Tuesday, 10 March 2015
An Bille um an gCeathrú Leasú is Tríocha ar an mBunreacht (Comhionannas Pósta) 2015: An Dara Céim - Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015: Second Stage
During the debate on this Bill today and tomorrow, it is timely to reflect on and remember what is happening to gay people around the world. Homosexuality is still a crime in almost 80 countries. In five of these, and in parts of two others, homosexuality is still punishable by the death penalty. A further 70 imprison citizens because of their sexual orientation. Recent years have seen some countries, such as India, strengthening existing penalties. Even where homosexuality is legal, many countries treat those in same-sex relationships differently, such as having an unequal age of consent or a ban on marriage altogether. Russia's ban on the promotion of non-traditional sexuality is one example of many.
As many speakers have said, Ireland has come a long way since it decriminalised same-sex relationships in 1993, which encouraged new generations of lesbian and gay people to live their lives more openly. I would like to pay tribute and give credit to the work of Senator David Norris, who brought respect into this meaningful debate and has been a strong campaigner throughout Europe and the world for the rights of gay people.
The Bill is a further step on the road towards a more liberal and equal Irish society. By bringing it forward, the Government is sending out a clear message to the world that we want to eliminate discrimination against thousands of our citizens.
I am disappointed, but not at all surprised, at the attempts to link marriage equality with having children. Gay parents already exist in this country and neither this Bill nor the ensuing referendum will give them additional parental rights if passed. What concerns me is that these attempts to frame the "No" argument around family rights could be quite upsetting to children in so-called non-traditional families. No child should be made feel that his or her family is of lesser value than anyone else's.
As I see it, there is no logical argument against supporting this Bill. We, as legislators, have no place denying two adults in a loving relationship the right to get married. The argument about whether people are married in the eyes of the Catholic Church, for example, has no place in Dáil Éireann. Secular law is not beholden to theological discussion in this country any more, and Deputies must leave their personal beliefs and values at the door. It is important to state this because the Catholic Church will come out against this and perhaps attempt to influence how people should vote.
We in the House are not asking the Church to change its position. Rather, we are attempting to change civil law to give a section of our people civil rights previously denied to them. We are attempting to give gay people the legal recognition of their relationships and the same dignity and respect that is accorded to opposite-sex couples. Without that legal recognition, gay partners have been denied hospital visitation rights. In the event of a partner dying, they have been denied the right to bury their life partners, have been excluded from funerals and have lost their homes because estranged families have come forward to inherit the properties of the deceased. We cannot allow this to continue.
There is always a danger that some voters will use a referendum to pursue an anti-Government agenda, regardless of the issue at hand. I have been getting some feedback, as many of us have, on social media and within my constituency, that there are people who intend to vote "No" in the upcoming referendum simply as a protest vote to the Government. That is a horrific prospect. This Bill and the upcoming referendum will affect the lives of thousands of gay people, who are our people, in Ireland. Voters will be doing them a serious injustice if they attempt to use the referendum as an opportunity to vent their anger over austerity policies or because they do not like the Government or some section of it. In the coming weeks, I would urge every Deputy on the Opposition benches to reiterate the point that this is not an election. Voters will have their day next year to show the Government what they think of austerity or whatever. For now, the focus must be on gay people being given the same recognition and protection as everyone else.