Hannigan and John Lyons, two amazing people and representatives.
I am also most proud of Pat Carey, the former Minister of State. He was someone who I admired as he was prepared to go on television and late-night radio in the dying days of the last Government when many Ministers ran for cover to explain, as best he could, the reasons certain decisions were made. While I did not always agree with him, I always admired him.
If my workplace, the Houses of the Oireachtas, is anything to go by, I have no doubt the decency shown by gay Members is reflected in every other workplace. My message to the people is if one wants straight politics vote gay. Any of the gay people I know are as straight as one will get.
I will be putting that in my manifesto for the next election.
With that in mind, I wish the Minister well in this endeavour. Obviously the waters will be muddied by people who have the cheek and the ignorance to connect children with this issue. This has nothing to do with children. That will be dealt with by other Bills going through the Houses. It is unfair that, as in similar referendums, a little issue is picked and developed to confuse and to frighten people to make them go back to a default position of conservatism and being careful. That is wrong. We have a message to ensure the record is corrected in that regard. I have no doubt that will be done.
I am sure the Minister will address the issues raised by Senator Power and other Members on Committee Stage. I wish the Minister well with this ground-breaking legislation which will certainly be one of the defining Bills of this Administration and will define its legacy. I fear if a “No” vote were to succeed what it could do to the equality agenda. We cannot let that happen. It is as simple as that.
This is a Bill about my life. This is a Bill that will profoundly impact on my life, one way or the other. As a married woman, I share much in common with my Seanad colleagues who are married. Those of us who are married, possibly the majority, signed a civil law document with our spouse in the presence of specially chosen witnesses to declare and to register our legal married status. Once signed, we bound ourselves in law, as well as in love, to cherish and support each other, regardless of poverty or riches, of sickness or health, of failure or achievement, and to love with fidelity and trust until death.
As a married woman, however, I am also in the minority of one in this Chamber. My marriage, while legally valid in Canada where it was contracted and legally valid throughout 18 countries and 37 states in the USA, is denied recognition in Irish law because I am married to another woman.
At present in Ireland, those who, like me, belong to a minority social group because of our sexual identity are banned from accessing the institution of civil marriage purely because of who we are and our difference in sexual identity from the hetrosexual majority. Lesbian women and gay men cannot marry the person they choose to love. Heterosexual women and men can marry, divorce and remarry the person they choose to love, even though the intense involuntary emotional attraction and desire of forever love are no different for opposite or same-sex couples. That is why I say this Bill is about my life and the lives of others who share a minority status with me. We only want what the majority already has - the freedom, the right and the choice to marry the person we love. The fact that our freedom, our right and our choice are denied and the civil institution of marriage is banned for us means that there is no equality between heterosexual and lesbian and gay people.
Once enacted, a question will be put to the people and it will be on marriage equality. The people will have the power to cast off a wounding oppression experienced by many Irish citizens for decades. They will have the power to affirm, once and for all, in our foundation legal document that homosexual identity is normal in being human. The people will have the power to affirm that lesbian and gay people reside within the norms of humanity, not outside it and, as such, we should be free to marry the person of our choosing, just like the majority. The people will have the power to banish inequality between the majority and a minority. That does not happen very often; perhaps once in a lifetime. When the people - our people, my people - go to polling stations on 22 May, they will have an opportunity to decide on our core values. It is not often that we, the people, get to make such decisions and the process tells us a lot about who we are and what we aspire to be. In a republic it is the people and their will that are sovereign and at no time is this more visible than at key constitutional moments when our core values and institutions are revisited. Jefferson said this should be done every generation and now it is the turn of this generation in Ireland to decide whether we should perpetuate a legacy of the past, which foreclosed human possibilities, or whether we should open our hearts and minds to a more positive future which will value love as a bedrock of civilised society. The question, the text as we have it in the Bill, is not about a narrow sectional interest; rather, it goes to the heart of who we are as a people, who we aspire to be and what we owe to one another. By adding this text and saying "Yes" the people will not be altering radically the family or its relationship with the State. The family which is protected by Article 41 of the Constitution will still be the family based on marriage subsequent to the referendum, although this is something which also needs to be changed. However, by voting "Yes" the people will be saying they value the family as a place, a setting and a relational context in which human beings who love one another can grow and nourish each other or, as Martin Buber, the Jewish philosopher, stated: "We become ourselves in relation." Becoming who we are in relation - this is the prime point - is not something that is sex or gender-specific. Love has no regard for sex or gender. If we are faithful to this positive image of the family as a relational context in which we grow and nourish each other and, as such, an institution protected by the Constitution as the fundamental unit group of society, it follows that there ought to be no sex or gender-specific barrier to entry to the family or marriage on which it is based. Love should be the only ticket to entry.
My argument for a "Yes" vote is rooted in valuing the family as such. As Gráinne Healy, chair of Marriage Equality, said recently, "Yes is pro-family." The time is right to open our restrictive laws on marriage in order that all citizens will be treated equally with respect to marriage. The Constitution upholds equality in Article 40.1 when it states all citizens shall, as human persons, be held equal before the law. Amartya Sen, the great contemporary political philosopher and economist, argues that a society characterised as equal must provide people with economic and social freedoms "to lead the lives we have reason to value." A society filled with substantive equality for all means that each one of us is free to choose the life we wish to live and, in my case and those of all others whose identity resides within a sexual minority, that we ought to be free to live with our sexual identity with integrity and without unwarranted interference by the majority.
What about children? Saying "Yes" to equality in the referendum will mean that the Irish children of lesbian and gay couples will be recognised and protected as family by the Constitution. Saying "Yes" to equality will mean that the Irish children of lesbian and gay couples will have equal status, like the Irish children of heterosexual couples. No one has a right to a child. The best interests of children can only be supported by parents who love and nourish them. It is love which is at the heart of the matter and the protection of the rights and best interests of all children which the Constitution should uphold.
Do children have a right to a mother and a father? I had an extraordinary mother and father. I cannot imagine growing up in my life without a mother and a father because I had them. As I often say, I was so blessed that by the time of their passing four long years ago I had no unfinished business with them. However, when I remember them as extraordinary parents, is it because I am remembering their gender? It is not. I have memories of my mother standing on the sidelines at my baseball games and of saying I had a proud Irish heritage and of my father being present at my speech tournaments and telling me to believe in myself. I remember that they were always there. I remember when, at the age of 33 years, I finally told them about my sexual identity and that Ann Louise Gilligan was my beloved life partner in a letter which travelled from Dublin to Seattle, their response was a letter back which began with the words "Dear daughters". I had parents who loved and nurtured me to be the woman I am today and it had little, if anything, to do with their gender. Furthermore, when some people argue that children have a right to a mother and a father, are they talking about lesbian and gay children, too? Are they saying lesbian and gay children at five, ten or 15 years of age have the right to a mother and a father, but, by the way, this necessarily means that they do not have a right to marry the person they choose to love? Furthermore, these lesbian and gay children grow up. Can we really split apart the natural cycle of life? If every child absolutely has the right to be raised by a mother and a father, as an adult lesbian woman, I am precluded from having children all around me as I grow older. Is it natural that only heterosexuals should have the gift of adult children in their older years, especially in the later older years when there are additional vulnerablilities? It seems to be the most natural thing in the world to look to your children for companionship and care. These are some of what one could call the unintended consequences of insisting on the absolute right of a child to be raised by a mother and a father. In saying "Yes" on 22 May it will be a time to embrace all adult and child citizens of the Irish nation equally. As the Minister said, the horizon leans forward.
It will be hard to follow that. I welcome the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, to the House and I congratulate her on bringing forward this Bill and on her fine and powerful speech in support of it. The applause spoke for itself, as indeed did the applause for my colleague, Senator Zappone, following her passionate and moving speech, delivered, as always, with her customary eloquence.
I welcome those in the Visitors Gallery who have worked so hard for this day and for the referendum to be held and passed. We all very much hope it will be. I pay tribute to my colleague, Senator Norris, who has worked so hard for so many years on equality issues, particularly for gay and lesbian people.
It is a proud moment and I am proud indeed that this Government has finally brought forward the referendum on marriage equality. I am proud of my party, the Labour Party, and of the strong role we have played over many years in seeking to make progress on equality issues for same-sex couples, lesbian and gay people. I am proud of our partners in government in Fine Gael who have been so positive and progressive on this legislation.
It is historic. As the Minister said, Ireland will be the first country to decide the issue of marriage equality through a referendum of the people in a national jurisdiction. This is important and it is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. Indeed, marriage equality is the civil rights issue of this generation. I believe that and I know it has been said before.
What is this referendum, now a little over eight weeks away, about? The key issue is that of equality and the equal right to marry for gay and straight couples. I see it as marking a final step in the journey towards equality for our lesbian and gay brothers, sisters, friends and colleagues.
Significant progress has already been made in Ireland towards equality for gay people, but only after a late start. Homosexuality was only decriminalised in this jurisdiction in 1993, some 22 years ago. Since then, we have passed legislation prohibiting discrimination on grounds of sexuality, recognising civil partnerships - that was in 2010 - and making provision for rights of children within gay families through the legislation currently passing through the Oireachtas, the Children and Family Relationships Bill. Members of this House also initiated the Employment Equality (Amendment) Bill, which will redress the issue of discrimination in schools for lesbian and gay teachers.
Equality in marriage remains the final step in that journey to equality. Throughout the world the issue of marriage equality has been gaining momentum in recent years. As others have said, since same-sex marriage was first legalised in the Netherlands in 2001 we have seen 18 countries worldwide and 37 US states legalising marriage equality and recognising marriage as an equal entity for lesbian, gay and straight couples. The US Supreme Court will rule on the issue in some months time, but only following over 60 judgments across American courts that have already recognised the right to marry for gay couples.
At the Constitutional Convention in 2013, a 79% majority voted in favour of marriage equality. Things have certainly moved on since 2006, when I appeared as one of the legal team for Senator Zappone and her partner, her wife, Ann Louise Gilligan, in their courageous case seeking recognition in Ireland of their Canadian marriage and, as a consequence, the right to marry for gay couples in Ireland. At that point, civil partnership had not been legalised. Only a small number of US states had by that time recognised marriage equality. The case failed in the High Court because the judge ruled in December 2006 that the traditional definition of marriage was confined to opposite-sex couples. She said: "The definition of marriage to date has always been understood as being opposite sex marriage." Even then, this decision lacked logic. It ignored the nature of the right to marry and the changing nature of the institution of marriage, to which the Minister referred so clearly. An argument that marriage must be confined to heterosexual couples because it was ever so amounts to circular and illogical reasoning. The truth is the definition or meaning of marriage is not fixed in any society. It has changed and evolved over time.
No doubt Éamon de Valera and the drafters of the Constitution in 1937 only thought of opposite-sex couples when they thought of marriage, although it is not defined in the Constitution. However, their understanding of marriage and our understanding of marriage are rather different because there have been so many changes over the years. The Minister spoke of the legal changes in Ireland and that at one time a woman upon marriage was the property of her husband. We should not forget that until 1990 a married man was regarded as legally incapable of raping his wife because she had given herself up to him.
That change was thanks to Charles Haughey and the then Minister for Justice.
As we know, an important change was made. Until the passage of the divorce referendum in 1995 our understanding of marriage was that it was not possible legally to end a civil marriage. In the United States, interracial marriage was banned until 1967, which saw the landmark case of Loving v. Virginia. Our understandings of marriage have changed significantly and substantially over the years. Tradition alone cannot form a rational basis for law. It is utterly irrational to deny gay couples the right to marry only because marriage was always thought of in the past as something only engaged in by opposite-sex couples. Tradition is not a rational basis to deny the right to marry to our gay brothers, sisters, friends and relatives.
Is there any rational basis for the opposition to the referendum, the question of the right to marry or marriage equality? I have been involved in various debates and meetings on the issue, including public meetings and so on. I have heard a great deal of moral posturing from those who oppose the referendum. The posturing has tended to focus on the issue of children. Others have already referred to this. They have tended to refer to a rather glib slogan that children have the right to a father and mother and that somehow this justifies an opposition to marriage equality.
Let us try to dissect this argument. In reality, the argument being made against the referendum is that the ability of an opposite-sex couple to biologically procreate is a justifiable ground of distinction to legally distinguish between gay and straight couples. Again, this lacks logic. The ability to procreate is not a key ingredient of marriage. No one has ever argued that an opposite-sex marriage is invalid because a husband and wife are physically incapable of having children, too old to have children or because they do not wish to have children. Nor has the State ever required that a heterosexual couple should prove their parenting ability before they marry or have children. We do not prohibit convicted child abusers or domestic abusers from entering marriage. It would be profoundly illogical, unjust and discriminatory to impose a different standard on same-sex couples to the standard to which we currently hold heterosexual couples. As others have said, having heard the testimony of those living in Ireland today who have been brought up in gay families by gay parents, one understands what the empirical research so clearly shows, that is to say, as far as children are concerned it is the quality of parenting that counts and not the sexuality of the parents.
I have argued and I will continue to argue for the next eight weeks that there is no logical basis for limiting the right to marry the person of one's choice to the right to marry only a person of one's choice who happens to be of the opposite sex.
The only way to justify a State intervention in limiting the right to marry is where a choice of partner might involve potential harm. For example, we have standard rules on consanguinity which will remain. In other words, the State prohibits siblings from marrying each other. No one, even the most vocal opponents of this referendum, has argued that any harm will be caused to anyone, particularly to any married couple, simply because an adult will be allowed to marry the person he or she loves who happens to be of the same sex. No heterosexual couple has argued that their right to marry or their marriage is somehow devalued if the people vote "Yes" on 22 May. If anything, expanding the categories of persons who can marry without changing the nature of marriage itself, as this will do if the referendum is passed, will in fact enable a reaffirming and strengthening of the institution of marriage. It emphasises the priority and importance that we place on this institution.
I am very taken with the comments of Martha Nussbaum, the distinguished US professor, to the effect that marriage is not a trivial matter. She has said it is a key to the pursuit of happiness, something people aspire to and keep on aspiring to even when their experience has been far from happy. She was referring to people who have married a number of times. She has stated:
To be told "You cannot get married" is thus to be excluded from one of the defining rituals of the American life cycle.
That is not only confined to America.
As we all know, the institution of marriage has persisted through societies and through changed times and understandings. As human beings, gay and straight, we all seek the same things that marriage represents, love, companionship, intimacy, mutual trust and responsibility. That is why it is time to take the final step on the journey to full equality with our gay sisters and brothers by voting "Yes" on 22 May.
I support the Minister 120%, if that is possible. I know those of us who support this measure will work as hard as we can to ensure this referendum is passed on 22 May.
This is an important day and I commend the Minister and my colleagues in Seanad Éireann on their powerful and emotional speeches, but I wish to give a signal of warning.
The atmosphere in the House today is almost such that the referendum has been passed. It has not been passed. In my opinion, it is in the balance. It is not by any means certain that this referendum will be passed. It is up to us to ensure it is passed, but it is in the balance. The margin is going to be very much less because of dishonest people like the Iona Institute and one or two of our colleagues who have successfully created an atmosphere of fear and confusion, muddied the waters and lied about children, adoption and so on.
I am glad the Minister in her speech nailed two specific issues, one of which is the Irish wording of the Constitution. This has now been firmly knocked on the head. Let no one raise this hare again. The second issue is about religious marriages, which is utter and total rubbish. The reverse is true. The situation as currently exists is religious discrimination in that groups such as the Unitarian church that are prepared to marry people legally are not allowed by law to do so. What we are doing is fighting against religious discrimination. My question to the Minister is where are the posters and the radio advertisements? This may not be possible because of the McKenna judgment, which is a farce and a nonsense and needs to be re-examined. While Patricia McKenna is a friend and colleague of mine, the judgment of the court was a complete horse's ass. It is nonsense, when there are 90% of people going one way and 10% going the other way, to give them 50% each. It is highly dangerous and undemocratic. The issue needs to be re-examined and, if necessary, a change should be made to the Constitution.
These two points were among a number of others made by a self-important, pompous little squirt called Bruce Arnold-----
The Senator is not allowed to name individuals in the Chamber.
I withdraw the name of Bruce Arnold from the record. This man has written articles in all of the national newspapers, all of which are rubbish but create an atmosphere of doubt and need to be answered definitively and authoritatively. In this pompous tirade circulated to the media this man states that same-sex marriage will be self-evidently void ab initio, from the outset, by virtue of the fact that the couple cannot have children, which is wrong. The claim is incorrect. Infertility is not a grounds for nullity in Irish law. That is lie No. 1 nailed.
On his second claim that the amendment will leave people free to marry within prohibited degrees of relationship by rendering section 2(2)(e) of the Civil Registration Act 2004 unconstitutional, this again, as a matter of law, is wrong. Section 2(2)(e) of the 2004 Act, provides that there is an impediment to marriage if both parties are of the same sex. This is not the provision that establishes prohibited degrees of relationship. These prohibitions are set out in other statutes. That is lie No. 2 nailed.
On his third claim that the amendment would create a personal right to contract a same-sex marriage in a religious ceremony and that exemptions for religious denominations would be impossible, unconstitutional and in breach of the ECHR, this, again, is nonsense and rubbish. Any attempt to force religious denominations to marry people in church would come up against Article 44.2.5° of the Constitution which provides that: "Every religious denomination shall have the right to manage its own affairs, own, acquire or administer property, movable and immovable, and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes." That is lie No. 3 nailed.
On his fourth claim that the amendment would make it impossible for civil marriages to be solemnised in churches, the amendment of the Constitution to legalise divorce did not require religious denominations opposed to divorce to solemnise marriages between divorcees. While divorce has been introduced, there is no compulsion on the churches to marry divorced couples. I do not see why they should not do so. As a practising Christian and one of the few people who goes to church every Sunday, I take exception to the fact that churches will not give even a blessing to the marriages of divorced people. As I have said previously, they bless atom bombs, tractors and goldfish. How do they know when they are blessing the goldfish that they are not lesbian? It would not burst them to bless a couple of lesbian women or gay men. I would have thought that it would be in the Christian tradition to bless love rather than instruments of war or agriculture. Thank God for the hierarchy of the church. They are our best weapon.
They are like episodes of "Father Ted" when they come out and bleat about marriage because it is an institution about which they know sweet damn all.
On the fifth claim that impotence or non-consummation could no longer be a ground for annulling a marriage, this is not the case. Non-consummation only renders a marriage voidable. In other words, it can be voided. It does not automatically void it. There are a series of options that the Oireachtas can, and probably will, take to amend this situation.
On the sixth claim that if the amendment is passed adultery could no longer be a ground for a judicial separation, this is nonsense. Of course it can. However, some tinkering may be required in this regard further down the line. For example, the definition could be extended to include a broader range of sexual conduct, as has already happened in New York, New Jersey, British Columbia, South Carolina and Louisiana. That is another lie nailed.
The seventh claim, that separating procreation from marriage and family would transfer ultimate responsibility for the care of children to the State, may have some validity. Why the hell should this not be the case? Does this person remember the Kilkenny incest case or the numerous unsavoury, unspeakable, phosphorescent cases of abuse within families? How can anybody maintain that those families were the correct place for children to be reared? Of course the State should be the final arbiter in this regard. Of course it should have the final responsibility for children.
If, and it is a big "if", we get this through, I will celebrate because I have been campaigning on these issues for the best part of 40 or 50 years. It will be great to be able to sign my name as David Norris, homosexual (retired). Many years ago when the issue of homosexuality was being discussed, one of the opponents of gay rights said that we would be looking for gay marriage next. My response at the time was: "Great, any further suggestions?" I made a note of it. As stated by Senator Bacik, marriage is not fixed; it never has been fixed. It only became a sacrament of the Roman Catholic Church in the mid-16th century. It only entered British domestic law in the mid-18th century. I remember a case for criminal conversation being heard and damages awarded for the alienation of sexual services from a man by his wife because she had sex with another person. In my lifetime, women were property; they were chattels. Numerous other examples have been given.
The media and various other people have propped up a couple of gay men who are against marriage. Again, this is a farce. I asked Gay Community News to carry out a survey on this issue. The result was that 94% of gay men are enthusiastically in support of it, 4% are against it and 2% do not know. That is the reality. Why do the media not reflect the reality? I have not been asked to appear on this issue on any radio or television show despite that this is a subject about which I know a great deal. Why is that? Why are only disgruntled, malcontent, unrepresentative gay people interviewed? Where is the equality in that?
I took issue with RTE in relation to an interview on its "Drivetime" show with a business woman, who argued her case against passage of the referendum, and more power to her. She was followed by a journalist about whom I was very suspicious. I was right. She was a Trojan horse, although RTE denied it. She put forward all the arguments for voting against the referendum and then said that despite doing so, she would be voting "Yes". That is how she got it in. That is not equality. That is not equal treatment.
I mentioned changes to marriage. I am an Anglican. I remember that in previous years I disliked marriage intensely because of the continual bleating in the marriage service to "I thee worship with my body".
All of that is gone out of it. Women had to promise to obey their husbands but they do not have to do this any more.
If the amendment is passed, I doubt very much that the next morning heterosexual married couples will wake up in bed and look at each other and say, "Oh, Irene, I feel so much less married to you this morning". If they do, to hell with them. If their marriage is that weak, I have no sympathy whatever with them. I point to Scandinavia, where in the aftermath of legalising gay marriage it led to an increase in heterosexual marriage. The bishops and the proponents of marriage should be enthusiastically welcoming this and stating, "At last here we are, you have listened to us", because 30 or 40 years ago they were bellyaching about sexual promiscuity and all the fun gay people were having. There was a dog in the manger attitude about it. Now, they have turned around and when gay people want to get married, they tell them they cannot touch marriage because that is for them and only for them.
I support marriage equality. I very much doubt I will get married myself, but if there is anybody out there with qualifications in nursing and cookery and a large farm at Tipperary, here I am. My number is on the Oireachtas website. I support this strongly because as a liberal, and I am not ashamed to say I am a liberal, I believe in the greatest range of choices for every citizen. I am thrilled to say my heart lifted when I listened to the speeches of the Minister and my colleagues in Seanad Éireann.
I welcome the Minister to the House and commend Senators on their very powerful speeches and true words. It is very important to place this issue in its context. It is not, and nor should it be, a polemical or ideological context but rather a very personal one. The letter on the front page of the Sunday Independent last weekend was very poignant. It was from a 60 year old gay man who was never able to come out. This inability was due to the fear that his parents lives would be difficult in religious Ireland. We can all understand the difficulty of the situation in which he found himself. His parents have passed on without knowing their true son, or his fear and the challenges and loneliness of his life. The most stirring part of the letter is in his admission that he will cry if the referendum is passed, and not that he will shed a tear but that in all likelihood he will do so alone without anyone to share his joy. This detail of his life very much upset me. It also illustrates our opportunity to change so many citizens' lives for the better.
It is true that our State and society in so many ways have conspired to silence this man, and this is profoundly saddening. This is the context in which we should approach the debate, the fact that thousands of our fellow citizens have, since the establishment of the State, been treated as unequal citizens and shunned, silenced and even abused. Thankfully, recent years have seen a change in attitudes to those in a minority, be it sexual or otherwise. Our history of institutional abuse of those who were somehow thought different should be a valuable lesson as we approach this decision. We can no longer let fear and disapproval be the motivating factors in our social policy.
I will examine the arguments against equal marriage. Who has the right to define marriage? There are any number of organisations which seem to be absolute in their belief. I cannot understand such certainty. The first recorded marriage contracts in existence pre-date Jesus by approximately 600 years. The concept of marriage thousands of years ago is a far cry from what it is today. What we are considering is civil marriage. The churches can continue to define marriage for themselves and their followers long after this referendum, whatever the outcome. Importantly, the passing of the referendum, if it happens, will not require any church to perform such a ceremony.
We often hear the repeated argument that only a marriage between a woman and a man has any reproductive possibility and therefore should have the protection of a special status. To suggest marriage is all about procreation utterly ignores the modern reality. For some it is about children, but for some it is not. Additionally, some opposite-sex couples who wish to do so will never be able to have children due to infertility. Some opposite-sex couples are long beyond the possibility in years when they marry. The logical conclusion to the reproductive argument is that all couples would have to be fertility tested before marriage and infertile couples and those of advanced years would not be allowed to marry. Of course we will never hear this argument being made, and there is no compunction to reproduce to get married. However it would seem gay people have to be able to reproduce to marry. It is a double standard. An Irish marriage licence is not conditional upon having children. The Irish Supreme Court in McGee v. Attorney General upheld a married couple's right to use contraception to prevent them having children if they so wished.
The argument that equal marriage would deprive children of the right to a mother and a father is not one which stands up to scrutiny. Many children do not have a mother or a father. Gay people have children and can foster children. Single gay people can, and do, adopt. Unmarried people and single heterosexual people have children all the time. This referendum will not change this one bit, and to suggest it will is disingenuous to say the least.
I will deal with a particular suggestion which arose at the weekend that a conscience clause should be built into the legislation to allow for the refusal of goods and services to gay couples getting married. The Catholic Archbishop of Dublin has since said he is not calling for such a provision and I am glad to hear it. The suggestion is now a live issue and must be dealt with. We live in a republic which values, as I do, religious freedom. This religious freedom does not translate into allowing anyone to refuse to provide goods or services to a fellow citizen. Citizens can have whatever religious belief they want and practice that faith freely. Our Constitution rightly mandates such freedom. What one cannot do is impose this belief on others and make them suffer because of it. What such a conscience clause would amount to is bare discrimination against gay people under the cloak of religious freedom. If it was suggested that a mixed-race couple, or any other minority, would be so treated there would be outrage. I find any suggestion that such a clause be inserted ill-thought-out and deeply offensive. It lacks any understanding of what a true republic constitutes and should and will be rejected out of hand.
On the Houses of the Oireachtas website is a selection of famous parliamentary speeches given over the decades. One was given by the great Irishman, Senator W.B. Yeats, on 11 June 1925 during the course of a debate on divorce. He perfectly summed up the reasons no such conscience clause should never be inserted, or why no religious view should ever come to dictate social policy. He stated: "Once you attempt legislation upon religious grounds you open the way for every kind of intolerance and for every kind of religious persecution." His view was defeated on that day, to society's cost in years to come.
I use the terms "marriage equality" or "equal marriage" rather than "gay marriage" or "same-sex marriage" for a very particular reason. Our gay citizens are not looking for any special or separate form of marriage. Our gay citizens do not want to change marriage but rather to share in it. They want to love, share, protect and experience marriage just like everyone else. They want to be equal and be treated as equal citizens and they deserve it.
It gives me great pleasure to welcome the Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, on this auspicious occasion. As Minister for Justice and Equality she is leading the referendum. I am thrilled and honoured as an elected Member of Seanad Éireann and as a Christian to speak on the Bill. I commend the Minister on finally bringing the matter to the House. I look forward to voting "Yes" in the referendum on 22 May.
The referendum will ask the Irish people to consider whether Article 41 of the Constitution should be amended to allow couples to marry without distinction as to their sex. As it stands, same-sex couples do not have equal status under our Constitution.
The proposed 34th amendment of the Constitution will change that and will guarantee constitutional equality for couples regardless of sexual orientation. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the people to act as legislators for future generations and to do something that will be for the benefit of all society in the long run. A chill runs down my spine with the emotion and significance of this occasion. It is just wonderful to be able to speak here on the importance of this.
I am proud to remind my colleagues that Fianna Fáil has played a leading role in legislating for key issues in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community guided by the fundamental principles of equality among citizens and of the aspiration, as I said yesterday, of the visionary leaders of the 1916 revolution that we treat every citizen as equal. It has taken us a long time. A number of those who have spoken about this Bill today have said the same. It has taken 100 years to treat human beings equally. Fianna Fáil decriminalised homosexual acts in 1993 and, as a Fianna Fáil Senator, I had the honour to participate here in the debate leading to the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010. We have given the lead. It is important to put on the record here today the achievement of my party and its contribution to society.
This referendum is fundamentally different because at the heart of the legal process we are initiating for human beings the most basic emotion about which Senator Zappone spoke beautifully today, that is, love. All human beings are entitled to be loved. It is the most basic human instinct. Before anything else, we all want to be loved. It is giving the entitlement to the gay and lesbian people here today. Senator Zappone spoke so eloquently about her father and mother. I, too, was brought up with a sense of justice and equality. I am proud of how I was brought up, that my natural instinct is to fight for justice for the people.
Contrary to the perception that it will have a negative effect, I believe the referendum allows a celebration, expansion and strengthening of marriage as an institution. Those of us who support this Bill are not seeking to diminish marriage. We are seeking to open it up and allow more people to be part of it, and thus strengthen it. We seek to promote and define commitment and, what is important, allow more people to celebrate that commitment in front of their family, friends and communities in a civil and legal way. The fact is that loving committed relationships between two consenting adults should be treated equally regardless of gender or sexual orientation. Same-sex couples should be allowed to share the same responsibilities, obligation and respect that marriage provides.
One issue which needs to be clarified is that this referendum is not about adoption or surrogacy. The attempt by the No side to bring adoption and surrogacy into the debate is an attempt to confuse voters and muddy the waters. Adoption and surrogacy are complex issues that merit informed debate. They should not be used to cloud or confuse. I support my colleague, Senator Norris, when he stated that it is vital that these facts are communicated to the citizens. There must be a passionate campaign on how right it is to pass this referendum. In that regard, I hope the referendum commission will get the adequate resources and communicative skills to engage properly with the public. That is critical. If the Government does not fight to achieve this referendum being passed, it will not happen. Every issue must be addressed. If it remains under the radar, it will never happen or the result could be very tight and cause more confusion.
The past several years have seen significant progress in the development of anti-discriminatory laws for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons across all of Europe. As of 1 January 2015, 17 countries and certain sub-national jurisdictions across the globe allow same-sex couples to marry. Ireland's referendum vote is significant in that it is the first time any country has held a referendum to permit marriage equality. That is a tremendous achievement as well.
My vision for Ireland has always been one where all citizens are equal regardless of age, skin colour, sexual orientation, background or religious beliefs. As I stated yesterday, according to the aspirations of the leaders in the 1916 Proclamation for a republic, we will not be a true republic until all our citizens have equal rights.
I, again, congratulate the Minister. She is brilliant, and I hope she will be the future leader of Fine Gael.
I welcome the Minister to the House and thank her for bringing forward this Bill. I was somewhat overwhelmed by the response I received from family, friends, people throughout Ireland and people from far afield when I told my personal story as the parent of a gay son on a recent radio interview to the media and at a presentation I made down the country recently. Many said, "Fair play to you, Eamonn", but this was not about me. This really was not about my son. This was about civil rights.
I heard parents' stories about sons or daughters when they came out, and how those parents dealt with the situations with which they were faced. The first and most important thing they did was to embrace them with their love and care which gave them all the support necessary for the future.
I have heard people say to me that Ireland needs a wake-up, Ireland must move on and this is not Ireland of the 1800s and the 1900s where traditions and values were much different than they are now. They say Ireland is a dynamic country, with a younger generation who think much differently than their parents and grandparents. This generation's attitude towards the lesbian and gay community is completely different and is wholly accepted in this modern Ireland.
I also heard a couple of sad stories. One, in particular, was of how the parents of a girl who came out disowned her because she was a lesbian. Where was their love for their daughter, who has now been adopted by the godmother?
This referendum is all about equality. It is all about civil rights. It is all about granting equal rights to all citizens of Ireland to marry who they love regardless of their sexual orientation, and is it not great to think that Ireland will be the first country in the world to hold a popular vote on marriage equality? Other countries and states in the United States have passed legislation in this regard, but this will go to the people of Ireland to decide.
It has been a long journey for the lesbian and gay community's rights, ever since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1993 and the introduction of civil partnership in 2011, but this referendum will be monumental in Ireland. When passed, it will show how modern Ireland is.
It is only in recent weeks that I myself have begun to question what is marriage. Marriage is a unique legal status, conferred and recognised by governments throughout the world. Marriage brings obligations, rights and protections. In confirming that a person and his or her partner love each other, marriage is the ultimate expression of love and commitment. No other word has that power and no other word can provide that protection.
In Ireland, the family based on marriage is protected by the Constitution from attack and must be guarded with special care. That applies to the marriage of heterosexuals, a man and a woman. It does not apply to man and man or woman and woman. The Civil Partnership Act 2010 had cross-party support. However, this referendum on marriage equality is required to alter the Supreme Court definition of marriage, currently between a man and a woman, to ensure it cannot be changed by the Supreme Court in the future. Governments referred to the Constitutional Convention on the issue and it voted overwhelmingly for the change in the Constitution that "marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex".
There are 160 statutory differences between civil partnership and civil marriage. Some of them have already been dealt with - taxation and financial affairs, for example. However, many other inequalities remain and they must be addressed. Passing this referendum will help that. It is about how the Government should treat citizens and how the laws on marriage should be enforced. People who oppose this have nothing to fear. It will not affect their lives in any way. It will not affect marriage between a man and a woman. People will have to separate in their minds religious and civil marriage ceremonies. This referendum is not about the people who may want to vote "No". It is about their friends, their family, their neighbours and people in their community. It is about giving citizens in the lesbian and gay community their civil rights. It is about their freedom to marry the one they love and giving them similar legal protection and family security to that of a married man and woman today, to love, cherish and protect each other.
My comments last week have already been a life-changing experience for my family. For my son in particular, I notice the relief from the burden borne and the guilt. I notice that the feeling that he is different has been completely removed from him. His happiness grows visibly with every passing hour because now he knows that he is who he is, that he was born this way and that he is 100% accepted by his mom, his dad, his family and his community. Only one challenge remains not for my son, but for our community, namely, for the people to decide on 22 May in this referendum to give people their civil rights, to allow them to marry and to allow them to be recognised as human beings. They deserve the right to equality and the right to love.
I will not take eight minutes, but I could not but stand up today to say a few words on this historic day. I listened with great interest to the Minister's speech and to some of the wonderful speeches of my colleagues, particularly Senator Zappone, who is one of my greatest friends of all time and someone I admire greatly. Taking a serious point made by Senator Norris, today is but one day on this journey and 22 May is what I have my eye on. I will make a very short speech, but I want to hear from the Minister later today and later this week that the Government and the Cabinet have a clear eye on 22 May.
The Government and the country cannot stand up for human rights and civil rights and not support gay marriage. It is as simple as that. It is black and white. We are about human rights and civil rights in Ireland. We can give out about other nations in the world where terrible things are happening, but this is within our grasp. Listening to Senator Norris, it is not enough just to vote. We need to speak. We need to share with our constituents and our friends.
I speak about this with my friends at weekends and in the evenings, at dinner. To clarify, as other speakers have, this legislation is very simple and it has nothing to do with children or with heterosexual marriage. This is just about the right of girls and girls, ladies and ladies, women and women, boys and boys or men and men to get married. It is about our friends, our colleagues, our brothers, our sisters, our nieces, our nephews, our children, and our grandchildren. What I know for sure is that, for those who are listening and thinking this has nothing to do with them, it does, because at some stage in their life this will appear as someone they love and care for. Stealing some words-----
Could Senator O'Brien move closer to the microphone?
I beg the Acting Chair's pardon. Love has no regard for sex or gender. Happiness cannot be captured. It cannot be bought, it cannot be owned, and it cannot be earned. It cannot be worn, it cannot be travelled to and it cannot be consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living a human life openly, with love, with the one whom one loves, with grace and with gratitude. They are some words from an American called Denis Waitley, to which I have added. We need to listen to those words, we need to offer those to all our Irish citizens and we need to vote "Yes" on 22 May.
I thank the Minister for her commitment to meaningful and important social reform legislation and to this amendment. It will enable us to hold our heads high. At the risk of being complacent, I am one of the people who believes the referendum will pass and will pass easily. I do not believe it will be that terribly divisive, as there is a broad national consensus in favour of this equality measure, and I will not use these few moments - it will be less than eight minutes - as a polemic to try to sway the waverers.
It is important that we understand the nature of equality. Equality equals equality, not partial equality. Some people who are coming on board with this do not quite understand this and they need to understand it. Some well-meaning people have talked about exemptions or drop-out clauses as part of the legislation, the referendum or our constitutional position. They need to understand that they are suggesting that equality in this context will be somewhat less than full equality; it will be a grudging degree of partial equality which is bestowed out of some personal philosophical largesse or beneficence, but not out of any actual sense of justice. Equality is not something any person would grant, it is a reality and it is one I hope we will acknowledge in the context of this Bill.
People sometimes get upset if one uses historical parallels, but there was a historical parallel for a theoretical equality that was less than full equality, namely, that which occurred in the United States in the years following the civil war, and it could be argued, in some aspects of American life in the south until the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. This was the concept of "separate but equal", the idea that the constitution guaranteed the equality of the races but individual states were allowed to pass laws that stated that development, services, social integration and so on could all be limited and given to different racial groups allegedly equally, but dispensed in different premises, through different administrations, through different budgets, etc. We now know that was not in fact full equality, but some sort of hybrid partial equality. Those who state they are in favour of the reform this referendum will bring but who want an opt-out clause are committing themselves to something less than full equality. If one believes in equality, one believes in full equality.
We are now stating that citizens, regardless of their orientation, will have exactly equal rights to marriage and may not be discriminated against because of their orientation in terms of any aspect of fulfilling their right to achieve a marriage status.
I understand the religious opt-outs. My own belief is that we should have separate mandatory civil marriages for everybody with the option of having one's wedding solemnified liturgically, if that is the wish of the individual. I do not think it should act as a surrogate for the role of the State in what should be a State-supervised process. The referendum means, other than that, no one who is involved in civil, commercial and social discourse may, in any sense, discriminate against a person, in any way, purely because they disapprove of their sexual orientation or personal marital relationships. It just will not fly. That sounds harsh for people who have grown up their entire life in the warm embrace of a particular religious feeling. They might say, "I do not approve of homosexuality, I do not want to be complicit in it and perhaps my soul is being compromised if I in some sense facilitate something which I think is wrong." Those people must understand that they are wrong and it is just not the way it is going to be. If one really had that belief then they should vote "No" and some people will vote "No". I believe and hope the referendum will be passed and the "No" vote will be defeated. Once the referendum is passed it will be the law of the land and will be part of our culture of civil rights. It is not something which in any sense becomes optional. It is something which must be embraced and respected in every way be it printing, making cakes, renting halls, acting as a singer at a wedding, etc. We, as a society, will frown on anybody who says "I won't do this because I don't like your orientation or the kind of marriage you are having." That is not the way it is going to be. I am sorry if I sound hardline. My advice to people is to think of an alternative line of work if that is the way they want to treat this situation.
Let us remember that people felt just as philosophically committed to the notion of the separation of races. Until comparatively recently, such separation was considered entirely appropriate for different religions. I will not quote any individual religions here. We are often accused of bashing my own mother church of catholicism. In fact, catholicism was one of the earliest churches to buy into outlawing slavery, which is to its credit, when other religions continued to use it as a justification for slavery and other discriminatory practices. Many people believed, and I could read out quotes but I will not, that it was God's pre-ordained plan that the races should remain separate. As one famous legislator in Arizona, United States, said "If God wanted the races mixed why did He put some of them in Africa, some of them in Asia and some of them in Europe. He did it for a purpose to keep us apart." This was the kind of ethical thinking that people had, that separation was based on a rational concept of rights, limited rights and the idea that some people were entitled to more rights than others.
I support the legislation and will support the referendum being passed. As an aside, I keep thinking that if everybody understood science a bit better, a lot of problems would go away. There are still a lot of people who believe that sexual orientation is some kind of a soft lifestyle choice in the same way as smoking, playing cricket or something like that. It is not. It is a very intrinsic and biologically determined part of what people are. It is not something that people opt in or opt out of; it is what they are. In any sense, discriminating against people because of what they are is assuming the same licence that one can discriminate against the people based on any part of what they are, be it their height, physical ability or race.
I am not saying that people who oppose this legislation are not right-minded but they are mistaken. I believe that most right-minded, well-informed people who think this issue through will lend their support to the issue. I urge every person to look into their soul and remember what we are passing. This is not something that we, as heterosexuals, are granting out of a sense of noblesse oblige to the poor benighted homosexuals. It is not that. We are acknowledging an existing full right. This is not something we are granting. This is something that is there which we are just recognising. The people need to recognise it for all its ramifications.
I welcome the Minister to the House on this historic occasion. I wish to congratulate my colleague, Senator Zappone, on what is probably one of the most incredible speeches I have ever heard, particularly in this House.
I fully support marriage equality and the thirty-fourth amendment of the Constitution. This is an issue of human rights and equality. Everyone has a right to marry and to found a family which is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Convention on Civil and Political Rights. In international law and the Irish Constitution, the family is regarded as the natural and fundamental group unit of society. It is entitled to protection by society and the State.
Marriage comes with rights, responsibilities and benefits. Marriage is a cultural institution. It is a very important part of an individual's cultural and human rights. As the Minister pointed out earlier, marriage is an institution that has gone through many iterations in Irish society. In fact, going back a number of centuries women, in particular, under Brehon law had more rights than we sometimes remember. One can argue that marriage is an institution that has had a number of ups and downs historically. For most people, marriage is a major life step and is a celebration of a deep and binding commitment to the person they love which Senator Zappone stated very eloquently. We can no longer exclude people from this important life step on the basis of gender or sexual orientation. The denial of the right to marry is a form of discrimination which we, as lawmakers, must do everything in our power to eliminate.
Extending civil marriage to all couples, regardless of gender, underpins wider equality and inclusion in Irish society. We must promote this referendum to the fullest of our abilities. We must ensure that we achieve a strong turnout and a positive result in May.
I do not accept some of the commentary in the media that suggests that people in political parties should stay out of this debate. I do not believe that is a correct assessment of Irish political reality. Nobody who has an interest in this referendum, whether they are involved in political life or civil society, should stay away from taking an active and participative role in this referendum.
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin recently called for a legal conscience clause. It would allow private businesses that are opposed to marriage equality to refuse goods and services where it would be contrary to their religious beliefs. To allow such a clause would be State-mandated discrimination. If we are to support marriage equality there can be no distinction between couples who choose to marry. I was glad to hear the Tánaiste reject the suggestion. I will also reject any attempt to extend conscientious objection to private business owners.
For those to whom marriage is available, it is too easy to take it for granted. For those fighting for the right to marry and a legal recognition of their relationship, this referendum means the world. Just 22 years ago, in 1993, Ireland finally decriminalised homosexual activity. Ireland has come a long way, in leaps in bounds, to become a more inclusive and accepting society. In 2010, we enacted the civil partnership Act which was the first legal recognition of same-sex relationships. It was a major step forward in recognising the value of same-sex relationships and provided more legal stability to same-sex couples. Unfortunately, the legislation stopped short of giving them true equality. There are over 150 statutory differences between civil partnership and civil marriage. Although there has been progress to close the gap, the only true way to eliminate the separate but equal attitude is to open civil marriage to include all people, regardless of gender.
Yesterday, we debated a Bill to extend the guardianship and adoption rights of same-sex couples and which recognises the value of family relationships, regardless of sex. The Bill is designed to modernise family law and reflect the reality of modern family relationships in Ireland. With or without this referendum, or the Children and Family Relationships Bill, there are loving and committed same-sex couples who are choosing to start families and raise children. To deny these families the option of marriage is to ignore the social reality that exists.
Article 41 of the Constitution of Ireland gives extensive protection to families based on marriage. Those families enjoy a special elevated status under the Constitution. The distinction between families based on marriage and those who are not married, is significant. There is a whole class of people who will never achieve the stability and protection, offered by the Constitution, without this amendment. If this referendum is passed it will allow all people in loving and committed relationships the option of civil marriage and the enjoyment of this family protection by the State and society. As I pointed out yesterday, there are other families who are excluded from the constitutional recognition that is afforded to families based on marriage but that is an issue for another day.
If this referendum passes, Ireland will be the first country in the world to open marriage to same-sex couples by popular vote.
Furthermore, this amendment to the Constitution had its origins as an issue considered by the Constitutional Convention, of which I was a member. The citizens of the convention supported marriage equality and passed this recommendation to Government, which duly considered the recommendation and set in motion this referendum to amend the Constitution.
Like Senator Bacik, I am very proud of the role the Labour Party has played in bringing this issue to the fore, and not just this issue but, more generally, the issues of gay and transgender rights. In April 2013, I voted to support the amendment. I stand here now to restate this support and to urge the people of Ireland to do the same on Friday, 22 May. This referendum will make history. It is time to take a stand for equality, for human rights and for an Ireland free from discrimination.
Earlier, the Minister pointed out the number of countries that have extended the right to marry to same-sex couples. When I heard her read that list, I thought to myself that we are moving, as a world society, in the right direction. I was then drawn up short to remember that there are a number of countries in the world, which I will not name, where being gay is something that is now a criminal act, punishable in some cases by death. We do not, as a human society, consistently move in the one direction. However, I want this country to be among those that are named and listed as being prepared to stand up and be counted, and move in the right direction.
I welcome the Minister to the House and lend my support to this legislation and to the referendum. Two weeks ago I had the privilege of sharing the stage at our party Ard-Fheis with a spokesperson for LGBT equality, Sinead Murray. She shared her story with us of how, last year, her brother asked the father of the woman he loved for permission to take her hand in marriage. She then asked the people of Ireland for permission for her to marry the woman she loves. I thought that message and the way she posed that question was really powerful. Today, I am reiterating that request and asking the citizens of Ireland and those who will be eligible to vote in this referendum to vote "Yes" and to give permission to our fellow citizens across Ireland to marry the person they love.
As I said, I am delighted that this Bill is before us today. It has been a long road and it is much overdue but it is brilliant to see it here before us. As all Senators have said this afternoon, all citizens must enjoy full equality of rights and opportunities under the law, regardless of their background, including sexual orientation or gender. I do not think anything less can be tolerated in a modern, progressive and inclusive society.
Sinn Féin recognises that societal attitudes, the ban on the donation of blood, gender recognition, adoption, transphobic and homophobic bullying, the reporting of domestic and sexual violence, as well as marriage and employment equality, are a few of the areas of life where LGBT people suffer inequality and isolation. Senator Power mentioned the higher rates of depression, self-harm and suicide that are directly attributable to the social conditioning, stigma and social isolation that has existed. I am heartened to see that Ireland is edging closer to ensuring that all of its citizens are equal. The time has come for full marriage equality for all. Put very simply, it is very much a human rights and equality issue. Loving, committed relationships between two consenting adults should be treated equally, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. All couples should be allowed to share the same responsibilities, obligations and respect that marriage provides, and this should be enshrined in the Constitution. We need to make clear to young people who are having difficulty coming to terms with their sexuality that we support them and that their choices are legitimate, and as legitimate as those made by any other citizen around them, whether gay or straight.
As was mentioned, the referendum was called and supported by citizens at the Constitutional Convention so this is very much the people's referendum. It will be about protecting our families, neighbours and friends. On 22 May we should take pride in entering the ballot box to extend equality to our neighbours, friends, colleagues and family members. We are given that opportunity to make sure those citizens are being treated equally.
A point I want to touch on is one mentioned by many Senators. People already committed to loving and happy marriages should not feel that marriage equality for same-sex couples is going to devalue or undermine their marriage. Rather, they should feel secure about their marriage and marriage equality. However, if it is insecurity about marriage which is driving opposition to the marriage equality referendum, that is an issue people themselves need to address. How are we to make any sense of the idea that legal marriage between John and Frank could have any negative impact on a legal marriage between Joe and Mary, much less undermine the marriage between Joe and Mary? Currently, if people want to have a civil marriage under law, they do not have to show they are good people. Felons, people who are not paying child support, people with a record of domestic violence or emotional abuse, drug abusers, rapists, murderers - all of these can marry if they choose, and they are found to have the constitutional right to do so once they are doing it with someone of the opposite sex.
To go back to the claim that legalising same-sex marriage will undermine the effort to defend or protect traditional marriage, if there are sections of society that want to defend traditional marriage, there are particular policies they can pursue to make sure it is protected, whether that is family leave, counselling, marital counselling, mental health treatment, strengthening laws against domestic violence, enforcing better employment counselling or financial support for those under stress during the present economic crisis. These are the issues they should support and work on. Such measures have a clear relationship with the stress and strains facing traditional marriage. However, the prohibition on same-sex marriage does not. If we were to study heterosexual divorce, we would be very unlikely to find a single case in which the parties felt their divorce was caused by the availability of marriage to same-sex couples.
I want to reiterate that same-sex couples are not second class citizens. They want to get married for reasons that are the same as those of heterosexual couples - to express love and commitment, to gain sanctification for the union, to obtain benefits and, often, to have or raise children. The argument in favour is very straightforward. If two people want to make a marital commitment, they should be permitted to do so. Excluding one class of citizens from the benefits and dignity of that commitment demeans them and, I think, insults their dignity as people. Whatever we do, or whatever the State does, should be done on the basis of equality. Basic principles of humanity and dignity ask us to stop viewing same-sex marriage as a source of desecration of traditional marriage but, instead, to understand that the human purposes of those who seek marriage are the same for both gay and straight people.
We must be very active in the coming months out at the doors. We cannot take anything for granted, especially in terms of turnout. I will be knocking on doors and will be active. I very much welcome this legislation and the referendum. I look forward, in a number of months, hopefully, to seeing family, friends and colleagues finally having their marriages recognised.
I and my party give our full support to this referendum. I am proud to stand here as a Fianna Fáil Senator, given our track record on the issue of equality for gay people over the years. This has been a journey not just for our party but for society as a whole, and that needs to be recognised at all times.
Homosexuality was decriminalised after our colleague's case some time ago, and Ms Máire Geoghegan-Quinn took the decision to then implement that decision. Of course, she had to do that, but it could have been left to one side like many other important issues have been left to one side over many years. She dealt with it. There was a lot of talk about the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, visiting the PantiBar recently but, if I remember correctly, the then Taoiseach, Mr. Bertie Ahern, visited the same premises when it was under a different name just before the 2007 election, and that certainly was very progressive. I was proud to support the Civil Partnership Act in this House. At that time, the then Minister, Mr. Dermot Ahern, rejected very strongly this so-called conscience clause, and, indeed, I also reject that today and I will go into some of the reasons for that.
I will be fully supporting the Bill. I believe it is absolutely necessary and important that we do that and that equality is given. I think the Irish people will support it as well, as the surveys are showing. People are complaining about certain politicians not canvassing but, from what I can see, there is more canvassing going on in this referendum than has ever gone on in a referendum. For other referenda, we usually talk about the canvassing we did but it might be more talk than action. In this referendum, people are out knocking on doors, and I certainly will be too.
I would caution against denigrating "No" campaigners, although not many people are doing this. Looking at the history of this issue, we can go back to 2008 when President Barack Obama was officially opposed to marriage equality which is not that long ago. We can go back to 1996 when the US brought in the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage in a certain way. There is a journey under way and it is not correct for people to suggest they have always been in favour of this. Ten years ago, polls in the US showed a majority against this but that has changed and 50% or so are now in favour of marriage equality. Society has been on a journey.
Perhaps there are people who have lost out and people who feel they have suffered over the past number of years because this was not available, and maybe they have. However, Irish society has been moving in a general direction on this issue and it continues to do so. That is the case if one looks at the history of what my party has done on this over many years. It can be fairly described as a journey.
I refer briefly to conscience clauses, which are very dangerous. Senator Crown spoke about the separate but equal status in the south of the United States under the Dred Scott rules. They were very dangerous because, as Senator Crown said, they were very firmly based on the Bible and on the social order. If we are to enshrine religious grounds for discrimination in law, it simply could not be confined to gay people because then it would just be a "turn the gay away" law and it would be shown up for what it was. It would involve all sorts of religious objections. Not many religions are looking for that currently. Archbishop Martin apparently qualified what he said last week. I was surprised he looked for it because it really is very dangerous. The idea that any citizen would be turned away in the normal course of business from a service would be abhorrent.
I was particularly shocked at the printers in Drogheda, who I know. They are generally very decent people and they have done printing for me. However, the idea that they turned away a long-standing customer because they did not agree with civil partnership was shocking. I think the case in Northern Ireland was slightly different but what has happened there with the gay cake row is that it has prompted the DUP to try to bring in a conscience clause. I do not know whether it will pass but there certainly will be huge pressure from religious conservatives in the North of Ireland because these laws are being passed all across America, including in Indiana. Georgia passed these so-called religious freedom laws in that past week. They are very dangerous because they are not about religious freedom but about bringing back discrimination which existed in the United States in the past under the guise of a religious justification.
I say all of this as a practising Catholic, although it is not particularly relevant. My church should be very careful about looking for, and think very carefully about the consequences of, this. However, we must legislate for society as a whole and not for any particular religions. The religious institution of marriage is separate and it is a matter of my faith which does not need to be protected by law. I think it is protected in the legislation going through.
There has been huge provocation in the Northern Ireland cake row, whether intentionally or unintentionally, which has rallied the troops in contrast to the issue in Drogheda which has actually generated a huge amount of support and has shown up the dangers of this type of discrimination under religious guises. I would ask people to think very carefully about the consequences of the action and the hurt they are inflicting and to look at other aspects of their businesses. Are they promoting other things which may well be immoral under some religious code? The Bible does not mention gay marriage and, over the years, justifications for slavery have been given based on the Bible. It depends on the mores of the time which in this country and across the world are that there should be marriage equality. Those mores are very important. I mention the Latin phrase vox populi, vox dei, the voice of the people is the voice of God, and I think the voice of people will speak on civil marriage.
However, let us be very careful about conscience clauses. I am very proud that Fianna Fáil has opposed them because we are often asked what we did when in government. When in government in this case, the party strenuously opposed them. I hope they will not happen and that people will learn lessons from what happened in Drogheda and recognise the serious hurt caused. Some people think their religious rights are being lost because of this but I reject that entirely as somebody who practices my religion. I do not see that as an issue at all. For example, I am sure it is a moral issue for lawyers to defend rapists but they do the job they are required to do without judging. It is not a particularly nice thing to have to do.
I heard a ridiculous argument on the radio that one could possibly allow some sort of extreme religion - I will not even mention one because I am not sure it would be allowed - to ban women from driving and, therefore, a petrol station owner could ban women from getting petrol but that we would only allow that if there was another petrol station in the area. This was discussed on national radio the other day and it was just bonkers. The radio station should not allow these people on. Maybe that is undemocratic but it is bonkers. I really felt they had lost the argument, if there ever was one, when I heard that one might force people not to discriminate if there was only one petrol station. It is lunacy. Let us stand up for equality for all the citizens of this nation.
I welcome the Minister and thank her for a very comprehensive overview on this amendment of the Constitution. No constitution is written in stone and it is important that we start from there. This is the 34th amendment of the Constitution. There has been a very small number of amendments when one thinks of the lifetime of this Constitution. As my colleague, Senator Byrne, said, society has changed and we need to adapt. We are doing that by bringing forward this legislation and holding this referendum.
Marriage is a contract and a commitment. If two people of the same sex are prepared to make that commitment, why should we stand in their way and prevent them from making that commitment and from entering into that contract? By voting "No" in this referendum, that is what we will be doing and that is why it is so important we bring about the changes which are required in the Constitution to allow same-sex marriage.
We should not force on others what has been in the Constitution for some time. Why should we now decide we are against a change when that change will not affect us directly? Voting against that change will affect many people who want to enter into that commitment and contract.
There have been changes over the years. At one time we prevented women from sitting on juries and from going back to work in the Civil Service when they got married. When we made that change, it made a difference in the sense that women were able to make a contribution to society and continue in jobs at which they were very good. I came across an example in obstetrics and gynaecology. All the patients were female but because of the marriage ban, only six out of 100 medical consultants were female. We prevented people from continuing to make a contribution by imposing a marriage ban which prevented women returning to work in the Civil Service once they got married.
The Minister has already set out quite clearly the countries that have changed, including the Netherlands, Sweden, New Zealand and Canada. Why should we not also have this change? Why should we continue to prevent people from entering into commitments into which they want to enter?
The change we are discussing also has implications from the point of view of taxation, social welfare and succession. However, it will not affect other people who are not involved or who do not want enter into this commitment. We are talking about people who are gay or lesbian who feel they are prevented from living life normally. By introducing this constitutional amendment we will allow them to get on with their lives, as they want to live.
Some of my colleagues have referred to this. We should not take this referendum for granted. We all have a part to play in bringing about this change and we all have a part to play in explaining the change we are proposing. It is important that we encourage people to come out and vote "Yes" in this referendum. It is an important milestone in the history of the State that this change takes place. It is important that the referendum is passed. I fully support the Minister in her work in the area. Before entering government we gave a commitment that we would hold a referendum. We gave a commitment regarding the Convention on the Constitution which then voted overwhelmingly in favour of holding a referendum and bringing about the change in the law and the Constitution. It deserves our support. I welcome the work that has been done and I welcome the result that I hope we will have on 23 May.
I warmly welcome the Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015, which sets out the wording of the amendment that will be put to the people in a referendum on 22 May 2015. If passed, the amendment will allow two people to enter into civil marriage without distinction as to their sex. For me this is a simple question - one of equality, fairness and civil rights. It is very important that we distinguish what is hoped will be a new right to civil marriage from that of religious marriage. Civil marriage will be a relationship between two people, irrespective of their sexual orientation that is sanctioned and licensed by the State. In the same way as religious institutions are not obliged to remarry divorced couples, they will not be forced to marry same-sex couples, should civil marriage be extended to lesbians and gay men.
I was married in the Catholic Church and I have no sense whatsoever that my marriage to my husband will be in any manner, shape or form altered or undermined by the extension of civil marriage to same-sex couples. I welcome the decision by the Association of Catholic Priests not to take a position on the same-sex marriage referendum on 22 May and its recommendation to priests not to direct parishioners to vote either "Yes" or "No". I also welcome the Minister's confirmation that there will be no conscience clause about which my colleagues have spoken eloquently.
This is about ensuring equality and parity of legal treatment. Comparing the census figures for 2006 and 2011 shows a 100% increase in the number of same-sex couples. The 2011 census recorded 230 same-sex couples with children. Indeed we are talking about 7% of the Irish people based on national and international surveys.
I welcome the impact the Children and Family Relationships Bill 2015 will have in reforming, modernising and bringing legal clarity to many aspects of Irish family law, particularly to diverse parenting situations and diverse family forms including for the children of same-sex couples. That Bill, which we will continue to debate tomorrow, is very welcome.
I stand here in a very privileged position because I do not see this as a dramatic change. It has no impact on my life or on what I do. Along with many other people I am very supportive of the amendment. I want to be clear and unequivocal in my support. Senator Byrne was right to mention the journey. I do not know when I made a conscious decision that I supported it. For me this is very much about equality, fairness and civil rights.
As many Senators will know, my husband is Dutch and as the Minister outlined, the Dutch Parliament was the first parliament to take such a decision in 2001. I hope the Irish people will be the first to vote "Yes" in a public referendum. As I said, this vote has no impact on my life but I am very conscious that it will have a disproportionate impact on our gay and lesbian friends and that is wrong, because it is about equality. Whatever the decision, we need to ensure that it is about equality.
I want that what I have with my husband is available to my good friend, Senator Zappone, and her partner, Ann Louise Gilligan, who were married in Canada, and that before the eyes of this State all marriages are equal. It is simple. For me it is not dramatic or massive but I know the impact it will have on individual lives.
I cannot imagine what it would have been like if I had not got married in Ireland. Let us say I had got married in the Netherlands and for some reason my marriage was not recognised here. I cannot imagine what that would be like. It makes me realise the privilege I have and that is why I will certainly not only be voting "Yes", but I will be actively campaigning for a "Yes" vote. Changes to our Constitution have legal importance but they also have an important resonance across our society and it reflects us as a society. I want to ensure we really are an equal society.
In ending I wish to quote from the Minister's speech earlier when she said, "We will have to decide if marriage should be defined against the prism of the past or a vibrant institution embedded in the modernity of the 21st century." I hope the people will vote "Yes". I thank the Minister for introducing the Bill to give the people an opportunity to have their say.
The Minister's day is coming to an end given that I am on my feet. I welcome the Minister and congratulate her on bringing before the House the Bill to put a referendum on marriage equality to the people in May. The legislation has been a long time coming and we might not have been here today but for the courage and conviction of Senator Zappone and her partner Ann Louise Gilligan, who began this campaign with their legal case for equality rights more than a decade ago.
In welcoming the Bill, I acknowledge the role of a small non-profit organisation set up almost eight years ago to campaign on the issue. I congratulate the board and staff of Marriage Equality for the dignified and effective way they grew a small grassroots advocacy organisation into what is now a huge national campaign. Equality has support from every sector of society - from trade unions to teachers, from lawyers to doctors, and from civil society to sporting personalities and more.
GLEN, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and Amnesty International are all part of this coalition of support for what is essentially a civil, social, political and human right. It is a right that should exist without opposition in any civilised country. Why should there be no opposition? It is because both the "No" and "Yes" sides of this debate are supporting the same thing. They are both supporting marriage. They are both in favour of legally and socially recognising a couple's love and commitment for each other. They both value the contribution that marriage makes to the very foundations of our society, how it stabilises and regulates, and how it provides social and legal structures with rights and responsibilities.
There is no ideological difference between the "No" and "Yes" sides in this debate when it comes to marriage. They both value it, they both want it, they want it for themselves and for their families. In supporting the Bill and in voting "Yes" in the referendum we are, in effect, asking for more marriage, not less marriage. That could be a slogan in itself. We are simply extending the right to marry to everyone who wishes to avail of it. For the life of me I cannot understand how anyone would object to this.
We have to remember that nobody owns civil marriage. It is a legal, political and human right which has universal recognition the world over, a right which has been extended to same-sex couples in 19 jurisdictions with more being added every year. The logic for widening the marriage net to include same-sex couples is premised not only on giving the same rights to every taxpayer but withholding the right to marriage stigmatises gay people and worst still, invites discrimination against them. We should no longer tolerate discrimination against any group in society, much less our brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, mothers and fathers. We should no longer discriminate against work colleagues, service providers, service users, fellow Members of this esteemed House, constituents, neighbours and friends who together make up this small minority of Irish society.
Opponents of marriage equality say that extending marriage to same-sex couples changes the definition of marriage. I agree with them. It changes the definition of marriage by widening and extending it. It has been widened and extended for centuries. Marriage is not a static institution. If it had remained the same and had never been redefined, women would still be their husband's property - I have got to be careful about that, I have to go home for my dinner this evening. Inter-faith and inter-race marriages would still be prohibited and women would not have equality that they enjoy today.
Some of us will remember when women had to give up their public sector jobs on marrying. That is how marriage was defined up to the 1970s. Last year, 97 year old Ms Maureen Cronin received a hidden hero award for her defiance of the marriage ban when she carried on teaching in Limerick for a full year without pay in the 1970s but it was not easy. She said, "Every inspector ignored me and passed my room while the parents merely tolerated me." To us, today, this is hardly credible but it serves to show one of the ways in which marriage has been redefined for the better.
We all know that the right to marry is one which many couples no longer choose to avail of. The traditional family, with or without children, has been undergoing dramatic change and today many long-term couples do what would have been unthinkable 50 years ago, they simply live together, raise children together and participate in society as unmarried couples. Even 30 years ago unmarried couples were still considered to be living in sin. Now we have a small minority who actually want to get married. The same people who support marriage seek to oppose this. There is an inherent flaw in their argument - to be in favour of marriage, to be rightly tolerant of those who do not choose to marry but to be against those of the same sex who wish to marry.
There appears to be a groundless fear that extending marriage to same-sex couples will somehow affect opposite-sex couples and their marriages. Professor Lee Baggot, director of the centre for public policy research in the University of Massachusetts, has conducted extensive research in this area. He concludes that no harm will come to marriage by extending it to same-sex couples. There is nothing in this Bill or the passing of the referendum for anybody to be afraid of.
I give the final words of my contribution to Gráinne Healy, the chair of Marriage Equality who puts the case so convincingly when she said:
Attempts have been made to frame this debate as if it is about people with family values versus the rest of us but nothing could be further from the truth. We want a yes in the referendum to gain the freedom to marry because we are family and we value marriage and the security and constitutional protection as uniquely held in Ireland. We are the family values campaign. We value love, we value commitment, we value family security and we are fiercely protective of our children and grandchildren.
These are the family values of the campaign for civil marriage and these are the family values that I am proud to uphold and protect.
There is some talk about opt-out clauses or conscience clauses. I have never heard such tommyrot in all my life. An opt-out clause of any sort is to impose another inequality, another form of discrimination, therefore I urge the Minister to close her ears to such calls and stick with the wonderful Bill she has brought forward and the referendum. I thank the Minister for having the courage to bring this Bill forward. I will do everything I can to support the referendum and canvass for a "Yes" vote.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. Tá mé go mór i bhfábhar an reifrinn agus an Bhille seo agus go bhféadfaidh beirt gan beann ar a ngnéas conradh pósta a dhéanamh de réir dlí.
There are some things that come through this House on which we may not always be completely sure, issues and Bills where one can see two opposing sides and not be absolute on where one stands. In the case of the Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015 that is not the case. I am unequivocal in my support and would say that this move is long overdue. Ireland as a country has made incredible strides in the past couple of decades. I hope that with this Bill and the subsequent referendum, we amend the Constitution and enshrine in law the equal society we desire and want. As a heterosexual man who represents the status quo, I do not wish to have any greater rights than my homosexual colleagues, lesbian women or gay men.
On 1 February 2014 I invited Panti to take it up as a noble call at the Abbey Theatre, our national theatre. Her words were raw, eloquent, thought provoking and registered with the public in an accessible manner. In many ways she managed to humanise and impart the real life day-to-day challenges faced by gay and lesbian citizens in our country. I recall her using the words "I check myself" when pressing the pedestrian lights and when on a public train. Imagine that shadow following gay and lesbian people in an unequal society as we have today. The support for Panti and her message was clear and strong. The national discourse on this subject was ignited with a fervour not seen before, particularly among young people. The voice of the LGBT community started to come to the force.
As we move towards the referendum it is important to take stock of what is happening. In essence the majority is voting on the allocation of civil rights to a minority. This is a huge responsibility for all of us. If we get it wrong we are left in a country where our population has sent an extremely negative message to those who will continue to be less equal. This should not be taken lightly.
I am firm in my belief that civil marriage should be open to any two people who wish to undertake it regardless of sexual orientation of a gender. Féadfaidh beirt gan beann ar a ngnéas conradh pósta a dhéanamh de réir dlí.
We need to progress to a point where it is no longer reasonable to suggest that gay and lesbian couples should not have access to the same legal options as heterosexual couples. We do not gain anything from exclusion, from keeping anyone or any group down, and I do not believe in a society which allows this to happen or to be perpetuated in 2015. I am uneasy sometimes with the word "tolerance" being used by someone in association with same-sex relationships and unions. In my opinion, there is nothing to tolerate. We should be celebrating our diversity and acknowledging the power of love as Senator Katherine Zappone said earlier in her eloquent contribution. In all the ways it presents itself we learn from it and we would be lucky to have it. Our children are moving streets ahead of us on this issue. My daughters are not just accepting the LGBT community in our society it is natural order, it is normal. Why would they expect their gay and lesbian peers to be treated any differently. They have grown up in a society that is destigmatising homosexuality, piece by piece, although not at a fast rate. The world they inhabit in this sense is friendlier and more compassionate and I do not doubt that the introduction of civil marriage is an eventuality.
In its policy statement last month, the Irish Human Rights Commission cited its legal position which covers the consideration of "human rights that may be reasonably inferred as being necessary to enable each person to live with dignity and participate in the economic, social or cultural life in the State."
The commission went on to state clearly that it believes that "the opening of civil marriage to two persons, without distinction as to their sex, is a matter of equality and human rights". “Féadfaidh beirt, gan beann ar a ngnéas, conradh pósta a dhéanamh de réir dlí.” It does not come much clearer than this. All people should be welcome to participate fully in the State without, as the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, rightly noted, any exceptions, caveats or conditions.
Those opposed to the referendum often mention concern for the welfare of children. The focus of this concern is completely misdirected, as eloquently mentioned by Senator Zappone's parents. The children who will be affected by the Bill are the gay and lesbian children and young people growing up. They are listening to adults talking about what they should and should not be entitled to. Although these children and young people do not have a voice in this debate yet, they will be significantly affected by the outcome. The message the vote will send, whether it has a positive or negative outcome, will be a loud and incredibly important signal to the children and young people in our community. A "Yes" vote would send a clear beacon that they should not question whether their feelings are wrong or should be hidden, that they are no different from their peers and that they can hope and aspire to the same life opportunities and choices. Why should our gay and lesbian children be limited from the get-go?
The Seanad deals with difficult issues that affect us as a society and it is rare that we deal with a motion or Bill that has an exclusively positive outcome. The introduction of marriage equality to Ireland would be an extraordinary contribution to our society and would have a far-reaching impact in bringing relief and happiness to the majority of our population. It would send an important message to our younger generation that their sexual orientation does not make them less in our society. There are many negative realities in our world that we cannot control, but we can control this. We can control how we want to appreciate, care for and support our fellow citizens, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, cousins, sons, daughters and friends. There is nothing to be feared from supporting two people who love each other. Is it not a wider aim of our society to work together and support each other and care for our children, including members of the LGBT community? It seems absurd that in this day and age a person would not have the right to be fully himself or herself, that some members of society would seek to deny their fellow citizens the same opportunities they have. It seems opposite to a democratic society and everything rational.
We are at our best when we are together, when we learn together, work together and care together. What a legacy for the Government, the Minister and this generation to leave to society. What a coming together of the people it would be. I look forward to the opportunity to say "Yes", all are equal, all are welcome. I hope that on 22 May, love will out. It would be a progressive move that would strengthen our society and, ultimately, our future. A public plebiscite with a majority voting in favour of marriage equality would be the greatest affirmation of love, equality and solidarity in our much too fractured society. “Féadfaidh beirt, gan beann ar a ngnéas, conradh pósta a dhéanamh de réir dlí.”
Yesterday, I criticised the Children and Family Relationships Bill and in my speech I made a number of criticisms of the manner in which the Government is driving it through like an express train. This referendum legislation is going through the Oireachtas in the same way. The sheer haste with which it is going through, the dearth of consideration of the issue in the Dáil, says volumes about the attitude towards the Oireachtas and the public which this Government's management of the public debate and legislation enabling the referendum exemplifies. I refer to an abuse of the legislative and democratic process, which is all the more egregious when it takes place in the context of a proposed referendum.
Let us begin with the name. The provisions relating to the title of the referendum on the ballot paper are found in section 24 of the Referendum Act 1994. The title of the referendum on the ballot paper will be by reference to the Short Title of the referendum Bill, the Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015. Calling it the marriage equality referendum is deeply manipulative. It suggests that opponents are somehow against equality and, by extension, against human rights, which is untrue. I wonder how it can be constitutional for the Government to attempt to mislead the public in this way and to drive them into a particular side of the argument by what appears on the ballot paper. Undoubtedly, the Government's choice of title for the referendum is meant to influence the manner in which the media and public refer to it and to influence people at the crucial moment of voting. I repeat, I wonder how it can be constitutional. The Twenty-Ninth Amendment of the Constitution (Judges' Remuneration) Bill 2011 was called the "judges' pay referendum" by the media. Imagine if the Government had entitled it the "saving money by hitting the overpaid judges referendum", or if the referendum on the future of the Seanad had been called the "cutting of the wasteful Senate referendum". How would the Members feel about such titles? Would they regard it as a balanced treatment on the ballot paper?
If the Government has its way, the referendum debate will be reduced to a hijacking of words such as "equality" and "love" to pretend that these things are only found on one side of the debate. If it were about nothing more than public recognition of love between any two people, it would be difficult for any reasonable person to oppose it. Let us be clear about the love and respect due to everybody, gay people included, and respect for people's private lives and loving relationships. However, even a cursory look at this constitutional referendum shows that more than a simple recognition of love is at stake. The Government proposes to change the provisions relating to the family in Article 41 of the Constitution by proposing a new subsection. The campaign website of the group calling itself Marriage Equality states:
[Marriage] represents the ultimate expression of love and commitment between two people, and everyone understands that. No other word has that power, and no other word can provide that protection.
If only it were that simple. However, in the Irish constitutional framework, marriage, and the family founded upon marriage, is not simply about love, although that is essential, as we would all agree, but about the social unit in which children are nurtured, protected and raised as members of our society.
We know children are brought up in all sorts of situations, and we honour those situations and people, and in particular situations we make special provision. However, according to the special rapporteur on child protection, Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, whom I quoted yesterday, two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage is the "gold standard for the upbringing of children". The Minister does not acknowledge this, and nothing in the Children and Family Relationships Bill or this referendum Bill acknowledges or facilitates that reality. If passed, the new provisions will make it virtually impossible for the Oireachtas to require that preference be given to a married man and woman as a core element in determining a child's best interests when making arrangements for adoption because to do so would violate the constitutional guarantee of equality. If the referendum passes, adoption law will be unable to protect a child's natural right to a father and mother where it is practicable. Although it already arises in circumstances, in which we give extra respect and support, it should not be brought about in children's lives. A child should not be deprived, up front and in advance, of the possibility of being brought up by his or her own father and mother or by a father and mother.
If passed, the referendum would mean that it would be unconstitutional to amend the law on assisted human reproduction to secure a child's natural right to a father and mother by restricting access to the relevant services to a married man and woman, as has occurred in other countries. If passed, the referendum would copperfasten the serious flaws and injustices in the Children and Family Relationships Bill, which is going through the House, and put it beyond revision by a future Oireachtas alone. This is the nub of the issue. Children and their rights to the ties of family, kinship, blood, history and identity are essential issues in the referendum. Let us remember the amount of time spent and the sympathy we rightly give to people longing for contact with their genetic and biological parents. Now we are denying certain future children the possibility of this relationship. People such as Dr. Joanna Rose, whose father was a donor and who, she discovered, was the genetic father of many children, have spoken compellingly about the heartache it causes. It is not just a matter of discovering, or being allowed to discover, at some stage who one's genetic mother or father is. It is about much more than that.
The referendum would be a regressive step for the rights of some of the most vulnerable people in our society because it would tie our hands from being able to regulate matters in favour of a child's right to a father and mother wherever it is possible. The core issue in the referendum is whether we put the rights and best interests of children at the centre of policy-making, not off-centre, and whether we give priority to children's best interests, even over and above the issue of public recognition of adult relationships.
On a point of order, Senator Mullen has grossly misrepresented the quote of Geoffrey Shannon, who clarified at the Joint Committee on Health and Children that he did not say-----
That is not a point of order.
It is. One is not allowed mention somebody's name and misquote them in the House. He spoke about all families being entitled to it.
I hope this is not interfering with my time.
The Senator knows the rules about not referring to people who are outside the House. I do not know whether the Senator quoted or misquoted him, but if he did misquote him I ask him to retract it.
For the record, I have checked directly with Geoffrey Shannon the accuracy of the quotation I have ascribed to him.
The Oireachtas Joint Committee and Health and Children------
What I am coming across-----
An alternative point of view has been put by another Senator and the record of the House will show this.
What I am coming across in my contact with people is much concern in particular about the value of motherhood. Mothers and fathers are both important, but there is something about motherhood. Our late great poet, Seamus Heaney, knew something about the importance of mothers. Those who voted for Ireland's favourite poem got a sense of it:
When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.
So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives–
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.
That is what I thought of when the Minister was on the revolution with Maya Angelou, because if the referendum succeeds certain particular children will not get the chance to peel potatoes with their mother. Tragically, it already happens in life, but the Minister will bring about situations where a child will in advance be deprived of that precious special possibility. Just as important is the deprivation of the right of a child.
On a point of order, I take issue with Senator Mullen's personalising of the referendum as the Minister's referendum. To be quite accurate, a referendum is a matter for the people to vote on and no one should attribute it and personalise it in this particular way.
I draw the Senator's attention to the fact that he has exceeded his time.
I will conclude, as the Acting Chairman will accept I have been interrupted by two non-points of order.
We are at nine minutes instead of eight.
Has the Acting Chairman allowed for it?
Of course children will be loved by whoever brings them into the world, but this is not enough. Justice to children demands that a child's right to a father and mother would never be undermined. I will table amendments in the coming days which will seek to reaffirm the right of children to their father and mother, and to respect loving relationships but protect freedom of conscience for service providers and educators and get the balance right. If the Minister is sincere that the referendum-----
The Senator is pushing it a little bit now. I did allow extra time.
In fairness, the circumstances were trying and it did not happen for any other speaker.
I was not in the Chair for other speakers so I cannot speak about it, but the Senator is almost two minutes over time.
If the Minister is sincere about her statement that this does not impact negatively on the rights of children, she will accept the amendments. If she does not accept them, we can discuss them further on the hustings.
Accepting amendments is a matter for Committee Stage as the Senator well knows.
In view of the Minister's comments yesterday I will quote comments I made previously, particularly on Senator Norris's Bill which we debated on 16 February 2005:
I have reservations about the Bill and I have spoken privately with the Senator in this regard. It raises issues which will need to be teased out over a period of time, and will need to be done in a sensitive way in the interest of the individuals who find themselves in certain situations and also in the interest of society as a whole. To some extent this represents the challenge to the Government and to all of us in the Houses. On the one hand we must cater for the individual while at the same time ensuring that the well being of society is preserved.
In a similar vein in the debate on the Civil Partnership Bill debate in 2010 I stated:
Existing marriage rights should remain unique to marriage because of its uniquely pro-child nature. It is not discrimination to treat a unique institution such as marriage between a man and a woman in a unique manner.
The proposal to have a referendum to redefine marriage is being framed in terms of equality. Yesterday, a Senator stated it was important to recognise diversity as opposed to sameness and this was said again today. The Senator spoke about diverse family formations, but the same can be said about marriage. Why would we want to have the same model for all unions when the current model recognises the diversity and difference between those types of unions? I was criticised for opposing civil partnership. The reason I did so was because I felt it was too analogous to marriage and would inevitably lead to redefining marriage. Despite assurances given at the time, this has indeed come to pass. Lobby groups in favour of same-sex marriage use civil partnership as a justification for redefining marriage. They argue civil partnership creates a separate but equal situation and that only same-sex marriage will remedy it.
Yesterday, I spoke at length about mothers and fathers. One reason for not having this marriage referendum now is the Supreme Court has yet to rule in the Jordan case, in which the referendum Act itself is under scrutiny. Article 41.1.1° of the Constitution states the State recognises the family as the natural primary and fundamental unit of society. An interesting and thought provoking article by Bruce Arnold was published recently. It covered areas which have not yet been debated in the House. To some extent I am concerned about the groupthink in the political party structure and the media. It was extraordinary that last week a very large protest was held outside Leinster House by the pro-life campaign highlighting the fact that in the past two months 33 articles had appeared advocating abortion but only one had appeared supporting the pro-life position. This groupthink needs to be challenged. It is not good for society.
Bruce Arnold wrote:
It is the "nature" of life that bestows on marriage its unique character. All living organisms on the surface of the world, and beneath and above that surface, are motivated by simple and basic instincts, the two most important of which are survival and procreation.
He also wrote:
For me the meaning of marriage is a unique accomplishment shared not just with the vast majority of human beings on the planet, but something that is shared also with all living creatures. Their instinct to survive and procreate, sustaining the eternity of their ongoing prevalence, is the primal reason for the existence within the human condition of the union between male and female. In civilised and primitive society we call this marriage. We have done so for centuries. And the grounding is in nature and of nature, bringing men and women together and drawing the roots of their togetherness from various combinations of sexual characteristics.
I accept the force of nature that is fundamental to marriage. I go further, and see it is unique in its embodiment of the second essential purpose in life – pro-creation. And finally I find in it the most precious and lasting part of my life and something I have personally lived in for the whole of that adult life.
No law, no willingness to help other people of the same sex who love each other and wish to declare and make permanent in law that love, by the making of new laws, can be achieved by redefining "marriage". Such an objective can be achieved in other ways, outside the re-defining of marriage. Moreover there are distinct and valid formulae for so doing, one example recognised being civil partnership. But they do not reach any kind of climax or reality under the term "marriage" which I believe is a unique and inviolable human condition that can only manifest itself in the union between a man and a woman.
I recommend that anybody who has not read the article should do so. One might not agree with everything in it, but it is very thought provoking.
Given how closely linked marriage and family are, if we change our definition and conception of marriage we also change our definition and conception of family. The conception of marriage and family protect the natural relatedness, natural kinship and natural ties between mothers, fathers and their children. Changing marriage removes this protection. The Children and Family Relationships Bill breaks the link between family and marriage. The proposed marriage referendum will further and irreparably undermine the link between marriage and the natural family.
It is not just the Irish Constitution that links marriage and family. Under the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to marry and the right to found a family are a compound right. Men and women have the right to marry and found a family through natural reproduction. This brings me back to the point about the lack of legal architecture and safeguards in the area of assisted reproduction. The Government is trying to pass the Children and Family Relationships Bill, which is a piecemeal measure that cobbles together a smokescreen of protection for children but which completely fails to regulate the area of assisted reproduction which will come under stress if same-sex marriage is introduced. For example, the Bill does not legislate for the use of surrogacy.
These are the questions that Irish voters must ask themselves before they vote to introduce same-sex marriage into the country which has an inadequate system of laws governing assisted reproduction and could become a hub for commercialised assisted reproduction, given the absence of proper regulation in this area. We need clear and strict laws on assisted reproduction and surrogacy before even thinking about redefining marriage.
There are many definitions of marriage, but I would like to put one forward. What is marriage? Marriage unites a man and a woman with each other and any children born from that union. Other reasons for supporting the definition of marriage as being exclusively between a man and a woman is that marriage provides children with access to their genetic, cultural and social heritage. Marriage between men and women is the institution adult society uses to protect the rights of all children through affiliation with both parents. Same-sex marriage will further marginalise gendered language and gendered roles. We see that happening already, including in the Bill we discussed yesterday. Same-sex marriage creates an entitlement to the use of artificial reproductive technology. It also transforms marriage from a gender-based institution to a gender neutral institution within our Constitution. Man-woman marriage is an institution that attaches mothers and fathers to their children. Same-sex marriage transforms marriage into an institution that separates children from at least one of their parents. Same-sex marriage routinely places biological parents on the same legal footing with adults who have no genetic relationship to that child. Same-sex marriage eliminates the legal principle that biology is the primary means of establishing parental rights and responsibility. It also undermines the legal principle that children are entitled to a relationship with both parents.
Conscience has been mentioned in this House by a number of speakers. I note in recent days that the Tánaiste has signalled that the Government does not plan to have any protection or exemptions in place for people in businesses who do not agree with redefining marriage and who do not want to be forced to participate in or endorse same-sex marriage. Only religious ministers will be exempt from participating in same-sex marriages services. The Ashers bakery case is being decided this week by the High Court in Belfast. Surely that case should make the Government stop and think about the conscience implications of redefining marriage. Surely that case and myriad similar cases involving florists, bakers, wedding photographers and wedding location owners, many in the United States, but some here, should make Government take seriously the need for rigorous conscience protections in this legislation. Until such protections are in place, the Irish people will not be able to vote to change marriage.
The Senator is half a minute over time.
Could the Acting Chair give me a little more time?
The Senator will get just a little bit more.
I want to refer to the printer's case in Drogheda and Brendan Eich, Mozilla's new CEO, who had to resign because he made a contribution of $1,000 to Proposition 8 in California. These are examples of intolerance towards people who have a conscientious position on this issue.
I am seriously concerned about gender ideology in schools. This proposal to redefine marriage has implications for children in schools. In France, for example, the introduction of same-sex marriage has gone hand in hand with teaching gender theory in schools. Gender theory teaches that all gender differences are socially constructed and there are no innate differences between men and women. I could go on at length about that but we do not have the time.
We do not have the time.
I will finish on this, if the Acting Chair does not mind.
No. I have called other Senators to time and now I have to call Senator Walsh as well.
Can I just finish on this point, namely, my concern about gay people, which has not come up yet? I am conscious of the fact that gay people have suffered the stigma and challenges of living in a society that is largely heteronormative. However, my concern is that gay people in same-sex couples are being encouraged to believe that complete sameness is achievable. It is not. There is a fundamental biological difference between same-sex and opposite-sex couples. That difference will remain. Encouraging gay people and same-sex couples to believe that full equivalence and sameness are achievable will cause more harm than good to them. I worry about that, because of the obvious natural differences, which will endure regardless of redefining marriage.
I thank the Senator. He is now two minutes over time.
I thank all Senators for this very constructive debate on this important topic. The eloquence and the power of the contributions from Senators here today speaks for itself. I hope it gets a wide audience through a variety of media. I am very struck by the personal nature of many of the contributions and the care of the language. I recognise, of course, the role that many people have played on the path to equality. I recognise the role of political parties, the Labour Party; Fianna Fáil, especially Máire Geoghegan-Quinn; my own party, Fine Gael; and the contribution of so many individuals, including Members of this House, such as Senators David Norris and Katherine Zappone, who gave such a powerful speech here today. It was very moving, and it is those individual stories from around the country, from families of every shape and size, that will begin to impact on this debate as we move forward, when people understand precisely what we are talking about.
I saw a comment on social media today from J.K. Rowling about why one of her characters was gay. She said it was because they are people, just people. Someone else on social media described this as a magical comment. That is very true and it gets to the heart of what we are speaking about. We are all agreed that people will have to make a momentous decision in May and that decision will reveal much about our attitudes as a society. This is just part of the process. As many Senators said here today, we have a campaign that is about to take place. Information will be given out by the Referendum Commission and by many people who get involved in the debate. That debate will confirm how we view the institution of marriage. It will determine whether we regard marriage as an institution open to all couples who wish to enter it or restricted to the union of a man and a women and it will reveal much about our attitudes to same-sex couples. Will we as a society recognise that they are entitled to equal rights? Our decision in May will determine the answer to that question.
The Convention on the Constitution provided an opportunity for many Members, drawn themselves from different strands of Irish society, to examine the case for opening marriage to same-sex couples. Many Senators attended those discussions. Having heard the views of a range of experts and interest groups and having examined a wide range of submissions, they were convinced that the time had come for constitutional change. I am struck by what Senator Power said about how people changed their minds when they heard personal stories during that Constitutional Convention. I was also struck by the majority opinion expressed in the convention in favour of constitutional change. It reflects broad agreement across Irish society that it is right that the issue of marriage equality should be put to the people for decision.
The overwhelming demand among same-sex couples is to have the choice whether to marry. I was looking at some research in other countries where there was a choice between registered partnerships and marriage. A very large majority among same-sex couples chose marriage. In the Netherlands, for example, 92% of opposite-sex couples have chosen marriage over registered partnership. Similarly, in the US states of Illinois and Nevada, where both options were available, 99% of opposite-sex couples chose marriage over registered partnerships. The strong preference for marriage confirms the symbolic importance of marriage in our society. It suggests that if given the choice, most same-sex couples would also choose marriage. Again, we must ask ourselves, as a number of Senators put it today, what right we as a society have to deny people access to a right which they truly want.
A number of issues were raised today. Quite a number of Senators commented on the conscience clause. Provisions have been proposed with regard to the protection of religious solemnisers when solemnising marriage. I have already referenced that in the general scheme of the marriage Bill. That makes it clear that if that scheme is brought forward as a Bill, no provision of that Bill would compel a religious body to recognise a particular form of marriage ceremony or a registered religious solemniser to solemnise the marriage in accordance with a formal ceremony that is not recognised by that religious body.
That is very clear in the Bill and it is important that we know that.
I will not be departing from the existing policy, underlying equality legislation and the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010, of not providing for a general conscience clause. I believe such a clause would go against the ethos of our equality legislation and could open the door to discrimination against same-sex couples by service providers. I believe that same-sex couples have a right, like all people under the other equality grounds, not to experience discrimination when accessing goods and services. We could not stand over a situation in which a service provider might arbitrarily refuse to serve a same-sex couple and whereby the couple in question would have no means of redress.
Reference to the redefinition of marriage has been made several times. If the people approve this referendum, they will not be redefining marriage. Marriage is referred to in Article 41.3 as an institution on which the family is founded and which the State pledges to guard with special care. We are not proposing to change that in this referendum. Article 41.3 of the Constitution specifies the circumstances in which a court may grant a dissolution of marriage. We are not proposing to change that in this referendum either. What we are proposing to change is the current restriction on those who can access marriage as a constitutionally revered and protected institution. At present one group of couples who aspire to marriage, those who are opposite-sex couples, may access it. Those who are same-sex couples cannot access marriage at present. If the referendum is passed by decision of the people on 22 May, those same-sex couples who may not access marriage at present will be able to access it. We are not proposing to redefine marriage, change the constitutional protection for the institution of marriage or change the marriages of those of our citizens who are married now and whose marriages are protected by the Constitution. I repeat that we are proposing simply that same-sex couples who are not permitted to access marriage at present will be permitted to access it.
There was a comment about the timing of the referendum. The Government announced its intention on 5 November 2013 to hold a referendum in 2015. The Constitutional Convention held its deliberations in April 2013. The general scheme was published on 16 December 2014 and referred to the Oireachtas joint committee for pre-legislative scrutiny. Therefore, there has been a long process in putting this referendum before the people. We have a commission that will do its work as normal over the coming weeks in informing the people about the details of the referendum. The central tenet of the referendum is about allowing this access for same-sex couples. There is nothing as a result of this referendum to stop a Seamus Heaney of the future writing an equally beautiful poem about precious moments spent with his or her parents, regardless of whether the parents were two men, two women or a man and woman. Seamus Heaney has another famous line:
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.
That is relevant as well. I will address the issues about children on Committee Stage of the Children and Family Relationships Bill, where they appropriately belong.
When is proposed to take Committee Stage?
On Friday, 27 March.
When is proposed to sit again?
Tomorrow morning at 10.30.