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
It is difficult enough to find love in this world and where two same-sex individuals find love and wish to have this recognised and acknowledged by the State, this should be made possible via civil marriage. This will provide equality and protection to these couples. Those were my views in 2009 when running for re-election to Galway County Council in response to a question put to me by the marriage equality campaign. Thankfully, I have not changed my mind since then and in fact I am even more supportive of marriage equality now.
I understand that some people of a certain generation may find it difficult to understand the concept of same-sex love or relationships. Perhaps they were not talked about back in their day; they happened elsewhere, to other people. Perhaps gay people moved abroad or to big cities to live their lives away from the prying eyes of neighbours, particularly in rural Ireland. Thankfully, more and more gay people can now live their lives openly. For the most part, they can live their lives without difficulty although unfortunately there are still some incidents of homophobia in society. I hope that these will continue to lessen and that marriage equality will help in the greater acceptance of same-sex couples.
As a Catholic, I want to say that this is a civil issue. It does not impact on the rules of the church. The State cannot change the Roman Catholic doctrine; nor can the Oireachtas. It can, however, comment on a range of issues relating to the rules of the church. I fully respect the church's right to have its rules on a range of social and moral issues, although I would disagree with many of them. The State has a responsibility to all of its citizens, gay, straight and transgender, as we saw last week with the debate on the Gender Recognition Bill. Same-sex marriage does not devalue, weaken or lessen the marriage between a man and woman. It allows same-sex couples to express their love in the same way before the eyes of the State as heterosexual couples do when they sign the civil register in a registry office or in a church.
I have many gay friends, some of whom struggle with their sexual identity. Some have had heterosexual relationships but now accept that they are gay or bisexual and wish to find or meet a same-sex partner. More have found that special somebody and want their love recognised. The State needs to embrace commitment. Commitment has always been what marriage is about - two people committed to each other, to supporting one another and sharing their lives together. I certainly hope this referendum passes. I intend to vote "Yes" and campaign for its passage. I hope that in ten or 20 years time it will be difficult for people yet to be born to understand what the fuss was about in the same way as we today cannot understand how it took until 1993 for homosexuality to be decriminalised or how until 1973 women had to resign from their jobs when they got married. I hope that future generations will find these debates strange, quaint or even funny. I hope with every year that passes acceptance will be easier. I hope that the lives of people who struggle with their sexuality ease with each year. As a friend of mine has argued, gay or bisexual teenagers in 20 years time will find life so much easier than today. I believe it is already easier for young people to express their sexuality and I hope that continues. That said, we must acknowledge the difficulties for gay or bisexual teenagers in expressing their sexuality to their parents or dealing with bullying in schools.
This can obviously be very difficult for those young people to cope with.
When we look at the abuses in Russia, parts of Africa and the strong homophobic views in parts of eastern Europe and indeed even in some US states, it makes Ireland look very tolerant and accepting but we must take the next step and give the couples who cannot currently marry under the eyes of the State the rights they deserve. I have, however, a problem with the word "tolerate". It means to put up with something. People deserve more than to be put up with. All of the people of Ireland and beyond deserve equality.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Bhille seo. Tá mé dóchasach go mbeidh vóta i bhfábhar an ábhar seo sa Reifreann ar an 22 Bealtaine. Tá daoine go láidir ina aghaidh. B'fhéidir go bhfuil imní orthu faoi athrú. B'fhéidir nach bhfuil aithne acu ar daoine aeracha. Tá an Reifreann seo faoi chearta - cearta do dhaoine i ngrá pósadh. Tá sé ceart go dtabharfaimid aitheantas dóibh mar chúpla.
The question was asked, "why a constitutional change?". The Constitution is the place where we insert what is dearest to us, our values, who we are and what we aspire to for ourselves and future generations. This is why I believe marriage equality needs to be inserted in the Irish Constitution. I certainly hope the people will go out and give resounding support to this very important question of our time about respecting the rights of same-sex couples to be treated equally in the eyes of the State - as equal as any heterosexual couple. I hope the referendum on 22 May gets the full and unequivocal support of the people.