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
I welcome the Bill and I will support it. I will vote "Yes" on 22 May.
Most people who will vote in the forthcoming referendum will not be personally impacted by the vote. However, it is well understood by most people that it collectively has an impact on us in that it is an act of social solidarity that will change the laws in order for us to become more equal and inclusive. Since the foundation of the State, we have tended to outsource social issues to religious institutions as though we were best guided by such bodies. Changing that has been hugely problematic, as there was a blurring of lines between church and State which is difficult to untangle. In this instance, it extends to highlighting the difference between civil and religious marriage.
Only in recent decades have we got to grips with issues that are more properly located in the area of civic morality. That is strange, given that we are very proud to declare that we live in a republic. Civic morality is underpinned by values such as equality, acceptance and freedom, all of which are part of the building blocks towards a better society. Many of the public debates on the issues surrounding the eighth amendment, for example, or the right to travel and information in this respect, along with the two divorce referendums, were framed by people who took absolute positions on either side. They were very difficult campaigns. For example, I remember being in the count centre on the day the first divorce referendum was lost, and the effect it had on those who were directly affected was absolutely awful. They wanted a second chance and their relationships to be accepted. It was a personal matter for such people and they were badly bruised by the campaign and its outcome. Both personal and societal damage was done at that time, and we want to ensure that on 23 May, we will not have a repeat of that.
The Minister highlighted a difference in this issue in that it emerged from the Constitutional Convention and this referendum was recommended by it. The civic ownership of the campaign is beginning to emerge, and the Vote with Us campaign, for example, is a manifestation of it. The campaign facilitates people telling their story as to why people should vote "Yes", and already it is evident that it features people from all sectors of society. Brighid and Paddy are a couple who were highlighted at the weekend and will be married for 50 years in 2015. They made a point of describing themselves as being Roman Catholic. They argue that this is a civil right that they want for their children and grandchildren. Mothers and fathers are talking about sons and daughters. There are straight and gay people involved with the campaign, which is cross-generational and compelling in its ordinariness. People who have never engaged with politics have come forward to campaign for a "Yes" vote, which is really important. There is no point in wanting a more equal society but staying at home on 22 May. It is essential that people come out to vote, and it is essential that ownership of the campaign is portrayed in way that citizens can engage with it.
Most people want to live and let live and they are not keen on a nanny state. Nevertheless, they want to develop our laws in a way that allows people maximum freedom to live their lives. That is what this referendum is seeking to achieve. Civil partnership has been advanced and it delivered rights but fewer of them. For example, there has been no recognition of the rights of same-sex couples for many social supports in cases of hardship. This can quite literally leave loved ones out in the cold. A home of people in a civil partnership is described as a shared home rather than a family home, and there are implications for the protection of dependant children, for example, living in the home. There is also a lack of protection for civil partners who are deserted.
It could not be simpler in the case of a civil marriage vote; if we legalise marriage for gay and lesbian citizens, they will be free to get married, although it will not be compulsory. For many people, Ireland will simply be a happier place. In a post-crash Ireland, I cannot think of a better way of building civic morality that is grounded in the long-held Irish values of fairness and compassion than by voting "Yes" on 22 May. Better still, we will become the first country in the world to do this by popular vote. We will join the 18 nations and 820 million people who have already done it. The only issue to concern us is complacency, as we all need to get out and be active in this campaign.