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 Technical Group for giving me some time to speak on this issue. I am delighted the Minister is present.
I have some serious concerns about this Bill. I welcome the fact that there will be a plebiscite and that the people will be asked to decide. It is honourable in our democracy that the people get the chance to do that, unlike the Bill that was put through last year when it was down to us, the Members. There will be a referendum, and I welcome that, but as a public representative I ask the people to consider carefully the issues proposed in this marriage equality referendum. I note today that different groups were calling for that. The referendum is ten weeks away and I hope there will be time for a reasonable, calm debate in which people with different views will have an opportunity to express those views. I appeal to all sides to respect and understand other people's views, regardless of the side of the issue they are on. It is a sign of a healthy democracy that we would have a proper debate and time to debate the issue thoroughly, listen to all sides and engage with people on all the issues.
I have no issue whatsoever with people who are gay. I have many friends who are gay. We now have civil partnership rights, and that is very welcome, but I can quote Mr. Keith Mills, and others who are gay and have been activists for many years, who now oppose this referendum. They explained to me that it is a diverse view, and they have a chance now to have a different opinion and be recognised as different in our country in 2015. That is very important. I have fought and campaigned for issues over the years, as other speakers have said. They are recognised as being different and having their situation recognised and appreciated, both in legislation and also in the communities in which they live, work and want to raise children, is their right, and it is wonderful that we can respect that today. I have met Keith Mills, and others, on a number of occasions. They said they are now recognised as being different, and rightly so, but asked why they would want to have the same rights as a man and woman who are married and have children. They made the compelling point that they have that recognition, which was hard won, and therefore why would they vote to give them the same rights as those of a man and a woman in a union who have children.
I want to put those points on the record. I could make many more points but I will not because I am meeting my constituents and different groups from all sides, including Mothers and Fathers Matter. I honestly believe that, where practicable, it is very important that a child will have a mother and a father. I know of cases in my own constituency where that is not available to children. As a result of accidents and other issues they have experienced tragic circumstances, and that is not practicable or possible, but where practicable it is desirable that a child has a father and a mother.
There are ten weeks to the referendum. I cannot say the issue is not being debated enough because it is, and I hope that will continue. I appeal to the media and everybody else to allow that debate to take place, and I urge every citizen to come out and vote and make an informed decision. They should inquire about the issue. There is information on many websites. There are many groups and organisations here and in other countries, and some countries that have introduced this are trying to roll back the tide. It is a vital issue, but I welcome the fact that it will be a decision of the people. All I am asking for is a fair and reasonable debate and understanding on all sides. The issue should be debated calmly, and anybody who wants to offer a counter opinion should not be demonised and intimidated into voting a certain way or keeping their mouth shut.
I know that a good few Members on all sides of the House have concerns about this issue. They have major concerns also about the Child and Family Relationships Bill, which is currently being debated. That is major legislation with 172 sections but there is disquiet about it, including on the part of the Minister's predecessor, Deputy Alan Shatter, who is leading us to believe, and I have no reason to doubt his opinion, that he had done a significant amount of research and preparation in regard to that Bill. I ask the Minister the reason for the delay in bringing forward the Bill. People who have reservations about the marriage equality legislation are accusing us of trying to tie up the two Bills. I lay the blame fairly and squarely on the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, and her Government for bringing the two issues together and sowing confusion. Nobody other than the Minister can take responsibility for that. We have had the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, in a latter day intervention, talking about bringing forward legislation on aspects that were taken out of this Bill. He talked about future legislation not in the lifetime of this Government but the next Government. Confusion has been sown by the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, and her Government and people are concerned and have issues. Above all, we must think about the children's rights, and future generations of children, and not be selfish by thinking about adults' rights all the time.