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 thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak to this new legislation, the Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015. I welcome the Bill and strongly support it as it is another step towards marriage equality and the construction of a new Ireland built on equality and inclusive politics. Above all, it is about respecting our citizens. There can be no ifs or buts and there can be no hint of tolerating discrimination. One either believes in equality and respect for a person or one does not. That is the bottom line. I urge everyone to vote "Yes" in the referendum in May. Before people vote, I urge all involved in the debate to look at the facts and get active in the debate and campaign. I know there is cross-party support for the legislation, which is very positive.
As I have stated before, we need to examine the facts. We heard misinformation from bishops today and yesterday, which is disappointing. We must debate with the people involved and tackle the issues head-on. A couple of years ago I had the privilege of meeting a same-sex couple and their two daughters in my clinic. The parents did not make the case at that time but rather the children, and they were very impressive. They spoke about equality and different sorts of families. The issue concerned the enjoyment of diversity and difference. That is the kind of country I want to live in. There were 4,042 same-sex couples living together in 2011, of which 2,321 or 57.4% were male, with 1,721, or 42.6%, were female. These numbers increased substantially between 2006 and 2011, when the 4,042 same-sex couples recorded as living together indicated an increase of 93% over a five-year period.
The purpose of this legislation is to amend the Constitution so as to provide that persons may marry without distinction as to their sex. If the amendment is approved at a referendum of the people, same-sex couples will have the right to marry. Marriage will continue to be regulated by legislation and the common law. The wording in the legislation states that marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex. Civil marriage should be open to all citizens, regardless of sex. Same-sex civil marriage gives equal protection to families with children headed by same-sex couples. Marriage is not just about having children, and I wish the bishops would recognise that. If there are no children, a same-sex marriage is no less valid.
Civil partnership is not the same as marriage; that is a separate and unequal relationship only available to same-sex couples. We need to highlight that as well. Without marriage, children in same-sex families will not benefit from the same constitutional protection and status as is afforded to other children. That is another key point in the debate. There are many family types in contemporary Ireland today, and families with same-sex parents are just one of these. Civil marriage is not a religious ceremony but rather a contract between two people who decide to spend their lives together. In jurisdictions where same-sex marriage has been introduced, marriage has not changed or been damaged, and there no fewer marriages taking place than before.
Not allowing same-sex couples marry reinforces the stereotype that there is something wrong with lesbian and gay people. It stigmatises same-sex families as less deserving of recognition and protection than any other families. This legislation has been very powerful and successful in other jurisdictions. It is about equality and respecting difference and diversity. Above all, it is about a modern, inclusive, democratic Ireland respecting all its citizens and putting equality at the top of the political agenda.