I welcome the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald.
Marriage Bill 2015: Committee and Remaining Stages
First, I compliment the Minister. I am just back from London, where I received an award from the Foreign Office. The ceremony was attended by various Ministers of the British Government and people like Ed Miliband and the former leader of the Scottish National Party. The House will be glad to hear of the tremendous tributes paid to the Government and political parties here and the Minister for the work that has been done on this issue. People were quite enthusiastic about the referendum having been passed.
On section 5, during Second Stage I spoke about degrees of relationship, affinity and so on and so forth and said it would not bother me if cousins married. I mentioned the "grotesque" Irish media and, true to form, they took the bait and my office is now deluged with requests for me to go on air and to talk to the newspapers about the issue, apparently blissfully unaware that cousins can already marry. I was not proposing incest or anything of that nature, but a big deal has been made of my comment on cousins marrying. The Minister may not have realised this either because she said she would look into the matter. It is fairly remote.
When I was speaking, I was not promoting incest. All I was saying was that it would not bother me if cousins married. I was thinking of some of the remote regulations of the Anglican church, which forbade this in the past. In addition, the marriage of cousins is not generally socially popular, but it is legal. Therefore, I will not go on any radio station or talk to the newspapers about the issue. It is perfectly all right. People can relax. Cousins will be able and have been able to marry each other. They have been able to marry each other for decades. The media should grow up, get some sense and stop stirring up mares' nests. I am not in favour of incest and never have been and look forward to a debate on this interesting subject later.
I am very happy with section 5 and any residual doubt I had has been clarified.
I was not here on Tuesday for Second Stage. As I said earlier, we had a meeting in London in the House of Commons on other issues. I read in the newspapers about the comments made by Senator David Norris, but it may surprise him and others that I did not disagree hugely with what he said. There are significant differences between the relationships of same-sex and opposite-sex couples. The main difference is the capacity to have children. In that regard, blood ties matter and I understand why there would be prohibitions on relationships of consanguinity because of the risk to children from the close blood tie relationship. That does not arise in same-sex relationships.
In regard to the difference in capacity - I put a query to the Minister previously, but she did not answer it during previous debates on the referendum - there are also issues about the consummation of a marriage. This issue has been used historically as grounds for the legal annulment of a marriage. What is the stance on that issue now, particularly in the case of opposite-sex couples to whom it will apply exclusively? I am interested in hearing an answer to that question because I want to understand how they may be affected by the redefinition of marriage.
As I said on Second Stage in regard to prohibited degrees of affinity, the general policy is that the prohibited degrees of affinity will apply to all marriages, modified to take account of whether the couple is of the same or opposite sex. The issues I was addressing then were the prohibitions on affinity preventing in-laws from marrying. These prohibitions may be outmoded and I was saying my Department and the Department of Social Protection would consider them to see if change was needed. I said also that if change was needed, we would provide for it in a separate legislative vehicle rather than in this legislation.
The Senator is correct, I did not get an opportunity to respond to the point about cousins. Cousins may marry under the law as it stands. In regard to consummation, given that we have no statutory provision, there is no need to make an equivalent exception. There is no reason in principle the courts should not continue to deal with these issues, as they always have, by considering the merits of each individual application.
On that last point, has any consideration been given by the Minister or the Department to any consequence of this redefinition which could affect the Judiciary? This is new. Our marriage laws and definition of marriage have changed since the referendum and will change once this legislation has been passed. Has any consideration been given to how this might impact the thinking of the Judiciary when such issues come before a court, particularly given the issue of equality on which this is based?
It will continue to be at the discretion of the court to consider the facts and the circumstances of individual cases.
As usual, the Minister has not answered the question I put to her. The question is specific. Has the Minister or her Department given any consideration to any implication this change may have with regard to the issue of consummation and how the courts might interpret it? I understand from her response that the answer is "No" and that she is leaving it to the discretion of the Judiciary. However, what I want to know is whether any thought or consideration has been given to this within the Department and if any analysis has been made and made, if so, how was it constructed and how did the Minister arrive at a conclusive evaluation?
I think gay couples are quite well able to decide when a marriage has been consummated.
Does the Minister wish to add anything?
Obviously when the Bill was being drafted, careful policy consideration was given to all aspects of the development of the legislation, including this aspect, but, obviously, the conclusion was that this would be an issue in the sense that because we did not have statutory provision relating to consummation, there was no need to make an equivalent exception. That was the policy decision arrived at and as there is separation of powers, the point I am making is that the courts in any individual case, should it arise, will make their decision.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 6, after line 29, to insert the following:
"Removal of court exemption to impediment on ground of age
7. (1) In this section "Act of 1995" means the Family Law Act 1995.
(2) The Act of 1995 is amended by -
(a) the deletion of section 31(1)(b),
(b) the deletion of section 33.
(3) Section 2 of the Civil Registration Act 2004 is amended by the substitution of the following paragraph for paragraph (c) of subsection (2) -
"(c) one or both of the parties to the intended marriage will be under the age of 18 years on the date of solemnisation of the intended marriage,".
(4) This section shall not apply to a marriage in respect of which, prior to the enactment of this section, a court has made an order under section 33 of the Act of 1995.".
My amendment seeks to abolish the possibility of a court ordered exemption to 18 years as the minimum legal age to marriage. As I emphasised on Second Stage on Tuesday last, my amendment stems from my concern about the exemption that can and is being granted by the Circuit Court in Ireland to allow children under the age of 18 years to enter into marriage. The Minister will be familiar with my concerns since they were the subject of a motion tabled by Senator Ivana Bacik and the Labour Party, which I seconded, in June 2014.
The exemption to the ordinary legal age of 18 years for entry into a contract of marriage is provided through sections 31 and 33 of the Family Law Act 1995 and was more recently retained in section 2(2) of the Civil Registration Act 2004. We know the exemption is being applied. On the afternoon our motion was taken, the former Minister of State, Deputy Fergus O'Dowd, advised the House that between 2004 and 2013 almost 400 parties to marriages in Ireland were under the age of 19 years. More specifically, according to CSO data, kindly compiled by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service in advance of the debate, 28 marriages registered in Ireland in 2012 involved a bride or groom, or both, who were under the age of 18 years. In 21 of these marriages, the bride was 16 or 17 years of age and the groom was 18 years or over. In four of these marriages, the groom was 16 or 17 years and the bride was 18 years or over. In the remaining three, both the bride and groom were 17 years, both children, entering into a legal contract of marriage. I find this quite remarkable and entirely undesirable in the context of the State's duty to protect childhood.
Deciding to marry is a very serious matter. The obligations and responsibilities that arise from marriage are onerous. It is ironic and seems inappropriate that we would trust children to make this decision when we prevent under-age persons from making other decisions, for example, unless a person is married, he or she must be 18 years or over in order to make a valid will. One cannot enter into a civil partnership unless one is 18 years and there is no provision for exceptions.
A person under the age of 18 years also has limited capacity to a contract. A contract with a person under the age of 18 years cannot be enforced unless it is for necessary items needed for the child's basic sustenance as opposed to luxury items or is a beneficial contract of service. Therefore, a child's capacity to enter into a simple contract or valid will is limited, yet we will allow a child under the age of 18 tears to take the equally, if not more, profound decision to marry.
Ireland is bound by a number of international human rights laws and standards, the provisions of which are completely incompatible with child marriage, for example, the International Bill of Human Rights, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, CEDAW, the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the slave trade, and institutions and practices similar to slavery. More recently, in September 2013, Ireland with its fellow EU member states supported the UN Human Rights Council resolution on strengthening efforts to prevent and eliminate child, early and forced marriages, challenges, achievements, best practice and implementation gaps. It is such a glaring contradiction that we in Ireland speak out against child marriage in countries such as India, Nigeria, Malawi, Iraq, Nepal, Ethiopia and Bangladesh while the Statute Book still allows exemptions to the normal marriage age which, worse still, fails to specify a minimum age for such an exemption.
This is not just a question of child marriage. The exemption also raises concerns around the scope for coercion and forced marriages of children here in Ireland, which, again, appears baffling when we consider our reaction to the horrific incidence of forced marriages internationally - we just need to think of Boko Haram.
Applications for exemptions are made to the Circuit Court in private. Senator Ivana Bacik made an important point about this in the debate on her motion. There is no public record of the application or the arguments put forward in support of it. There are no guidelines on the criteria to be used in granting the exemption. Rather, the standard language of section 33 gives the court wide discretion and, worryingly, there is no provision for minors to be legally represented at the hearing or for the HSE or the Child and Family Agency and child protection authorities to be notified.
Our motion specifically referenced the criticism levied by Mr. Justice McMenamin in the High Court in a judgment in June 2013 in a case concerning an arranged marriage. The case concerned the annulment of a marriage between a 16 year old girl and a 29 year old man on the basis that the girl lacked capacity to give true consent in the first instance. Mr. Justice McMenamin felt the case raised concerns of such magnitude that it warranted a general comment about the danger of the legal loophole for children. He noted that in certain circumstances such marriage exemptions may give rise to significant child welfare issues and queried whether the HSE should be put on notice of such applications in order to inquire into the protection and welfare circumstances of the child concerned. As the Legislature, we must provide guidance for the courts to implement the statutory provisions as they are intended or we can lead by example and remove the statutory provision currently allowing minors to marry.
When our motion was debated in June 2014, we were told that a small interdepartmental group would be established. I have not heard anything about it since. I appreciate the importance of what is happening today and the historic occasion that it is. As we are in the last few months of this Seanad, I have tabled this amendment because it is an issue that is close to my heart. As I have said, I will not press the amendment, but I wanted the issue to be raised and the Minister's officials to hear the reasons we must address this gap for children. There is no lower age for this exemption; it is all done in the Circuit Court in private. We must protect children. Without representation, a decision can be made about their lives, a decision that we all take extremely seriously and which is what makes today so important.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. I had intended to speak against Senator Jillian van Turnhout's amendment, but I am delighted that she added the last few lines. Few in this House have defended the rights of children as much as she has. In standing to speak against what she has just said I had that at the back of my mind. She has worked on getting the Bill moved through the Houses and I want nothing to impede its passage. That is why I would have spoken against it. In fairness to the Senator, while there are ethnic groups in Ireland who favour marriage from the age of 16 years onwards, there is also the issue of forced marriage. I ask the Minister in the next year or two to monitor the numbers, ethnic backgrounds and the rationale behind those who marry under the age of 18 years. I see the Senator shaking her head.
One is either a child or not.
I appreciate where the Senator is coming from, but some communities do not hold the same views. This is now a multi-ethnic society with various religious and ethnic and cultural beliefs that will cause problems. I am delighted that she will not press the amendment and will not impede the passage of the Bill.
Before I call Senator Jim Walsh, I welcome Deputy John Lyons to the House.
I concur with the generality of what has been said. There is a very significant issue in other cultures with regard to forced and early marriage. I am involved in a parliamentary organisation NGO which has campaigned strongly in this regard and has held seminars in various countries where this is a prevalent issue and problem.
Last week it made a presentation to the United Nations, a body about which I have great misgivings, but at least it is a step in the right direction and perhaps it will embrace it because there are very significant problems. Marriage should certainly be consensual. That is one of the founding principles of the Judaeo-Christian value system of marriage and a strong component of being married. Anything which flies in the face of that, particularly with young children, is to be opposed. I am interested in what the Minister has to say on this. Children in their late teens are of varying degrees of maturity, but as a general rule, people need to be of fairly mature disposition to make such a lifelong commitment.
Another aspect that concerns me is the trend nowadays in the western world for people to leave it quite late to get married, resulting in health and other issues, not least demographic issues.
These are issues at which I hope some future Minister, the Department or the Government will be committed to taking a look and addressing in an holistic and cohesive way because there are issues surrounding marriage that need to be buttressed in the society in which we live. That should be done, if only in the interest of children, not to mention the best interest of adults.
To be absolutely clear, I talked to a number of religious, cultural and ethnic groups and they support what I propose. The reality is that this happens in private in the Circuit Court and the child has no representation. We do not allow children to make other contracts, but we will allow them to make a contract of marriage. That is wrong. We cannot lecture other countries and say we understand our cultural differences and tht we are able to legislate because we know better in the western world.
We do not.
I support what Senator Jillian van Turnhout said. A child is a child. I am concerned about a child being able to go to court if they have parental approval because many parents need education on what a child is and on what his or her rights are. Senator van Jillian Turnhout has said that she will not push this amendment. Senator Ivana Bacik proposed this in 2014 and I think the Government at the time was supportive of it. It is an issue on which we must agreed. Some Senators mentioned ethnic and cultural background. Ethnicity and culture are not as important as the child. It is the child and the child's rights that are important in this, not the courts or the parents.
I thank Senator Jillian van Turnhout and acknowledge that this is an extremely well drafted amendment. I can confirm that the interdepartmental group has met and has been considering this issue. Under the law, as it stands, as the Senator said, it is normally an impediment to marriage if a party is under the age of 18 years. However, it is not an absolute impediment. Young people, as the Senator has outlined very clearly, may get a court exemption allowing them to marry. I take seriously the points the Senator has made on these circumstances. If we can ensure better protection for children, we should do so.
The House has discussed this issue before and I know that it is the collective view that it is desirable for a number of reasons to consider a complete ban on under-age marriage. I agree with the points of concern about under-age marriage - the question of immaturity, power differentials and the kind of consequences that could arise for young people in these circumstances, but it is not a matter for inclusion in the Bill. Its scope is very specifically limited to removing the impediment to marriage of the parties being the same sex, to making provision on religious bodies and to amending other legislation to ensure same-sex couples are treated equally. It is not about that wider reform of the marriage law, although it is obviously about reform and restricting access to marriage for other categories of persons. Work is ongoing on this issue and I regard it as a priority. We could draft something in the near future. We will try to find suitable legislation, which either a colleague or I will bring forward, and include this amendment in it. There is widespread support for it. I agree with what Senator Jillian van Turnhout and other Senators said that this is the right way forward. I ask the Senator to withdraw the amendment on that basis.
I thank Dr. Fergus Ryan who helped me to draft the amendment. I also thank the Minister for what she has said and I am very appreciative of it. As I explained to her outside the Chamber, I knew that this was not the perfect Bill in which to do this. I agree with her about the scope of the Bill and support her in that regard. I wanted to give another airing to the issue, given the limited time I have left in the Seanad.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 12, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:
“Amendment of Section 81E to Pensions Act 1990
20. Section 81E of the Pensions Act 1990 is amended by the substitution of the following subsection for subsection 7:
“(7) Where a delay by a complainant in referring a case under this section is due to any misrepresentation by the Respondents or a material change in the Rules of the Pension Scheme subsection (5) shall be construed as if the reference in it to the date of termination of relevant employment were a reference to the date on which the fact of misrepresentation or material change of the Rules of the Pension Scheme came to the complainant’s notice.”.”.
This amendment addresses a manifest injustice under which a small subsection of gay people are precluded from claiming pensions because as of 1984, they did not submit in writing documents saying they would claim for a husband or a wife. In 1984, homosexual behaviour, even between consenting male adults in private, was a criminal offence. How could they possibly do so? Around this time, a judge stopped a case in Dublin - divorce proceedings - because if the witness continued to give the evidence the judge imagined he would give, of homosexual practice, the judge would be required to refer a transcript of the proceedings to the Director of Public Prosecutions. In those conditions, how could any gay person possibly claim a pension? It is utterly scandalous that a small cohort of people are being precluded.
There is precedent. A number of years ago under the social welfare provisions, the PRSI scheme and so on, farmers' wives, who had been previously prohibited, were allowed to claim. Retrospective legislation was enacted which gave them the right to claim it. There is, therefore, a solid precedent. Not only that, but there is a precedent in many other jurisdictions. There was a legal case before the supreme court of Massachusetts which raised this precise point and it decided that the pension regulations in America had to be changed. In the United Kingdom, our nearest neighbour, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender public servants who enter into same-sex marriages are now allowed to change their single person pension to a spouse pension and acquire a spouse pension based on all contributions made since 1988, not since 2005, as the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, incorrectly stated in Dáil Éireann. The United States Government, the state authorities of Massachusetts and the United Kingdom Government are all doing this. It seems to be absurdly penny-pinching.
It is important we rectify the manifest injustice that will be created if this amendment is not accepted, which I expect will be the outcome. The amendment proposes the amendment of section 81E of the Pensions Act 1990 by way of substitution of the following subsection for subsection (7):
"(7) Where a delay by a complainant in referring a case under this section is due to any misrepresentation by the Respondents or a material change in the Rules of the Pension Scheme subsection (5) shall be construed as if the reference in it to the date of termination of relevant employment were a reference to the date on which the fact of misrepresentation or material change of the Rules of the Pension Scheme came to the complainant’s notice.".".
The Minister, Deputy Brendan Howlin, has stated that allowing the change in pension arrangements would lead to substantial additional cost to the existing liability of public service pensions. What is the estimated cost in that regard? Why, in terms of the magnitude of the award, is the Government setting its face against giving justice to people in terms of their pensions, many of whom are elderly people who have been discriminated against throughout their lives and relationships by the operation of the criminal law until 1993 and who are now being denied proper pensions? It is scandalous. I cannot understand how a Government of this character could stand over such a situation.
A very distinguished former Member of this House, now a Member of the other House and Chairman of an important Oireachtas committee, Deputy Jerry Buttimer, has said that this displays complete intransigence. He went on to say that in 1984 it was not even a remote possibility that a gay or lesbian person would ever be able to get married or enter into a civil partnership. For gay men, relationships were criminalised. In effect, giving them the option to join spouses and children's superannuation schemes made no sense. They could also have been imprisoned for ten years if they made a claim under that scheme. We should allow the people concerned the option to revise their decision.
I do not believe there is a huge cohort of heterosexuals who would take up this option. However, if they, too, have been unjustly treated, why should money come into it? This is a question of justice. The argument made when equal pay for women and other reforming measures were proposed was that they would cost too much. That is always the response of the Department of Finance. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is now showing equally niggardly attitudes in this matter. I am appealing to the Minister to at this late stage follow the lead of her party colleague and give justice to a small number of elderly people. As I said, there is precedent for this. It would be a pity if this splendid Bill were to be vitiated by such a blemish on its moral character.
On public service pensions, it is a fact, one that comes before conferences year after year, that public servants, whether single or married, are forced to pay for widows and orphans in their pension contributions. The only people who can avail of a moratorium in this regard are members of the clergy. This provision has been challenged many times by teachers. Like Senator David Norris, I cannot see how there is an additional cost involved if people are already contributing for widows and orphans. I support the thrust of the Senator's proposal, but my primary concern is that the Bill should be passed today.
Everybody in the House will be aware of my strong opposition not only to this legislation but the outcome of the referendum. However, I am a democrat and the people have spoken. I remain concerned about the welfare and wellbeing of children and what may happen in schools. I deplore some of the calls made by the INTO and others that children be sexualised from an early age, which I believe is one of the consequences of this change.
The Senator should confine his remarks to the new section.
No, I do not want to speak about the new section. I am responding to the comments made by Senator David Norris. In the interest of fairness, I believe the Senator has raised an important point which should be examined. I also believe there is a need for a review and reform of pensions generally. The fact that there are so few people qualifying for pensions will be a major issue as the demographics in the country change. In this instance, people who commit themselves to each other for life should have an entitlement. I do not accept that the cost is prohibitive. That needs to be established.
When carrying out research in the context of my participation for some of the debates on the referendum, I noted that marriage was not widely taken up by gay people. The country wherein marriage by gay people has been an option for the longest time is the Netherlands, but only 20% of gay or lesbian people there have married. The remaining 80% are happy to live together and not endorse their relationship with marriage. This issue arises in the case of only 8% of gay people.
I am not at this point in time persuaded by the argument that the cost would be prohibitive. This proposal should be examined in the context of the fairness that would be provided. During the debate on Senator David Norris's Bill in 2005, I said there were definite issues that impacted on people in gay relationships which needed to be addressed with an overarching legal structure. What I never accepted was the argument that a same-sex relationship was the same as an opposite-sex relationship because quite obviously it is not for the various reasons I mentioned earlier, not least the issue of capacity.
On this issue, I support Senator David Norris's arguments and hope tthe Minister will respond to the effect that if it is not possible to address the issue in this Bill, the Government will move to address this unfair anomaly in future legislation.
I agree with the points made by Senator David Norris. On pension reform, I worked in the pensions area for more than 15 years and put forward many proposals on pension reform. Perhaps this issue could be addressed in the context of the social welfare and pensions Bill which will be brought before both Houses soon and to which I intend to propose amendments relating to pension reform, not least for airport pensioners and others.
Justice for all.
Yes, this is a justice for all issue. Perhaps the Minister might give a commitment today that she will consult the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection and the Minister for Finance on this issue. I will then give a commitment to Senator David Norris that if he withdraws the amendment to the Bill and submits an amendment to the social welfare and pensions Bill to address this unfairness, it will have my support. This matter needs to be rectified and money should not be the reason it is not addressed. The Bill before us is important legislation about marriage equality. Perhaps, as I said, the Minister might give a commitment that Senator David Norris's proposal will be looked at in the context of the social welfare and pensions Bill, following which the Senator can decide whether he wishes to proceed with the amendment today.
I thank the Senators who have contributed on this point which I propose to address in some detail. The amendment proposes to amend the Pensions Act 1990 to allow access to the complaints mechanism set out in the Act, as amended. The context of the proposed amendment relates to certain circumstances in which people who have pensions do not have any associated survivor's benefit for a spouse or a civil partner. This arises in two main situations. First, civil servants who were appointed on or before 31 August 1984 are members of what is termed the original spouses and children's superannuation scheme.
That scheme does not permit benefits to be payable to a surviving spouse or civil partner where the marriage or civil partnership takes place after retirement. Civil servants then serving were given an option in 1984 to become members of the revised scheme and many joined it at the time while others chose not to do so. They retained a right to a refund of their contributions to the original scheme on retirement. That facility is not available under the revised scheme.
The terms of certain pension schemes provide survivors benefits for spouses or civil partners on the death of the scheme member only if the scheme member had married or registered a civil partnership within a certain period before or after retirement. In both situations, the limitations apply regardless of the sexual orientation of the civil or public servant of the scheme concerned. However, certain representations have been made that those rules have a disproportionate effect on persons in same-sex relationships due to the unavailability to them of civil partnership, which is the point being made, prior to 2011 or marriage until now. As there are ongoing legal issues in regard to this, I do not wish to make over-extensive comment on it. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, has given extensive consideration to the matter of access to the revised spouses' and children's scheme. He has decided not to make a change at this point because it would not be possible to limit that access to a specific cohort. The resulting impact on public service pension liabilities could be very significant. In response to Senator David Norris's question, I do not have the figures, but the numbers are substantial. At least 30,000 people did not opt into the revised scheme and many thousands never joined the scheme. I do not have detailed figures for the costs involved, which would only be an estimate.
Even if I were in a position to accept the amendment, I do not believe it would achieve the intended aim for the following reason. The amendment would allow access past the usual six or 12 month period for the complaints mechanism in relation to pension schemes where there has been a "material" change in the rules of the pension scheme, but the simple fact of the matter is that there has not been a material change in the pension schemes concerned. I accept the Senator's point on constitutional change. The material changes are to who may marry. That is a critical change in terms of who will qualify for survivor's benefit, but the crucial point is that it is not a change to the scheme. The amendment would not give that hoped for access to the complaints mechanism, so I cannot accept it.
There were many reasons large numbers of people did not join the new spouses' and children's scheme. It is beyond doubt that some chose not to join because they were homosexual and saw no reasonable prospect that a partner would benefit from a survivor's pension, but that is by no means the only reason people did not opt in. It is not even the only reason which is based on constitutional change because if one thinks about it, the introduction of divorce would have allowed some to marry, having never expected to be able to do so, and they were not given access to the revised scheme in the wake of that constitutional change either. The points Senator David Norris has made are very clear in terms of the constitutional changes that have come about and the connection to pension schemes. However, it is a matter for the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. He has considered the matter and taken a particular decision.
I accept the point made by Senator Darragh O'Brien. I, too, have great sympathy for people who made what they clearly believed to be the best and most rational choice at the time. In the circumstances, they thought it was the only choice they could make. This is a matter for a wider discussion on pension schemes. Although it does arise in the context of the constitutional change we are discussing today, I suggest it would be appropriate to have discussions with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and under the legislation relating to pensions generally because it has an impact in that regard. I have given some indication of the unquantified number who were members of the original scheme who opted not to join the new scheme. I agree that there are implications. I accept the points made by Senator Darragh O'Brien, but the legislation we are dealing with is not the place in which to deal with it. The issue arises in the context of the constitutional change, but there are quite a lot of implications and it is primarily a matter for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
I am a little disappointed by what the Minister has to say because she has given no commitment whatever to raise this matter.
I will raise it.
I thank the Minister very much.
I will communicate with my colleague on the points that have been made in this debate and will raise the issue with him. He is happy to do that because he has considered the matter extensively. He has not agreed to any change. He has outlined the position very clearly. This is an historic day on which I hope we will pass this legislation. I accept that issues arise in regard to the constitutional change, but I have made the point that they equally arose after the divorce referendum. However, I will certainly raise the matter.
I thank the Minister very much. There was intervention to prevent a case going to adjudication. That is very serious. People paid into the scheme for spouses and children that they did not have. It was an unjust form of taxation. All I seek is an opportunity for people to make a complaint and have it adjudged. If there are other people who are not gay couples who want to make a complaint also, why should they not make a complaint and have that adjudged in order that justice will be done?
I am rather sorry the Minister has not been able to go further. I greatly regret the intransigent attitude of the Minister, Deputy Brendan Howlin, but I take on board the suggestion of Senator Darragh O'Brien that the place to implement the change would be by way of further amendments to the pension scheme. I know so many couples who are looking forward to marriage and I would do nothing to hold that up. I have made my points strongly. I feel passionately about the matter. It is a disgrace that people who paid into pensions would have gone to prison if they had claimed for a spouse, or been sent for aversion therapy, as in cases of which I am aware. That is not an option and that is not the situation that confronted any heterosexual person. At the time when the circular went around and people were asked to subscribe to it, they could have gone to prison if they had claimed the benefit; therefore, it is a nonsense. I will not push the amendment to a vote. I had intended to do so, but we would probably lose it anyway. Senator Darragh O'Brien's suggestion-----
Is the amendment being pressed?
When I have finished speaking, it will be withdrawn. I take on board the very constructive suggestion of Senator Darragh O'Brien. We will have a battle when it comes to the pension scheme. We might even have the numbers to do it, and there might be a sense of justice across the floor among some people. I think of the Taoiseach's nominees, the Independents and the Labour Party, whose members purport to speak for the working man and woman in this country. I will leave it at that. We will call their bluff on the pension scheme. I do not wish to be obstructive to this otherwise splendid Bill, but this is a dreadful blemish on the face of that Bill.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 13, between lines 5 and 6, to insert the following:
“(c) by the insertion of the following new subsection after subsection (10)—
“(11) Nothing in subsection (3)(b) and subsection (4)(b) as amended shall be construed to prevent or invalidate the solemnisation of any marriage, or be construed so as to refuse to register or cancel the registration of any solemniser, on the ground that a form of ceremony in use by any registered solemniser, prior to the commencement of this Act, is no longer compatible with the requirements of subsection (3)(b) and subsection (4)(b) as amended.”.”.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. Is comhtharlú é go bhfuil duine a bhí in aghaidh an reifrinn ag moladh an leasaithe áirid seo mar ní bhaineann an leasú atá molta agam le ceart an phósadh comhghnéis. D'fhéadfá a bheith go mór i bhfábhar an reifrinn agus i bhfábhar an leasaithe atá molta agam inniu. Baineann sé seo le seasamh an Rialtais agus an ghealltanas a thug an Rialtas nach mbeadh aon chosc ar eagraíochtaí creidimh nó constaic ina mbealach agus iad ag pósadh lánúin go sibhialta chomh maith le hiad a phósadh lastigh do shacraimint nó rialacha na n-eaglaisí cuí.
In a sense, it is a coincidence that the amendment before the Minister is coming from a person who was an opponent of the referendum because the amendment I propose does not really have anything to do with the rights and wrongs of the change the people made to the Constitution last May. As I stated on Second Stage, that decision is made and there is nothing in what I propose that seeks to detract from or undermine that decision. I accept that decision and that is the state of our law. The definition we have of marriage is changed and this legislation reflects that. However, to recall what the Minister herself said on the Second Reading in the Dáil on 23 September:
Historically, many religious bodies in Ireland have carried out the civil aspects of marriage simultaneously with the religious aspects and this will continue to be the case. It has always been the case that religious bodies have substantial discretion in choosing which marriages to solemnise in accordance with the tenets of their beliefs, and ... this will remain the case. Nevertheless, it was considered important to make it absolutely explicit in the Marriage Bill that religious bodies will not be compelled to solemnise particular marriages as a consequence of the amendment of statutory provisions.
The Minister's intention is clearly expressed there and it reflects the general tenor of what was stated around the time of the marriage referendum, that is, not only had people no objection to religious organisations continuing to maintain their own rules and their own definition of marriage for their own purposes but it also was well understood there would not be or certainly should not be any obstacle to the role of religious organisations in solemnising marriage in its civil dimension in the context of weddings taking place in church and so on.
I have looked at this matter carefully and have sought and seen legal advice on it. Moreover, the Presbyterian Church to my certain knowledge has been in contact with the Minister regarding its concerns about all of this. It believes the legislation, as drafted, is flawed and would or certainly could be interpreted so as to create a doubt about the validity of marriage civilly witnessed within a religious setting by religious solemnisers. This is because of the way in which the declarations required by the State of all solemnisers is being changed to a gender-neutral form.
I believe what has happened is the Minister has missed the goal, the goal being to leave untouched or to not interfere in any way with the role of religious solemnisers solemnising marriage in a civil context. This problem is due to what I can only regard as problematic drafting. What has happened here arises because the legislation focuses on the notion of a form of a ceremony, which is what the registrar, an tArd Chláraitheoir, is required to approve and is the basis on which a religious solemniser is approved and put on the register or on which solemnisers could be cancelled from the register if they are not using a form of ceremony that is approved by the State. It is this focus on the form of a ceremony that gives rise to the problem and the misunderstanding of the meaning of that rather technical and different word, "include", appears to have contributed to a potential confusion in this regard which the Government must remedy. It would be wrong not to do so because as legislators, my job and that of all Members is to scrutinise proposed legislation according to their best lights.
What has happened here is that as the Minister is aware, section 21 changes the declarations set out in the 2004 Act in section 51 and requires of anybody solemnising a marriage a declaration from the parties “to the effect that each of them accepts the other as a husband, a wife or a spouse, as the case may be”. This is in circumstances where it previously was a case that the form required was there would be a declaration to the effect that people would "accept each other as husband and wife". It is interesting that in other sections of the legislation, one does not encounter this triple option of husband, wife and spouse. One has the substitution of "husband" or "wife" by the gender-neutral term of "spouse". However, what is problematic in this regard is that the form now required is a declaration to the effect that the parties take each other as husband or wife or spouse, as the case may be. Each of these terms must mean something different. In the case of a same-sex couple, according to the new definition of marriage, one might reasonably have a situation of a husband taking a husband or a wife taking a wife. The fact this triple distinction has been included and the reference to "as the case may be", suggests clearly there is an inclusivity intended of different options and scenarios, be they a husband-and-wife scenario or a same-sex scenario.
The problem is that the 2004 Act requires that any form of ceremony, whether it be a secular solemniser, a religious solemniser or a State ceremony, must include and be in no way inconsistent with the declaration. However, the law, as amended, requires any form of ceremony to include and be in no way inconsistent with a declaration to the effect that parties take each other as husband, wife or spouse, as the case may be. The problem is with the word "include" because this does not refer to a specific ceremony. This is not about the marriage of Joe and Mary Bloggs or Joe Bloggs and Mary Bluggs but pertains to the form of ceremony which, in the Catholic context basically is the rite of marriage and which to my knowledge is not even established or provided for in Ireland, and really it applies to any religious organisation and might apply to a secular organisation.
Clearly however, if one considers the form of ceremony used, for example, by the Presbyterian Church, it talks about "Do you, N, take N to be your wife?; do you, N, take N to be your husband?". My point is the form of ceremony the Presbyterian Church uses refers exclusively to husband and wife. The legislation, as amended, now requires that if religious organisations are to have their solemnisers included on the register and not cancelled therefrom, they must have a form of ceremony that includes a declaration to the effect that the parties take each other as husband, wife or spouse, as the case may be. In other words, my contention is the Minister is placing a burden on the religious organisations involved to change their form of ceremony. It is at least possible, it is a legitimate possible reading of this legislation that the Minister is doing this. I do not believe the Minister intended to do this but it is a poorly drafted amendment in the Bill.
The problem is that elsewhere, it is true, the Minister does her best to give guarantees to religious organisations that they will not be interfered with in their form of ceremony. The Minister goes to great pains to provide that a religious solemniser shall not solemnise a marriage, except in accordance with a form of ceremony which is recognised by the religious body.
It is not that they do not have to. It is that they may not solemnise except in accordance with a form of ceremony approved by their own religious body.
The Minister has gone even further by putting in a fail-safe provision that says that nothing in the legislation would require them to solemnise in a manner that is not in accordance with that approved by their religious body. She has set up this protection that says to religious organisations involved in solemnising marriage civilly that one cannot use a form except one's own. That provision only goes halfway because she has also set up a situation where, on the face of it, it looks like they must use a form which is different from what they currently use. It is a little like the Model T car where one could have any car one wanted as long as it was black. One can only use one's religious organisation's form of ceremony but one also has to use one that meets the requirements of the State. The requirements of the State are being changed in this legislation because the Minister is putting in a gender neutral form of wording that must be part of the declaration, one of the key declarations to be made by the parties to a marriage - husband or wife or a spouse, as the case may be. That does not relate to the individual ceremony but to the form which is approved. That sets up two potential problems. There could be a doubt about future weddings and future marriages where it might be found that the form of ceremony in use by the religious organisation was not such as could have been approved under the new legislation. The Minister has unnecessarily raised an issue about the validity, potentially, of marriages that have taken place.
The Minister has created the potential problem that an tArd-Chláraitheoir, or the Registrar General, might feel under an obligation to put in issue the form of ceremony being used by religious organisations, either as a condition of solemnising or approving future solemnisers or even, potentially, cancelling the registration of existing solemnisers. All of this has caused unnecessary confusion.
The Minister has been contacted about this by parties who are directly involved in solemnising marriages. I would be grateful to hear from her to what extent she has engaged with their concerns. Their concerns do not involve putting in issue the result of the referendum but simply involve maintaining the status quo as regards their right to be involved in solemnising marriage in its civil dimension within the context of their ceremonies. It is not a lot to ask to get that right and to put that issue beyond doubt which is more important, I submit, than meeting a deadline today or any particular deadline. We are not at the end of term, or at least I do not think we are, but one never knows with all the talk about the election, when it will happen or whether it will happen.
What is the solution? I could have drafted an amendment that baldly expressed the idea or requirement that religious organisations, or that certain organisations, would not be obliged, or would be free, to have ceremonies that were exclusively husband and wife and excluded same-sex couples. Instead, I adopted a minimalist approach by proposing an amendment which simply provides that forms of ceremony currently in use shall not be put in issue as a result of this legislation. I submit that it is a minimalist issue. It is a tactfully put amendment because it simply seeks to ensure that there are no consequences for current solemnisers. My amendment states:
Nothing in subsection (3)(b) and subsection (4)(b) as amended shall be construed to prevent or invalidate the solemnisation of any marriage, or be construed so as to refuse to register or cancel the registration of any solemniser, on the ground that a form of ceremony in use by any registered solemniser, prior to the commencement of this Act, is no longer compatible.
In other words, should it be found in the future that what this legislation means is that the forms of ceremony being used by religious organisations fall short of the requirements of the State because the State now requires that these forms must include a declaration that the parties take each other as husband, wife or spouse, as the case may be. If that is construed as to mean that their form must be as broad and gender neutral as that, whatever happens in the individual ceremony being a separate matter, we have a problem. My amendment seeks to ensure there is no doubt about the solemnisation of any marriage that has taken place and that there is no doubt about the status of a religious solemniser or a registered solemniser, as a result of the change in this legislation.
To further support the statement that I have taken a minimalist approach, I have not gone into the standing discretion which an tArd-Chláraitheoir has to approve or refuse a form of ceremony for use in the solemnisation of civil marriages. People might have good reason to be concerned about what the future may hold in terms of how an tArd-Chláraitheoir, with a particular political view, might behave vis-à-vis religious bodies involved in the solemnisation of marriage. Let us remember that it is not just in law that religious solemnisers must comply with the form approved by their religious bodies. They must also comply with the requirements of an tArd-Chláraitheoir. They have to meet the test set out that registered solemnisers shall not solemnise a marriage except in accordance with a form of ceremony approved by an tArd-Chláraitheoir and which includes and is in no way inconsistent with the declarations specified, which is the problem one. A registered solemniser who is not a registrar is recognised by the religious body. Recognition by one's own religious body of the form one is using is a necessary but not sufficient condition for one's ability to solemnise a marriage and there is the nub of the issue.
I have put this as best I can. I hope the Minister has given this more consideration because she did not have much of an opportunity to respond on Second Stage as she was under time pressure. I was disappointed that she simply averred that I was incorrect. I hope time has been taken to examine my proposal. This is not something I am taking on the fly or bringing up to be obstructive. I am trying to do my job as a legislator by pointing out what seems to be an obvious ambiguity. The Minister has taken enormous steps to avoid ambiguity elsewhere in the legislation, not least in section 7 where one already has a situation where religious solemnisers must comply with their own religious bodies. She has put in another clause that states nothing shall compel them to marry according to their own form of ceremony. She looked for the arcane and dealt with it in advance. The concern I have raised is a serious one and I hope the Government will take it onboard.
This is a mare's nest and a complete virago of nonsense. I am a believing, practising and church-going Christian, but the churches should get out of civil marriage. If there is a difficulty, it is of their own making. There are two elements in a marriage which takes place in a church. There is the religious marriage and there is the civil marriage. As a practising Christian, I do not think it is appropriate for churches to be involved in what is essentially the legal parting of the raiment. The civil side gives effect to all kinds of property considerations, wills, inheritance and all of those kinds of things and I do not think the churches should be involved in such matters. To use the Presbyterian Church as a cat's paw is laughable.
Senator Rónán Mullen very honestly disclosed his motive. He said we did not have to finish the Bill today, in other words, this is filibustering, which is what happened during the debate on the civil partnership legislation.
I ask the Senator to speak to the amendment.
I am speaking directly to the amendment, unlike the previous contributor. I do not know why the Acting Chairman has interrupted me.
As far as I am concerned, there is absolute logic in what the Minister is doing. There is the suggestion that "spouse" is a completely different term for "husband and wife", but that is not the case. Many same-sex couples refer to their partners as husbands and wives already. I point out that this was the equality referendum. It was to make it the same thing. There is no longer gay marriage-----
That is what the people of Ireland decided. If the Senator disagrees, that is his prerogative. The legal position is that the people of Ireland in a referendum decided on equality and that is what we are dealing with. It seems that the amendment is perfectly appropriate. As I said, if the churches want to get involved in civil marriage, Senator Rónán Mullen referred to the legal requirements of the State. What else would we have in civil marriage? In the churches, there are two things going on: there is the religious solemnisation of marriage and the churches also take it on themselves to preside over the civil, State, aspects of marriage. If they want to engage in State civil marriage, they, like everybody else, are subject to the law of the land, as they should be. That is the end of the argument, as far as I am concerned.
When reading Senator Rónán Mullen's amendment, I wondered how he had come up with it or how he could possibly have interpreted the Bill in this way. Like Senator David Norris, I am a proponent of separation of church and State. However, the fact is that our culture and religion have informed our laws for many years. Our laws supported that culture, which in some ways was dominated by a religion that said boys and girls recognising themselves as gay did not belong and should not belong. The Bill changes this. It provides for separation of church and State. If Pope Francis were standing here today, instead of Senator Rónán Mullen, his interpretation of the Bill would be quite different from that of the Senator. I think he would be much fairer.
He would be speaking in Spanish, for one thing.
I have never quoted a Pope or a priest in the Seanad before, but I am going to do it now. Pope Francis said recently, regarding his pastoral experience, that he was keenly aware of how gay people were “socially wounded” and frequently felt the Church compounded their sense of exclusion and alienation. He said he had often received letters from LGBT people and that the Church did not condemn them. He said the Church did not want to do this.
I think the Senator is going outside the scope of the amendment.
I am not.
I believe the Senator is.
Senator Rónán Mullen brought this into it. I will finish with what Pope Francis said, which is: “If a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge." I am judging this legislation the way it is written and I do not see in it what Senator Rónán Mullen sees. As for saying the Bill lays down a diktat on how solemnisers should lay out their ceremony, it does not do that. The freedom is there for each one of them to compose their own ceremony. The Bill does not do that at all; therefore, I am obviously reading a different Bill from Senator Rónán Mullen.
I call Senator Katherine Zappone and ask her to stick to the amendment.
Senator Rónán Mullen, with great respect - I know we do respect each other - in his lengthy explanation of the amendment said he was trying to do this in a minimalist fashion - minimum, short, succinct - in order to put the issue beyond doubt. I am not sure what that issue is. I shall respond by making a couple of points on what I understand to be a minimalist approach to this issue.
As I listened to Senator Rónán Mullen's lengthy explanation, I tried to understand the logic of what he was putting forward, because I know we were both trained in logic. I believe the nub of his concern is that, if this amendment is not accepted, what the Government is doing would raise the validity of marriages taking place in regard to religious solemnising. He is also arguing that if we do not have this amendment, the Bill would be interfering with religious organisations regarding their understanding of marriage as distinct from the legislation for civil marriage. He is basing these very significant charges in regard to the Bill on the basis that the Government wants to add "spouse" along with "husband and wife". However, as the word "spouse" can mean "wife" and can mean "husband", there is no material difference in terms of the definition. I do not understand how that inclusion of "spouse" can place such a burden of raising the validity of the marriages previous to the ones that might take place now, as well as interfering with religious organisations in terms of their religious understanding of marriage.
Under the law, as it stands, a registered solemniser is not permitted to solemnise a marriage except in accordance with a form of ceremony approved by an tArd-Chláraitheoir. This is set out in section 51(3)(a) of the Civil Registration Act 2004. In the case of a religious solemniser, there is an additional criterion, which is that the form of ceremony must be recognised by the religious body of which he or she is a member. This is set out in section 51(3)(c). Paragraph (b) of that same subsection provides that the form of ceremony must also include and be in no way inconsistent with specified declarations. Those declarations are the following: a declaration by each party that he or she does not know of any impediment to the marriage; and a declaration by the parties that they accept each other as husband and wife. This second declaration is set out in section 51(4)(b) and that is where the Senator has a concern.
With the opening of marriage to same-sex couples, it would clearly be an anomaly to require two parties of the same sex to accept each other as “husband and wife”. Accordingly, section 21 slightly alters what must be included in the second declaration. Each of the parties must accept the other as a husband, a wife or a spouse, as the case may be. This is an enabling provision. A ceremony in which each party accepts the other as a spouse can be approved by an tArd-Chláraitheoir. Similarly, he can approve a ceremony in which two women accept each other as wives, or two men accept each other as husbands. Crucially, for the purposes of this discussion, nothing in the section as amended requires any change to a form of ceremony in which a woman makes a declaration accepting a man as her husband, and a man makes a declaration accepting a woman as his wife. These are still valid declarations. They are in no way inconsistent with the requirement now set out in section 51(4)(b). Any form of ceremony which is currently approved by an tArd-Chláraitheoir remains valid.
The amendment is misconceived. It seeks to remedy a problem which simply is not there. The Senator is right in one respect, which is that forms of ceremony with changed declarations can be authorised, once the Bill is passed. However, he is wrong in suggesting that current ceremonies, with their current declarations, will in any way fall out of compliance with the requirements of the Civil Registration Act 2004. Furthermore, while forms of ceremony with revised declarations will be possible, the critical point is that churches will most certainly not be required to provide them. I would direct the Senator again to section 7 which could hardly be clearer on this point. It states: “Nothing in this Act or any other enactment shall be construed as obliging ... a religious body to recognise a particular form of marriage ceremony for the purposes of section 51(3)(c) of the Act of 2004”.
A religious body will still be able to submit new forms of ceremony and if they wish, the declarations made in those forms of ceremony can still be confined to a woman accepting a man as her husband, and a man accepting a woman as his wife.
Obviously, I cannot accept the Senator’s amendment. This section received as much attention as every other section. It is redundant because the Bill takes careful and meticulous account of the position of religious bodies and is completely respectful of the constitutional guarantee that each religious denomination shall have the right to manage its own affairs. I hope that gives an explanation of the approach in the Bill.
Aontaím le cuid den mhéid a dúirt an Seanadóir Mullen ach nílim cinnte go bhfuil an ceart aige i ngach rud a dúirt sé. Tá suim agam san ábhar seo agus ba mhaith liom é a phlé leis an Aire chun go mbeidh mé féin cinnte nach bhfuil dainséar sa Bhille seo atá romhainn.
I welcome the Minister's answer. I concur with much of what Senator Rónán Mullen said on the issue. I make a distinction. I have read closely section 7 which the Minister mentioned. It is fairly clear, but I might ask for clarification on one or two points. I draw comparison relating to the phrase "Nothing in this Act or any other enactment shall be construed as obliging". Senator Rónán Mullen's amendment states: "Nothing ... shall be construed to prevent or invalidate the solemnisation of any marriage". Sometimes nothing obliging somebody to do something does not mean conferring legality on it. Undoubtedly, this will be challenged. There are many well funded gay ideological groups which are very active in challenging all sorts of beliefs among people who do not agree with their point of view. There are many examples of that, particularly on our neighbouring island, if one follows it closely.
I am anxious to ensure it is crystal clear that nothing in the Bill or in the changes we are making in redefining marriage will place any obligation or put any of the churches or their priests in a position where they can be successfully challenged - I know that they can be challenged - in the courts for sticking to their religious teachings and beliefs.
Religious liberty is a cornerstone of fundamental human rights and is a constitutional right. In this there is a certain danger of entering a sphere of conflicting constitutional rights which may have to be adjudicated on by the courts. That is why I believe the intention of the legislator should be absolutely clear. It is not the courts' job to make up legislation; it is their job to interpret the legislation that we have passed. Therefore, the first distinction is with regard to preventing or invalidating, as opposed to not obliging or construed as obliging.
I am reasonably satisfied on the second point I will make relating to a religious body recognising a particular form of marriage. There is a distinction between a religious body and a religious solemniser in section 7(1)(b) which states, "to solemnise a marriage in accordance with a form of marriage ceremony". The phraseology is slightly different. There may be a need for it, but I want to elicit more from the Minister in that regard.
Section 7(2) states: "“form of marriage ceremony” includes that form in so far as it relates to the sex of the parties to the ceremony;". That would seem to refer specifically to same-sex couples. I ask the Minister to clarify that issue. It is welcome that the Bill does not state, "Nothing in this Act shall be construed" but it states, "Nothing in this Act or any other enactment shall be construed". To me, not as a legal person but as a layperson interpreting the law, it gives some comfort that nothing, not just the Bill but in any other law - equality legislation or anything else - would in any way infringe the religious liberty of churches and their priests to interpret the law in any other way. They only need have regard to their religious teachings regarding what will be - unless the churches change at some stage - opposite-sex or heterosexual marriages. There will be no obligation by the State to interfere in any shape or form with that or expose them to any successful legal challenge. If the Minister gave me that comfort, I would be happy. I suggest to Senator Rónán Mullen that if we get that, the amendment may be unnecessary.
I thank the Minister for her response. I am not satisfied with it because I do not believe she makes any issue clearer. The amendment was considered carefully by me and it has been the subject of legal analysis. I am trying to do my job. I do not believe the way this section is drafted meets the standard elsewhere in the Bill. If it leads to problems in the future, on the Minister's head be it. She may be Taoiseach at that stage and will not mind too much. She will find a way to explain it all away and perhaps blame it on the draftspersons.
I do not think I can be faulted for spotting an issue that I believe is very relevant to a goal the Minister says she wants to achieve, which is to protect from interference the current forms of ceremonies being used by different religious bodies. It would be in the interest of the State for it to continue as it is with religious bodies that are in the business of marrying people also having a civil role. I do not have a particular view on whether they should continue to have that role. I have friends who were married in France. They went to the registry office one day and to the church the next. That may be the way of the future. I do not have a particularly strong view one way or the other.
I believe my friend, Senator Katherine Zappone, fell short of her usual standard in attempting to characterise the length of my contribution as being somehow problematic. I do not think it was even the lengthiest contribution on today's Committee Stage, as I look to my left. However, even if it was I am doing my best to set out-----
I doubt it and it would be a first.
A breakdown for Thomas, called Didymus.
The Senator should stick to the amendment.
Even if it was, I could hardly be accused of trying to effect a filibuster. I am responding to the Minister and that will be the end of my contribution. If there is a problem with a Bill, it should be more important to deal with that than to meet any particular day's deadline. It is not as though I have only flagged this today.
In her response the Minister did not say whether she had engaged with the bodies that had expressed concerns to her and which had written to the Government citing legal opinion, as far as I know, about the ambiguity in this wording. I did not hear from the Minister as to whether she gave them the time of day. It is wrong and while I know that the Minister did not make an issue of my motivations, I am trying to do a job and address a problem. I did so in the context of saying I was not trying to subtract from the effect of the referendum. How could one? The people have spoken and the legislation must be in keeping with the provisions of the Constitution. Therefore, it is mean-spirited to be partisan and patronising when a colleague proposes an amendment and tries to give the rationale for it, even if it goes on a little longer than someone's ears are prepared to take. I have never challenged others' right to speak or set out their issues. One should never make fun of them because one does not like the way they do it. I think that demeans the parliamentary process. Even when my friends or people, whose contributions I otherwise admire, do that, I have to call foul on it.
It is not a question of whether religious bodies might be required to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies; nobody is saying that.
My amendment is not grounded in any such fear. The question is whether they will be faced with a choice in the future, which will be to change one's official form of ceremony to a gender-neutral form-----
I hear the Minister reassuring me that this will not be the case, but I do not see how she can do so, given that on a perfectly logical reading of the wording of the amended legislation, it is possible that it might be so construed, that is, they might be presented with a choice to change their form to make it gender-neutral or step back from being involved in the registration of civil marriages. This is the issue I am raising and is a concern people have. In other words, there is a possibility that sections 51(4)(b) and 51(3) could be construed to mean any official form of ceremony which does not include a declaration about accepting the other as "a husband, a wife or a spouse, as the case may be" might be invalid for the purposes of solemnising marriage.
I revert to my point that when one states "a husband, a wife or a spouse," each of those things must mean something different. Religious organisations do not use the word "spouse" in their marriage rites, to my knowledge. As for requiring them to include, in an official form of ceremony, "a husband, a wife or a spouse, as the case may be," I reiterate that the form must include and be in no way inconsistent with a declaration to the effect that they take each other as husband, wife or spouse. If it pertained to the individual ceremony, that would be a different thing, but the Minister is requiring them to have a particular form of ceremony, and the presence of the word "include" in section 51(3) means the form of ceremony must be broad. The form of ceremony must be "a husband, a wife or a spouse, as the case may be," and the Bill does not use that "husband, wife or spouse" distinction elsewhere. Therefore, the point is that each of them must mean something different from the other. It appears that on a fair reading of the legislation, the Minister is requiring religious organisations in the future to have a form of ceremony for approval by an tArd-Chláraitheoir which is sufficiently broad to encompass a meaning of solemnising a same-sex union also. This is not something they have at present, and the Minister simply cannot have such crystal ball certainty. I am not proposing a bizarre interpretation of the English language. With the greatest respect, I suggest the Minister is closer to so doing, because the 2004 legislation refers to the form being obliged to include declarations to the effect that the parties to the marriage accept each other as husband and wife, which the Minister has now changed to "a husband, a wife or a spouse, as the case may be."
I am completely ready to believe this was an oversight, but the Minister has created a dubium. She has been approached by the parties most directly involved in these ceremonies with their concerns and I do not know whether she has given the slightest notice to their concerns or has written a letter to them reassuring them that their legal advice is wrong. I simply do not know, because she has not said so. However, it seems that if she wished to avoid any possibility that she could be wrong and I could be right, she would do no mischief by accepting my amendment, because it simply provides that the forms of ceremony currently in use shall not be put in issue in the future, which is what she states she wishes to achieve anyway. It is only Thursday; the Minister could get this back to the Dáil and done, signed and sealed by the weekend. I believe she has got the drafting wrong in this regard. Moreover, the fact that an opponent of the referendum is pointing this out to her is not a sufficient reason to reject it. It certainly does not justify some of the patronising comments from the other side of the House.
I will be brief. To be frank, the Minister has made the position clear. Section 7 states "Nothing in this Act or any other enactment shall be construed as obliging" and, as all Members are aware, the concept of obligation has a distinct legal meaning. This really puts it into a nutshell. The other section to which Senator Rónán Mullen refers gives the option for religious or civil solemnisers to include the term "spouse". I have listened to this debate for the past 40 minutes or close thereon and I do not think it could be clearer. I ask Senator Rónán Mullen, for the purpose of reaching a conclusion to this debate, to allow Members to move on.
The Presbyterian Church, for which I have a great respect, has its highest concentration, to a massive extent, in the North of Ireland, where, shamefully, they have managed to frustrate same-sex marriage. Therefore, it does not come as any surprise that it would take this sort of attitude. On the business of this being a filibuster, Senator Rónán Mullen's references to time, how Members need not do it today and so on make it perfectly clear that that is what it is. That is all I have to say. I hope Members get on with it, get the Bill passed and get it done and dusted. The people of Ireland have spoken and, out of respect, Members should listen to the voice of the people.
Perhaps the Minister clarified the position, but I cannot recall hearing it. On the point Senator Rónán Mullen has made about the declaration, I note that under this particular section, it states "a husband, a wife or a spouse, as the case may be." Can the Minister say it is entirely within the discretion of and acceptable for any religion to decide to opt for the language of husband or wife, excluding any reference to spouse? Can she say this is the intention of the legislation and that there is no attempt to introduce gender-neutral phrases into what is not a gender-neutral situation?
If she could clarify this, it certainly would satisfy me and perhaps my colleague.
This is all something of a carry-on. I appeal to Members on the other side of the House-----
Will the Senator, please, stick to the amendment?
If possible, can they allow the Senators present to go away for a well deserved drink and get the Bill passed as soon as possible?
Can we, please, stick to the amendment? We are on Committee Stage. The Minister may reply, if she wishes.
I will respond to Senator Jim Walsh by saying the answer is "Yes." That clearly is the intention of the Bill. That is the meaning of the Bill, as I have made clear. The Bill could not be more clear in this regard, as it states "Nothing in this Act or any other enactment shall be construed as obliging ... a religious body to recognise a particular form of marriage ceremony for the purposes of section 51(3)(c) of the Act of 2004". Consequently, there is no attempt whatsoever, nor could there be from a constitutional perspective, to introduce that kind of obligation. Members should remember that Article 44.5 also allows religious bodies to manage their own affairs. The Bill has been drafted specifically in the context of Article 44.5-----
This is a State affair.
To take up some of the points made, I assure Senator Rónán Mullen that my officials met the Irish Council of Churches and obviously were happy to explain the legislation and, in particular, to clarify that nothing changes for religious bodies, religious solemnisers or religious ceremonies. Again religious marriage does not become gender-neutral. I also can confirm that an tArd-Chláraitheoir has been consulted and is completely certain that nothing in the Marriage Bill will invalidate any approved form of ceremony. It allows but does not require new forms. That is important. As matters stand, an tArd-Chláraitheoir approves the ceremonies of marriage, whether they are civil marriages only or marriages with religious and civil aspects. These ceremonies must include declarations consistent with those set out in section 51(4)(b). A ceremony that refers only to husband and wife does meet these criteria. I really could not be more clear. A religious body will not be required to change its ceremonies. Obviously, the form of ceremony provision is intended to enable religious bodies to perform exclusively opposite-sex marriages. That is the reason for the reference to the sex of the parties. Consequently, from every point of view, while I obviously do not know what challenges people can take, I can lay out clearly what is in the legislation.
As the Minister is aware, her guarantees will only go so far in guiding the court.
The legislation is clear. My attitude to the points the Senator makes has nothing to do with timing. I simply have told him that I consider them to be redundant. They are not needed because the Bill takes careful and meticulous account of the position of religious bodies and is completely respectful of the constitutional guarantee that each religious denomination shall have the right to manage its own affairs.
I thank the Minister. As I stated, she is well aware that her guarantees will only go so far in guiding a court as to the proper interpretation of the legislation, which is why I tabled the amendment.
When did the Minister meet the churches because that is from where the concern has come? It has come from the experts or among those who are experts in the area. It certainly did not come from a desire on my part to table an amendment on a Thursday afternoon.
My officials met the churches on 3 September.
I thank the Minister for her clarification. It certainly satisfies concerns I have about this area. I also thank Senator Rónán Mullen for tabling this amendment. It is important we had this debate and brought clarity to an issue which is of concern to some people. Our role as legislators obliges us to be here at 2.40 p.m. in an afternoon rather than facilitating any desire for any of us to be in the bar, swanning a pint like any man. I thank the Minister for clarifying this issue. While I may have reservations about the Bill, I am comfortable on this issue.
We have all five Members standing.
I was not happy with the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015. There are certain aspects of it with regard to children which still concern me. It may not be part of this Bill - the Acting Chairman may rule me out of order and it may be beyond the Minister’s remit - but the constitutional position on the best interests of children should be paramount. In that regard, I will oppose surrogacy when the issue comes before us - if I am still here.
I am also very concerned about what I am hearing both from groups in the gay movement and the INTO about teaching children of four and five years about sex and matters pertaining to it. Depriving children of their innocence is appalling. I am really concerned about this. I do not know if the Minister is in a position to give me or the House any assurance that any attempt by any of these groups to do that will not be accommodated. If it is, it will be for those in this House to oppose it but also for parents at large to get together to ensure it does not happen.
That has nothing to do with section 23.
I gave Senator Rónán Mullen some latitude.
On a point of order, Acting Chairman, I do not wish to spoil anybody’s celebration, but I signalled my opposition and you should have put the question to a vote.
I genuinely did not-----
You asked if it was agreed and I very clearly said "No".
I did not hear it. I apologise.
It does not mean that we want to be obstructive of anyone, but we have a democratic process.
I respect the Senator’s right to say it. I genuinely did not hear it.
Today the Seanad made history by passing the Marriage Bill 2015. When the President signs the Bill into law, couples will have the right to marry without distinction as to their sex. Once the Bill commences, those who married in other jurisdictions will have their marriages recognised. When I sign the order, they will go from being regarded as civil partners in Irish law to married couples. Soon thereafter, the first marriages of same-sex couples will take place. Soon, we will have Christmas weddings of couples who thought they might never be able to marry. This is a joyous day.
We have had our differences along the way. Passionate and diverging views have been expressed. Nonetheless - I am sure everyone present will agree - that the referendum and the Bill are a vindication of the democratic process. They demonstrate how democracy enables us to articulate, reconcile and respect diverging views. The road to marriage equality may have been long, but it has rightly involved an entire nation. Marriage equality is not simply about marriage it is also about acceptance. The people have made it clear that they accept and embrace diversity. We have recognised our common humanity and the desire of most of us for the love of a partner with whom we can become our best selves.
While the journey has not ended - many have made this point - the people’s decision on 22 May 2015 is a powerful riposte to the prejudices of the past. Too many have suffered with that prejudice.
A young gay man or woman will not feel the same pressure to conform to hide his or her identity. A young transgender person will not feel as nervous about the public aspects of transitioning. The decision of 22 May has sent a powerful message that homophobia is unacceptable to us.
The decision has confirmed once again the vitality of the Constitution. To adopt a phrase from Lyndon B. Johnson, it is the genius of the Constitution that under its shelter of enduring institutions and rooted principles there is ample room for evolution. Marriage, a cherished institution, has been adopted for a new era but retains its fundamental character. Importantly, as a result of the constitutional amendment, couples across this country will gain the protection of the Constitution and its defence of their rights.
On 22 May 2015 the green jersey turned rainbow. Ireland, the first sovereign country to decide in favour of marriage equality by popular vote, decided decisively that the rights of the majority must also be extended to the minority. Headlines in newspapers across the world announced Ireland had become a world leader on marriage equality. The audacity of what we have achieved resonated internationally. What a fine record for a people to be celebrated internationally for our respect for human rights.
In the next few years we will celebrate the heroism of our forefathers who secured the independence of the State. I would like to take a moment today to celebrate the heroism of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, their families, friends and neighbours, who changed the attitudes of the people. Theirs is a heroism for the modern age which is no less transformative in what it has achieved. Their achievements, too, will be recalled with pride in the decades to come.
John F. Kennedy famously said:
Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.
The referendum decision and today’s Bill confirms that our nation is embracing the modern world and looking confidently to the future. Today is an expression of our hope for the future. Today we can be proud that our nation has taken its place among the nations of the earth as a champion of marriage equality and the rights of all people.
I thank all the Senators who spoke and ensured the historic passing of the Marriage Bill. I thank the people of Ireland who made it possible.
Understandably, I have a long list of speakers. I will try to accommodate as many as possible, but I remind Senators that this is not Second Stage.
I spoke at length on Second Stage and was delighted to do so in support of the Bill. This truly is an historic day.
It is a special day, a day that will be marked in future as one of real equality by affirming the clear voice of the people and the decision they made in May earlier this year. I do not want any further words of mine to delay the passage of the Bill, save to say that on my own behalf and that of my party and party leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, I have been delighted to have played some small role in this. However, really it is about the community groups and all the advocates who are in the Visitors Gallery, as well as the many others who cannot be here but who played a major role in what was probably the first referendum about civil society, one driven by the people as opposed to politicians and political parties.
As I mentioned on Second Stage, in particular I congratulate my friend and colleague, Senator David Norris, who for many years was a lone light in the wilderness on this issue. He has done a magnificent job. It is truly a pleasure and an honour for me to be in the Seanad today to share this day with him and many others, including Senator Katherine Zappone who has done so much to bring about this day and bring the Marriage Bill into law. I imagine it will go to Uachtarán na hÉireann, President Higgins, shortly. Then people will be able to move on with their lives. Like any other couple, should they choose to enter into marriage with each other, two people who love each other and who want to spend the rest of their lives with each other can do so. That can only be good.
Too often people talk of historic days, but most people would agree that the passing into law of the Marriage Bill is indeed an historic day. Earlier this year, 22 and 23 May were historic days. I could not but have been proud to be Irish on those days. Moreover, I could not but be proud to be a Senator on a day like today. I am proud to see so many people in the Visitors Gallery whose lives are going to be directly affected by what is happening in the House today and what happened in the country this year. My good friends, including Senators David Norris and Katherine Zappone and Deputies Jerry Buttimer and John Lyons, and all the others who we know and love in our communities will see a major difference in their lives. They now become equal citizens and are now considered equal citizens not by any law really but by the people. That is a phenomenal experience to be part of. There are not too many good days in politics. There are many difficulties in politics, but this is a phenomenal day to be in politics.
I, too, add my voice to the voice of celebration in the House today as the Seanad passes the Marriage Bill 2015. I thank everyone who campaigned for a "Yes" vote in the referendum. I pay particular credit and tribute to the leaders of the Yes Equality campaign who are with us in the Vistiors Gallery. I thank the leaders of the Yes Equality campaign for their leadership, determination and unrelenting positivity during what was at times a difficult campaign. They truly inspired a nation and changed the country for the better. We can all be really grateful for that. The influence of the marriage equality result on 23 May and the "Yes" vote goes far beyond the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. It was an incredible day for Ireland as a whole and a victory for tolerance, inclusion, happiness and everything that is good. I thank them sincerely for that.
I thank everyone who campaigned and canvassed, especially the thousands of Yes Equality volunteers who knocked on doors throughout the country. Many of them did so for the first time, shared their personal stories and encouraged people to vote "Yes". They showed great bravery to do that. Many people told me it was as if they were coming out over and over to strangers and that this was a difficult thing to do on their part, but they did it anyway. The ownership that ordinary people took of this campaign, of their future and of our future as a country was remarkable.
It was a true privilege for me to work with the Yes Equality people on the campaign. It was probably the most valuable thing I have done to date. I thank them for the opportunity to have shared that journey with them. I am delighted to be a Member of this House and to be in the Seanad today as we pass the Bill into law.
I am very proud to be leading the conclusion of this Bill in the Seanad for the Labour Party in place of my colleague, Senator Ivana Bacik, who cannot be here but will be back around 4.30 p.m. - if there are celebrations ongoing at that stage she will be delighted to attend.
We will get a filibuster going.
I welcome all our visitors in the Visitors Gallery and those listening to the debate who have been waiting for this moment. It is five months to the day since the people passed, with clear intention, their desire that this measure be put into law.
I am proud to be a member of the Labour Party. As Senator Ivana Bacik said in her Second Stage speech, we have a proud history of campaigning for equality and rights in terms of social justice, the social agenda, contraception rights, the introduction of divorce in this country, X case legislation and gender recognition legislation. I am proud to say the Labour Party has led on all these issues. It has also led on the marriage equality issue - I am not detracting from the work of the Minister in that regard. Often we are accused of not delivering on our promises. However, I believe the former Tánaiste, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, should be recognised for the role he has played, especially when he was negotiating the programme for Government.
I am proud of the people. They stepped up to the plate. In numerous countries in the world being gay or lesbian is an offence punishable by imprisonment and that is something we should recognise in the world in which we live. We can be proud of the fact that we live in the first sovereign country to have brought a measure like this into law by the acclamation of the people. I believe sincerely it is a proud day for us as a country.
This is a happy day for all of us. For me, it is the end of a 46-year long journey. I am very glad it has ended because it was beginning to get a little boring, to be honest. This is the overwhelming decision of the people and for that I am most grateful. The gay community could not possibly have done this alone. We were put in this position by the decency, good nature and respect for human rights of the overwhelming majority of the people. For that, I am extremely grateful.
The people in the Visitors Gallery applauded us, but I think it is time that we turned around and applauded them. There is no longer gay marriage or same-sex marriage; it is just marriage. That is the way it should be. We will go on during this day of triumph, but we must also remember the many countries where it is dangerous, fatal to be gay. Now, having achieved fully equality in this country, we must not lose sight of that. That much was said in the Foreign Office yesterday by Minister after Minister. One of the principal Ministers in the Department of Foreign Affairs in London, or whatever they call it, spoke of how her role is to contact those people who are allies and friends and so on, and counter this antagonistic attitude towards gay people. She said we must make clear the moral position that people in the West take with regard to issues of human sexuality. It is a great day for the Seanad and a great day for my friends in the Visitors Gallery. I thank the Minister, in particular, for the dignified and calm way she has dealt with this debate and withstood the onslaught of the "No" campaign.
It is a great privilege to follow Senator David Norris in offering some final reflections on the passing of this historic Bill today. I was going to start my contribution by saying that it was a happy day, which is what Senator David Norris said. When I woke up this morning, Ann Louise asked me how I was feeling and I said it was a happy day. I thank the Minister for her leadership and all the beautiful people in the Visitors Gallery. They have been our equality champions and advocates for so long. I thank the people who are watching us and our colleagues from the Dáil, so many of whom have joined us for this special and historic moment.
It is just wonderful to have them here - I mean that - as we do our job as law-makers, which is implementing the will of the people. There is a season and time for every activity under the heavens. There is a time to embrace. This is our time to embrace. This is our time to embrace each other. This is our time to embrace our children. This is our time to embrace our allies. This is our time to embrace our opponents. This is our time. Our day has come.
I, too, welcome to the Visitors Gallery our colleagues Deputies Jerry Buttimer, John Lyons, Derek Keating and Helen McEntee and the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar. They are more than welcome on this historic occasion.
Ba mhaith liom cúpla focal a rá ar an lá stairiúil seo agus ar an mBille stairiúl seo. Gabhaim míle buíochas leis an Aire agus le gach éinne a ghlac agus atá ag glacadh páirte sa díospóireacht. I add my voice on this historic and welcome day, the day of the passage of the Bill through the House. I must refer to all the people in the Visitors Gallery, in particular. Some 30 or 40 years ago, Senator David Norris was on his own in this regard and his was a lonely voice. Without the people in the Visitors Gallery and the people power on the ground, we do not know whether we would be here today discussing this Bill, although the Minister fully intended it.
Very often, what the Government wants does not always go through. We have seen what can be done here as a consequence of people power on the ground. The passage of the Bill, with people power, gives a clear mandate based on the referendum. It is now stated clearly that all people in this State, including LGBT girls and boys, are equal. People no longer have to worry and look at the ground denying they are gay, and they are no longer afraid to admit it. That day is gone and the law has caught up with the culture of the people, as reflected very clearly in the referendum. I am so proud to be here in the Seanad today to add my voice on the change of culture. The change has happened fast in Ireland. The Minister must be congratulated today. It is a bright day, including for the Minister. I welcome the Bill and offer heartiest congratulations to the Minister on a job well done. I offer sincere congratulations to the people on the ground, the Yes Equality campaigners and the LGBT movement, whose members led this campaign, including the referendum campaign.
Obviously, I wish everybody here well, as I did on the day the votes were counted. I was really taken by what Senator Katherine Zappone just said about embracing our opponents. That is really important as we share the country. Those of us who had and still have reservations about what the people decided still love those with whom we disagreed. We do love them but we have to be true to ourselves. I heard the Minister say some days ago how she hoped people would feel their fears have been allayed. It is important that we do not patronise one another. Sometimes we have a sincere disagreement that amounts to a concern or represents a well worked-out position. Certainly, it should not have taken a referendum on marriage to signal our united horror and opposition to homophobia of any kind, or any behaviour that would lessen our respect for human dignity and the radical equality of each and every person. In asking proponents of the "Yes" side for magnanimity in victory, I am certainly signalling my realisation that there is also a requirement for magnanimity in defeat.
One development that concerned me somewhat, but which I hope will not reflect a consequence of this legislation, is that there were people on the "Yes" side who sought on the day of the referendum result to create a link to the eighth amendment. I met many people who said they voted to change the position on marriage in the Constitution but not to change the other provision. It is important that we do not prejudge each other now and that we return to a sincere consideration of the issues that are important if we are to cherish the equality of each and every person in society, particularly the most vulnerable. I look forward to working with people with whom I radically disagreed on the subject of the definition of marriage but with whom I radically agree on the need to cherish each and every vulnerable human life at all stages of life.
I salute the people on the "Yes" side whom I encountered during the referendum campaign who were very credible, decent, upstanding and positive and who played the argument rather than the person. I also salute the 38% of people, or most of them, who voted "No" to the proposal for their decency, intelligence and credibility. They are citizens and have an equal voice and they are not going away. They have a different vision of something that is very important to the "Yes" side, but it does not mean they do not respect and love those on that side. They are entitled to their place in this democracy and it is important that those in victory on the political side - I am talking about public representatives - acknowledge that and do not just patronise those people as if they were somehow on the wrong track. They are citizens and electors and need to be heard now and into the future. They accept the rule of the majority.
We all made history and now we are all equal. It is a very happy day. Let us hold our heads up high. Roll on the weddings.
I compliment the Minister on the wonderful job she did and her sensitive handling of an issue that was very difficult. I said some days ago that she is one of the people I hold in the highest esteem and I must reiterate that today.
Let me turn to the people of the "Yes" campaign on the ground. They awakened a political movement that rocked the State to its very foundations. They knocked us into shape, educated us and taught us what it was to be equal. We never had true equality in this country. I applaud those concerned on what they did. I know that the opposition, the people who are feeling hurt today and who feel, somehow or other, that they lost something, will in time discover they did not lose something. Today Ireland moved forward and became a state for all citizens.
I served in two armies and lived with men for most of my young working life. I knew men who were gay and men who were not. I had friends who came out and friends who did not. Those friends, relations and family members of mine who felt until today that they could not come out can do so today. Today they are equal citizens with me and everybody else. I am deeply humbled by the actions of those who helped this to come about.
I congratulate the Minister and Senator David Norris who has campaigned for this change for such a long time. I also congratulate the other successful campaigners in the Visitors Gallery and our colleagues from the Dáil. One of the people who has been overlooked in all the celebrations is Minister of State, Deputy Simon Harris. He is the one who opened up Dublin Castle for an immense party on 23 May. He should be put in charge of entertainment from now on.
Is he opening it again tonight?
The emphasis placed on commitment, loyalty and dedication to one another by the advocates in the referendum campaign was inspiring. They were wonderful. I acknowledge the immense contribution of the gay community to this society. I wish them the same happiness in marriage as I wish all couples. Senator Susan O'Keeffe is the Yeatsian in this House. On 23 May, it was not the case that romantic Ireland was dead and gone. As a distinguished Senator said, romantic Ireland got wider and larger and encompassed more people. As an incurable romantic, I believe that is a wonderful development to have in this country. Again, I congratulate all those involved.
For two days in succession, we have had applause for a Minister. This could be dangerous; we could all want to be Ministers to receive such applause. This is a very happy day and I congratulate all those who campaigned and worked so hard for it.
I thank the Minister for attending and facilitating the passage of the Bill. I thank everybody in the Visitors Gallery. I am delighted Senator David Norris has been present during the passage of the Bill. He ploughed a lonely furrow for many a year and I am delighted he is a Member of this Chamber today on the passage of the Bill in order that he can see what he promoted for so long come to fruition.
Two friends of mine who are getting married on 2 January were extremely worried this legislation would not be passed. I assured them it would be, that the Minister would not let them down and that everything would be done and dusted before 2 January. Last week, when the legislation was put off the agenda, my friends became increasingly worried.
However, they will be a happy couple tonight. I wish them well in their forthcoming marriage.
A great deal of progressive legislation has gone through the Seanad in recent months. I worked very hard on what became the Gender Recognition Act and I am delighted that the forced divorce clause will not be an issue for people. Yesterday was another historic day as we started debating legislation which will abolish the reasonable chastisement clause in the Children First Bill. Today's debate is the cherry on the cake. I congratulate everyone involved in getting the Bill this far. As the song goes, "Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high, there's a land that I dreamed of, once in a lullaby". Brothers and sisters, Ireland is now that land.
I think it was John F. Kennedy who, after a particular political debacle, coined the phrase, "Victory has a thousand fathers but failure is an orphan." I will speak on behalf of the orphans today. As a democrat, I accept the decision of the people. However, if I said I welcomed that decision, I would be a hypocrite because I do not welcome it. I still have fears and hope that in the future they will not become more magnified. Those fears relate particularly to children and how they are taught in schools. I hope we do not go down the same route as Canada, where the human rights and equality commission is now visiting the homes of parents whose children said in school that their mammies and daddies had told them that marriage between a man and a woman was best. Those parents are now receiving visits from the equality police who claim that what they are saying is not in accordance with the law. If we come to that, this will have been a real failure and how we manage that is important.
I was in Dublin Castle on the day of the referendum count and one could not but be touched by the happiness of the people there, many of whom have struggled with their orientation and against prejudice. There is often an internal battle that many of us face in different aspects of our lives while trying to coming to terms with certain issues that we might not be 100% comfortable or happy with. For those people, I am happy. Some of them are my friends and I note how happy they are as a consequence of the referendum result. I join others in wishing them good health, happiness and every good fortune in the future.
I join colleagues in congratulating the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, on steering through the House this very important legislation which will enact the will of the people as expressed very strongly in the recent referendum. I also congratulate those who campaigned for marriage equality. Others have spoken about historic legislation and I hope this historic Bill brings lots of happiness to many people. I hope it makes life easier for our gay and lesbian community and makes them feel more included in our society. I also hope the prejudice against them will diminish. I congratulate, in particular, my Oireachtas colleagues and wish them well. I know that this means an awful lot to many of them who have campaigned for many years on this issue. I will not name names. This is an historic day and I wish lots of happiness to those for whom this legislation means so much.
I add my applause and thanks to everyone involved in reaching this day. It is particularly fitting that we give the final word to the Minister for Justice and Equality.
It has been a huge honour for me to bring this legislation before the House today. I thank all Senators for the fact that the Marriage Bill 2015 is about to be passed into law. Before I conclude, I thank, in particular, the staff of my Department who worked so carefully on this legislation. I thank Mr. Dara Breathnach and Ms Carol Baxter who join me today, as well as Mr. Michael Holohan and Mr. Conan McKenna, who have also done a huge amount of work on the legislation. I also pay tribute to the Attorney General, as always, for her care and meticulous attention to detail in dealing with the legislation. I thank her staff, particularly Ms Margaret Kennedy and Ms Christine O'Rourke, for the work they did on the Bill which has enabled us to arrive at this historic point.
When is it proposed to sit again?
On Tuesday, 3 November at 2.30 p.m.