Tuesday, 17 December 2013
Third Report of the Constitutional Convention - Same-Sex Marriage: Statements
I propose to report to the Dáil, on behalf of the Government, on its response to the third report of the Constitutional Convention. I am pleased to inform the House that the Government agreed at its meeting of 5 November, that a referendum should be held no later than mid-2015 on the question of enabling same-sex couples to marry.
The Constitutional Convention has been given the task, with Dáil approval, to consider issues on which constitutional change may be needed and to report on its conclusions to the Houses of the Oireachtas. The convention was requested to consider whether same-sex marriage should be provided for in the Constitution. It sought submissions from interested parties and received 1,077 submissions from interest groups, church organisations and private individuals by the 19 March deadline. The submissions received reflected a diversity of views on the issue, with arguments both for and against a referendum on same-sex marriage.
The convention devoted its third plenary meeting on 13 to 14 April 2013 to the question of whether the Constitution should be amended to provide for same-sex marriage. The outcome of its deliberations was that a strong majority of its members recommended that provision should be made for same-sex marriage. A total of 79 members voted in favour of changing the Constitution to allow for civil marriage for same-sex couples. A total of 19 members voted against the proposition, while one member had no opinion.
A total of 78 members recommended that the amendment should be directive,for example, that the State shall enact laws providing for same-sex marriage. A total of 17 members voted that the amendment should be permissive, for example, that the State may enact laws providing for same-sex marriage. A total of 81 members recommended that the State should enact laws incorporating the changed arrangements in regard to the parentage, guardianship and upbringing of children. A total of 12 members voted against this recommendation.
The Constitutional Convention submitted its report to the Oireachtas on 2 July 2013. In line with its commitment to consider the convention's recommendations, the Government agreed its response to the third report at its meeting of 5 November 2013. The Government's response is to welcome the third report of the Convention on the Constitution. It notes the high level of engagement of the members in the process and the enormous interest of civil society as evidenced by the large number of submissions. The Government also notes the high level of support - 79% - within the convention to changing the Constitution to enable same-sex couples to marry.
In response, the Government has decided that the issue should be put to the people for decision in the first half of 2015. I have been charged by the Government with the task of undertaking the work necessary to prepare a referendum Bill and a draft implementation Bill to provide for marriages between same-sex couples while guaranteeing freedom of religion for solemnisers. The Government is mindful that the position of children in families headed by same-sex couples was a matter of concern for the convention. That is an issue of valid concern. The position of children who are parented, both at present and in the future, in this State by same-sex couples, their legal relationship to the couples who are parenting them, and the rights and obligations of those parenting need to be addressed and prescribed in clear legal terms. That is the case irrespective of whether we have same-sex marriage. It is an issue of direct relevance to couples already in civil partnerships and to those who might celebrate civil partnerships in the future. It is not specifically or uniquely relevant to the issue of same-sex marriage although some may misleadingly depict it in that way. I am currently working on legislative proposals to address this issue which I hope to bring to Government in January 2014. The objective of the general scheme which I am preparing is to remove the legal inequalities between children in a large range of non-traditional family structures relative to those living in a constitutional family based on marriage. It is important that we treat all children equally regardless of the circumstances of their conception or birth and, in the best interests of children, provide for legal certainty in the area of family relationships.
In the past 24 years, Ireland has made the journey from institutionalised prejudice against homosexuality to becoming a more open, accepting, and inclusive society. The first legislative moves were made in the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989, which banned incitement to hatred of a person or a group of people on a range of grounds, including sexual orientation. In 1993 the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act finally decriminalised male homosexual acts. The Employment Equality Act 1998 and the Equal Status Act 2000 prohibited discrimination in employment or in the provision of goods and services on a range of grounds, again including sexual orientation. It was not until 2010, in the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act, that same-sex couples were able to have their relationships recognised - the first legal acknowledgment in Ireland of the intrinsic value and profundity of same-sex relationships.
The next step in this progression towards equality is for us, as a State, to recognise and legislatively provide for the wish of same-sex couples to marry. The importance of marriage to us as a society is borne out in the latest census figures. Census 2011 revealed that there were 143,588 more married people in Ireland in 2011 than in 2006. A total of 50% of our adult population is married. The figures confirm that we are more deeply attached to marriage as a society than ever. Marriage remains the primary means by which we make a lifelong commitment to another person and create a new family with him or her.
Some will argue that civil partnership has offered a mechanism by which same-sex couples can make a permanent commitment to one another. Certainly, civil partnership has been a major step forward on the journey to marriage equality. Civil partnered couples are now treated equally to married couples in terms of taxation, social welfare entitlements, life insurance and pensions, inheritance, maintenance and the protection of the shared home. Nonetheless, civil partnership was framed to be distinctly different from marriage in line with the requirements of the Constitution. The requirements for its dissolution are less onerous than those for marriage. A civil partnership can be dissolved if the civil partners have lived apart for two of the previous three years, unlike marriage where couples have to live apart for four of the previous five years before being able to divorce. Similarly, civil partners do not enjoy constitutional protection as a couple in the same way as married couples nor do we yet have legislative provision to recognise children as part of a civil partnership family.
The tide of law internationally is moving in favour of marriage equality. Fifteen countries and, in the United States, 14 states and Washington D.C., now provide for same-sex marriage. In the past year alone, four countries and six US states have introduced marriage for same-sex couples. The countries and states which currently provide for marriage equality include the following - Argentina, Brazil, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and Uruguay; in Mexico - Mexico city and the state of Quintana Roo; and, in the United States - California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington State and Washington DC.
Legislation on marriage equality will come into effect in England and Wales in March of next year and in the US states of Hawaii and Illinois in the coming months. Civil partnership is increasingly being viewed as a stepping stone towards marriage equality rather than a final destination.
I am conscious that many people in our society have differing views as to what constitutes marriage. Marriage is viewed as a religious commitment by many people. What we propose will not in any way affect the choices of those who wish to have weddings in religious ceremonies or who follow the teachings of their religious denomination as regards marriage. They will continue to be free to follow their religious beliefs with regard to the religious aspects of their weddings and marriages.
Similarly, we are conscious of the religious sensitivities of clergy of different denominations regarding their role as solemnisers of marriages. The Government has decided that the implementation Bill will explicitly protect the freedom of religion of religious solemnisers, respecting the constitutional guarantees in Article 43 of the Constitution. There will be no requirement for religious solemnisers to go against their religious beliefs to perform marriages for same-sex couples.
It will be argued that the referendum is about children. As already mentioned, legislation that I am currently developing will address the issue of children in advance of the referendum and is required whether or not constitutional change is effected and, as a consequence, individuals enabled to enter into same-sex marriages. We must update our legislation to address the diversity of family relationships within which children are currently brought up and cared for. Meeting our obligation to do so is in the best interest of children. We must address a legal anomaly that has been in our adoption legislation since 1952, which regards an individual, whether heterosexual or gay, as eligible to adopt but which does not regard as so eligible a couple who have entered into a civil partnership.
The intended referendum is about one thing only, the question of who is permitted to marry in the eyes of the State. Irish people know from their history how hurtful it can be for laws to be in place preventing particular categories of people from getting married. The restrictions on marriage introduced under the Penal Laws were deeply felt. They prevented intermarriage between Catholics and Anglicans and ensured that marriages conducted by Presbyterian ministers were not legally recognised. Those restrictions, which would have seemed reasonable at the time to those who put them in place, were, in more enlightened times, dismantled as deeply unfair and discriminatory.
We must now ask ourselves whether we can continue to ignore the strong wish of same-sex couples to participate in an institution that so many in this State consider vital to our well-being and a cornerstone of the formation of a family. Can we justify our continuing to discriminate against individuals because of their sexual orientation? I believe the answer to these questions is that we cannot and should not.
Our marriage laws have been framed for a different time. Now that we know that they exclude a particular group of people, now that we know that same-sex couples have a deep desire to be able to marry each another and now that so many other countries are acknowledging rights to equality in this area, we have a responsibility to address this issue. It is a question of fairness and equality. The planned referendum gives us the opportunity to renew our commitment to fairness and equality and to demonstrate that our society truly cherishes all of our people equally. I look forward to bringing the necessary legislative measures before this House to facilitate the holding of the required referendum. I hope that when it takes place, it will receive majority support from the people.
I welcome the opportunity to speak today on an issue of equality that is very important to many thousands of people and their children. The past 20 years have witnessed immense progress in the advancement of the equality agenda for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Homosexuality was once hidden from public view but has been brought out of the shadows and is openly expressed. Being gay or lesbian no longer has a stigma attached, and rightly so. Old prejudices have been systematically combated through a raft of legislative measures. These legal changes have reflected broader fundamental shifts in society as it moves towards real equality regardless of sexual orientation.
Much work remains to be done in making further progress on these matters so there can be true equality in Irish society. The right to equality in marriage stands as one of the last remaining challenges to be overcome. It is worth reflecting upon the steps forward that we have taken and the work that remains to be done in achieving same-sex marriage rights. I take real pride in the work of Fianna Fáil in driving this agenda. In 1989, Fianna Fáil, which was then in government, steered through the Oireachtas the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act, which made it an offence to stir up hatred against a group or persons on account of a number of specific grounds, including sexual orientation. This principle was subsequently extended to the area of broadcasting to further copper-fasten protection against the proliferation of hateful material.
With regard to the decriminalisation of homosexuality, in 1993 the Fianna Fáil-led Government, with Ms Máire Geoghegan-Quinn as Minister for Justice, brought forward the seminal Criminal (Sexual Offences) Act, which finally brought an end to the unfair criminalisation of homosexual practice. The then Minister took the lead in advocating publicly in the press and Oireachtas for a change to the law. It was worth noting that the legislation was moved forward amidst considerable controversy, with a poll in The Sunday Press in May 1993 indicating that 50% of people were opposed to a change in the law. Some conservative groups were mounting a vocal campaign to oppose what they described as teenage buggery. We resisted Opposition attempts to set a discriminatory age of consent. This ensured effective equality regardless of sexual orientation. Others cynically played for political points and pressed for an increase in the age of consent to 18 years for homosexuals while leaving the heterosexual age of consent between 15 and 17 years. The less party-political attention this debate achieves, the better. Gay people deserve better than political point-scoring.
The Employment Equality Act 1998 prohibits discrimination in employment on grounds of sexual orientation. It was followed closely by the ground-breaking Equal Status Act, which was initiated by Fianna Fáil and came into effect in October 2000. The LGBT community rightly enjoyed the full protection of a suite of equality legislation. The evolution of policy that led to this legislative protection has taken place in Ireland since the 1980s and Fianna Fáil has played a central role in legislating on these issues. This is upholding the true republican value of equality for all citizens.
Ireland has been at the forefront of countries that protect LGBT people against discrimination. It has encouraged developments at European level. There are compatible arrangements in Northern Ireland under the Good Friday Agreement ensuring that equality is an issue across the entire island of Ireland.
The civil partnership legislation of 2010 was the next frontier in progressing the equality agenda in the recognition of the legitimacy of loving same-sex relationships. The civil partnership Bill introduced by Fianna Fáil in 2010 had far-reaching consequences for same-sex couples. For the first time in Irish law, gay and lesbian relationships have been given official recognition. With this new legal status comes a range of rights and responsibilities. These include pension rights, succession rights, maintenance obligations and protections in the event of domestic violence. The Act also recognises civil partnerships, or their equivalent, from other countries. It outlined a cohabitants’ redress scheme and provides for a safety net for financially dependent long-term cohabitants at the end of a relationship.
In a modern society such as ours, it would be unacceptable to continue to ignore same-sex relationships. The overriding aim of the Act was to bring about positive change to same-sex relationships on both a profound and practical level within the current constitutional framework. More than 1,500 partnerships have been formed in a testament to the liberating strength of the legislation. Civil partnerships constitute an important milestone on the road towards same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage represents the next fundamental step along the path to genuine equality. At the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis held in March 2012, our members voted to pass a resolution supporting equal marriage rights.
Fianna Fáil is a republican party and it is our policy to build a republic which is founded on the equality and dignity of every member of the human family. We stand for an open and inclusive society where the dignity and equality of every person is fully upheld. Our policy of supporting same-sex marriage reflects a commitment to providing State recognition and support for monogamous, lifelong relationships between adults which form the central basis of society. This policy is underpinned by the inalienable principle of equality among citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation.
Fianna Fáil remains committed to the central role of the family, the institution of marriage and the guiding principle of equality that underpins our position as a republican party. We do not believe that equal marriage rights for all citizens in any way threatens or undermines the strength of the family unit and the institution of marriage. Providing a legal framework to sustain lifelong relationships does not weaken society but strengthens it.
It is important to draw a distinction between civil and religious marriages and to respect the innate right of religious bodies to conduct their ceremonies without undue interference from the State. The proposed constitutional change refers to civil marriages and will not force any religious organisations to conduct ceremonies which do not conform to their faith. This principle of fairness has worked in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. Moving forward with marriage equality underpins broader shifts in Irish society, which opinion polls have indicated is overwhelmingly supportive of the move. It also brings us into line with progressive European countries. Ireland can take a stand for enhanced equality by moving forward with this legislation, rather than lagging behind other EU states.
In conclusion, I trust that the Government will push forward with plans to hold a referendum on this issue in 2015 and will provide legal certainty around adoption issues. Clarity over the legal rights surrounding children will be vital in giving real effect to the protections afforded in the Constitution to the family unit. Fianna Fáil supports the convention's recommendation and will actively work towards passing the referendum when the Government moves it. It will be a leap forward for the country and a welcome day for the thousands of same-sex couples who want to express their love.
At the outset, I wish to take a moment to commend the work of the Constitutional Convention and its members. They have truly been a breath of fresh air in our democratic process. We in Sinn Féin believe that the work of the convention should continue and its remit extended to consider myriad constitutional matters that require consideration and reform. I would also like to commend the work of the Marriage Equality campaign, the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and many other organisations and groups which have campaigned for the right for all families to be treated equally.
The Sinn Féin delegates to the Constitutional Convention welcomed the convention's decisive vote of 79% in favour of removing any possibility of constitutional discrimination against LGBT citizens by explicitly recognising the equal right of these citizens to civil marriage. We noted that the result of the convention vote was and remains a real cause for celebration as it marked a landmark moment for equal rights in Ireland. It was interesting for those of us who were there on the day when the vote was taken and as the debate progressed to witness the genuine spirit of inclusivity, respect and tolerance. So many fantastically positive civic virtues informed the debate among the delegates to the convention. It was a really uplifting moment for all concerned.
The members of the convention gave the Government clear direction by recommending an amendment of the constitutional provision that has been used to discriminate against LGBT citizens and their families. The change that is envisaged by the convention would allow Ireland to join other countries around the world that have recognised marriage equality rights and by doing so would make a real difference in the lives of Irish LGBT citizens and their children. At the time of the result, Sinn Féin called on the Government to move quickly to progress this proposal to referendum. However, the Government has now indicated that a referendum on marriage equality is unlikely to take place before 2015. Ideally, we would want this referendum held sooner but we do acknowledge the Government's intention to progress the family relationships and children Bill through both Houses of the Oireachtas by the end of next year. The recent comments by the Minister for Justice and Equality on reforming family law to secure equal citizenship for lesbian and gay parents and crucially, to protect the best interests of their children, are particularly welcome. So too is the Taoiseach's commitment to campaign for marriage equality when the proposition is put to the people. While we accept the intention of the Government to proceed first with the family relationships and children Bill, that legislation must be prioritised by the Government to ensure that it is concluded by the end of 2014 at the latest.
The light-of-day reality for LGBT families is that even following the enactment of this legislation, there will still be considerable differences between the legal treatment of LGBT families bound by civil partnerships as against civil marriage. That underlines the fundamental point made by the Minister earlier that there simply cannot be anything but full equality for LGBT citizens. This is an imperative now for all of us as legislators. That full equality can only be realised when there is full and absolute marriage equality.
What struck me most about the convention's debate on same-sex marriage was the generally respectful way in which members engaged with each other. Concerns regarding a swathe of issues were listened to, discussed and, in many instances, real anxieties were dispelled and put to rest. For example, it quickly became clear that constitutional recognition of marriage equality is a demand for access to civil but not religious marriage, as some had suggested. Protections of religious freedom under both the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights will continue regardless of the proposed constitutional change. The rights and well being of children were at times, understandably, the main focus of the debate. It was evident that ultimately people came at the debate with the belief that children deserve equal constitutional rights and protections regardless of the sexual orientation of their parents.
Sinn Féin, North and South, has been very proud to sponsor marriage equality motions, some of which were the first to be passed by local authorities. It is really important that we bring this debate outside the Oireachtas and into communities. Campaign groups are doing remarkable work in communities across this island. Anti-bullying campaigns, for instance, are playing a crucial role in creating awareness across society of the prejudice that young people still face as they find and settle into their sexual identity. Despite what has been recorded here as legislative advances in protections for LGBT citizens, it still is a fact that homophobia exists in our society. It must be tackled and taken on, head on. For our part, we have sought to bring the demand for marriage equality to the communities we represent and our experience tells us that we are pushing an open door. It is so important that we discuss and debate this issue at a very local level, with our neighbours and those with whom we work. We also want to see complimentary constitutional changes which equally recognise and protect all family forms, including non-marital families of all sexual orientations and a more robust general equality provision that expressly prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.
We in Sinn Féin have a long-standing position of support for LGBT families in all dimensions of life and law, including the right to civil partnership, legal recognition of same-sex marriage and the equal right to found a family, including by adoption. Any constitutional provision on the family must not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and must equally recognise families in all the diverse and contemporary forms. LGBT families exist and such families can be our friends, our brothers, our sisters, our aunts or our uncles and certainly our neighbours. It is just not acceptable in a modern society to tell these families that they or their children are any less equal than our own.
If we are to wait until 2015 for a referendum on marriage equality, we need a commitment from the Government tonight that it will be no later. The very level of submissions, over 1,000 in all, made on this matter to the Constitutional Convention reflects the level of public interest in the issue of marriage equality. I look forward to the debate on this issue. I hope it will be thoughtful, grounded in fact not prejudice, and be respectful of the diversity of views. When the arguments are set out and the case made, I hope the people will, just like their citizens in the convention, wholeheartedly approve and embrace this important step to the achievement of full equality in Ireland.
Ar dtús, ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil le agus aitheantas a thabhairt do bhaill fhoireann an Choinbhinsiúin as an obair a dheineann siad i gcomhair gach cruinniú, roimh an cruinniú, tríd an cruinniú agus tar éis gach cruinniú. Tá an obair a dheineann siad ar fheabhas.
A major reason the Constitutional Convention is moving so well is the professional calm and efficient way in which its staff carry out its work. The engagement of citizen members and political leaders, under the able chairmanship of Tom Arnold, also contributes to the convention’s efficient work. Everyone acknowledges the balance in speakers, presentations and the time allocated for each aspect of the topic to ensure a wide spectrum of views are heard. I acknowledge the Government’s response within three months to each of the convention’s recommendations. The next step is the follow through. Will the Government give a definite idea as to when the referendum on same-sex marriage will go ahead? There should be no discussion of a second convention until those issues are brought to a satisfactory conclusion. I noted the Minister said he was looking at 2015 as the date for this referendum, which is a vote of confidence that the Dáil will last until then.
The convention’s session discussing the topic of same-sex marriage was the most tense, intense and emotive I have attended. When it was announced 79 voted in favour of same-sex marriage against 19 not in favour, there was a feeling of celebration, relief and joy on the part of those attending that a right had been granted to gay and lesbian people, a right they had been denied for so long and one enjoyed by people who are not homosexual. This issue is about a human right and equality. Equality should not be based on one’s sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity, colour, creed, wealth or social status. In our own history and that of other countries, we see the mass migration of people because the systems under which they lived did not recognise and respect their beliefs. It is happening in so many places today such as in Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central Africa and Syria.
I can understand that same-sex marriage is difficult for some people to accept because it is different and, for thousands of years, marriage involved two people of different sexes. Some people are not very good when it comes to accepting difference. There was a strong vote at the convention in favour of same-sex marriage. The people will have the opportunity to exercise their democratic right in the referendum when it comes.
Some years ago, in my naivety and ignorance, I believed civil partnership had ticked all the boxes on this issue. I was taken aback to learn otherwise. It was the work of the Marriage Equality group and GLEN, Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, which pointed out the 169 legislative differences between marriage and civil partnership which include, for example, civil partners not being allowed to adopt jointly, issues with guardianship, discrimination faced by children of gay couples and a family home having to be described as a shared home. The TASC submission to the convention put it succinctly:
Marriage, as well as being a social and cultural institution is also a legal and economic institution. It is up to the State to provide for the civil marriage in the legal and economic senses rather than in the wider social and cultural institution of marriage which is conducted in accordance with beliefs and cultural traditions of various religious and ethnic groups.Its submission also dealt with the tax issue, proposing the most straightforward way of ensuring tax justice is to extend marriage to same-sex couples. Civil partnership went a good way on this but there are still differences. While it was a major advance, it fell short of constitutional equality which is critical. Civil marriage is a further step to build on the civil partnership legislation. While we have come a long way for equality for lesbian and gay people, it must be remembered there are countries where they face persecution, torture and imprisonment.
Some argue that same-sex marriage undermines the value of marriage. From my experience at the convention, from lesbian-gay friends and organisations, the same-sex marriage proposal is an affirmation of marriage, certainly not undervaluing it. They believe in the institution of marriage and their right to share it.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate on the third report from the Constitutional Convention. I attended all the sessions, bar one, which was useful in understanding the tone of the different issues debated. All convention participants will agree the debate on same-sex marriage was exceptional.
I was critical of the convention at the start because of the limit on the number of issues with which it could deal. However, having participated in it, it found it to be a good initiative. In the case of same-sex marriage, there was sizeable support for change to the existing constitutional provisions.
The Minister said one of the key issues when this proposal is considered by the public will be the issue of children.
I misheard him. From reading the report and various submissions, I felt what was missing was the personal testimony of those raised by same-sex parents. This would have been a good beacon of how this can be debated in a meaningful way and would show the good experience children in such families had.
During that weekend, we spoke about other jurisdictions that had taken this on board, with the Netherlands being the first country to do so and now 15 countries and 15 states in the US have followed them in changing the law, with England and Wales due to follow next year. The sky has not fallen in with these changes and those countries have had very good experiences. What was really important about that particular part of the convention's work was the celebratory mood afterwards. It sent out a signal of acceptance, and that was really a very powerful signal of encouragement to take this issue on board very soon.
I understand the Government's point that referendum fatigue is a particular difficulty. I recognise that the Taoiseach has provided public support and commitment to marriage equality. It will be very important that this does not go beyond the commitment that has been given for 2015. I accept Deputy O'Sullivan's point that we must see a return on the convention's work before we have another convention doing a whole range of work. We must see delivery, otherwise there will be questions about what the process was about.
In the few moments available to me, I wish to agree fully with every line of the Minister's speech. Therefore, I will not refer to any points he made as he summed up my views on the issue. I thank him for his leadership in this area. I also wish to acknowledge the work of the Constitutional Convention. I believe that the convention has a solid future, notwithstanding the current narrow remit. I would ask the Government to extend its remit, perhaps even on a permanent basis.
My concern this evening is with the operation and planning for the referendum. I believe that low turnout for referendums is a major cause for concern, and we need to review radically how we do them. Any future referendums must be carefully planned and orchestrated. The recent result of the Seanad referendum should be examined in detail to consider why people voted as they did, and why 60% of the electorate did not bother at all to vote. Qualitative research on this topic is vital, as we need to determine how opinions were formed on the subject matter, and how these views were changed or confirmed during the course of the campaign. We need to know how and why a majority in favour of abolition four weeks before the campaign became a minority on the day. Factors such as the popularity or otherwise of the Government, the communication of the message and the motivation of the voter all affected turnout. We need to obtain hard data on voter behaviour before we go to the polls again.
Recent limited research underlines the need for a publicity campaign to be carried out over a much longer period of time, the information or publicity to be transmitted in different ways than through the Referendum Commission, and that the campaign should be broadened way beyond the narrow party political elite that we have seen in recent referendums. Without detailed voter research, we are left with speculation by pundits and armchair experts which makes for great political entertainment and post-mortems, but is of little or no scientific value. If the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government does not conduct the research itself, then I suggest that a sum of money be made available to academia or political scientists so that they can do the job, because it is crucially important.
Aspects of the ludicrous McKenna and Coughlan Supreme Court judgments need to be addressed.
The requirement for the Government to adhere to a 50:50 broadcast rule is bizarre, represents a subversion of democracy and undermines the democratic mandate of TDs on both sides of the House. We have heard people from all parties speak in favour of a recommendation in the referendum, yet we know that when it comes to the campaign, this cannot happen due to the McKenna and Coughlan judgments. This results in the electorate becoming confused as they are unclear on the questions being put to them and the issues under scrutiny. While I very much favour equality and same sex marriage, much preparatory work needs to be undertaken. The Government introduces a topic but is not allowed to campaign actively for a "Yes" vote in the manner in which it might like, due to legal constraints.
As legislators, we need to get on with this and exercise great care. I look forward to a positive, vigorous campaign, but a campaign based on fact not fiction.
I congratulate the Minister on his pioneering initiative and salute the men and women in the Gallery from Marriage Equality, GLEN and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, who have given us civil society leadership in this debate. The extraordinary transformation of this country over 20 years is culminating with the report tonight before the House of the Constitutional Convention, and of the referendum to be held in 2015. We have moved as a country from a situation where being gay and lesbian was seen in the context of shame, and where those of us who are gay or lesbian were seen as being criminal in the eyes of our State. Many of our fellow citizens had to leave their own homes and emigrate abroad or migrate to Dublin or Cork to create their own communities because of the shame and because of the burden placed upon them. Thankfully, due to the leadership of GLEN, Marriage Equality and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, and all political parties in this House and others, we have moved to a situation where we are now on the threshold of a referendum where equality will be given to all our citizens.
The only place where I, as a gay man, am not equal, is in my Constitution, due to the inability to get married. Hopefully, the Irish people will provide that transformation in 2015 and we will all be equal, cherished equally under our Constitution. It has been a remarkable journey, and I am very proud, as a member of the Constitutional Convention, of the mature debate we had that particular weekend. I also wish to congratulate the experts, such as Gerard Durkan SC and others, who gave of their time to make presentations and so on. This debate is the beginning of the referendum campaign. It is very clear that this referendum campaign will be about marriage under the eyes of our Constitution. As the Minister said, it will not be about religion or anything else; it will be about marriage.
The pictures of civil partnerships across the country show men and women - urban and rural, young and old, from all types of society - embracing their love and the sky has not fallen down. The same values, love, affection and commitment exist, no matter who we are. That is why those images celebrate love, which we all cherish in our lives. The next step is that referendum. In April, we had a fantastic debate at the convention over two days, with presentations from everybody. The debate took place. People thought about what they had to say and they thought about how they voted. Some 79% of them voted for the right to have a referendum. I hope that in the lifetime of this Dáil, we will see a plurality of the Irish people voting to support the recommendation from the Government to hold a referendum on marriage equality.
I welcome the statements by the Taoiseach that he supports marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples and that he will campaign for it. I salute the Fine Gael members across the country and in our parliamentary party, especially the Minister, Deputy Shatter, who has been supportive from the start. This is about people. This is about the love that we all have. It is about equality. I wish that this referendum will be passed, and I hope that this House will campaign vigorously for it.
The Constitutional Convention has discussed and considered a range of issues. I am very happy to be involved and take part in the wide range of discussions which bring about reform to the Constitution. It is an important forum when so many people are asking what is the proper role of government. The proper role of government is to protect equal rights, not equal things. We are all born equal, not in abilities or talents, but under the law and in our rights. We need to be honest and fair and the Government is honest and fair on this, to secure those rights for all our people.
The Constitutional Convention was established by the Government and is following a set procedure and terms of reference set by the Government. The authority to amend the Constitution rests with the people of Ireland under the ratification process by way of a referendum. We all welcome referenda. I agree with my colleague, Deputy Charles Flanagan, that it is a pity that people do not turn out in greater force for referenda because our Constitution is the bible by which we are guided. Many countries across the world do not have a constitution. It is a very important document and should be respected. This Constitutional Convention is an historic event in Irish constitutional development. It is also important for decision making where we, the members, are asked for opinions on a range of issues. These issues include rights, reducing the presidential term, giving citizens who are resident outside the State the right to vote, the provision for same-sex marriage, encouraging greater participation by women in the political process, reviewing the Dáil electoral system and reducing the age limit for voting from 18 to 16 years. The establishment of a stronger Constitution will protect the rights of all citizens and this should be respected.
At the Constitutional Convention a strong majority favoured the amendment of the Constitution to provide for same-sex marriage. A strong majority recommended legislation to accompany any such amendment. Legislation would provide specifically for changed arrangements regarding the parentage, guardianship and upbringing of children. The reason for including this option on the ballot paper was that in the case of same-sex couples with children, at least one parent will not be a genetic parent and, therefore, the usual rules regarding custody and guardianship would need to be reviewed and adapted. We need electoral reform. I raised the issue earlier today with the Taoiseach that we need to examine the establishment of an electoral commission. I hope something will be done to ensure there is a greater turnout and participation of people in future referenda because this is important for citizens.
I congratulate the Constitutional Convention on its excellent work to date. I had some reservations initially but I am pleased to see the Constitutional Convention take on a life of its own and begin to undertake the task of making some much-needed changes to Bunreacht na hÉireann. When the Constitutional Convention met in April 2013 it was meeting to consider same-sex marriage. The Constitutional Convention voted by a decisive majority in favour of changing the Constitution to allow civil marriage for same-sex couples. The convention's strong endorsement of equal marriage rights in Ireland marks an historic step in the campaign for marriage equality in Ireland and we are grateful to all members of the convention who made this happen.
My party and I feel very strongly about marriage equality. As republicans, equality is at the heart of all we believe in and we strive for this every day in the course of our work and activism. We believe in a new republic where all citizens are equal, regardless of the colour of their skin, their religious belief, sexual orientation, where they live and what they do. Offering same-sex couples civil partnership is offering them a second-class right. This is absolutely and entirely unacceptable in 2013 Ireland. It is prehistoric, ancient and discriminatory. The time has come for marriage equality. This is a human rights and equality issue. Loving, committed relationships between two consenting adults should be treated equally regardless of gender or sexual orientation. All couples, same-sex or otherwise, should be allowed to share the same responsibilities, obligations and respect that marriage provides. This should be enshrined in the Constitution.
We also need to see complementary legislative changes to equally recognise and protect all family forms, including non-marital families of all sexual orientations, and more robust general equality provision that expressly prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. Sinn Féin has a long-standing position of support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, LGBT, equality in all dimensions of life and law, including the equal right to civil partnership, legal recognition of same-sex marriage and the equal right to found a family including by adoption. Any constitutional provision on the family must not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and must equally recognise Irish families in all their diverse contemporary forms.
The 1937 Constitution should be amended to unambiguously enshrine equality in all aspects of life as part of a comprehensive Bill of Rights or Charter of Rights as required under the Good Friday Agreement, under strand three paragraph 9 on rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity. Sinn Féin submitted a submission to the Constitutional Convention calling for a Bill of Rights amendment. We have been very pleased with the responses. Along with my party colleagues I have met a range of NGOs, stakeholders and people who campaign on human rights matters and it has been received very favourably. I cannot stress enough the need for comprehensive Bill of Rights amendment that would follow a systematic review of the provisions of Articles 38 to 45, inclusive.
The work of change was delegated to the constitutional review group in 1986. It was then continued, but was never finished, by the all-party Oireachtas committee on the Constitution. The Government discontinued that committee in favour of the Constitutional Convention. As I pointed out earlier, the Constitutional Convention has done a fine job. Following the successful pilot period, the Government and the Oireachtas should now mandate fresh Constitutional Convention in the same format with a broader and more comprehensive remit to address the two broad areas of a Bill of Rights and institutional reform in the 2014 to 2015 period and to introduce the remaining proposals for amendment in time for 2016.
What better way to celebrate 1916 than by enshrining rights of equality within the Constitution? This would be more in keeping with the coalition parties' pre-election promises than the limited Constitutional Convention it authorised last year. While the convention, in its limited terms of reference, has been a very positive development and has worked better than most people had hoped, it needs to be strengthened. I welcome the Government's commitment to holding a referendum on marriage equality but it is of the utmost importance that the Government adopts a proactive approach to bringing forward the legislation to give effect to this referendum. We need a date for the referendum so that all relevant bodies can work towards this.
I was sorry to hear the Minister, Deputy Alan Shatter, refer to referendum fatigue. This idea that the public is tired of referenda should not be held up as a reason for delaying the delivery of equality. It does not wash. I am sure we can all create the mental and emotional space needed to deal with the referendum, especially when it concerns the equality and the delivery of constitutionally entrenched rights. The Government charged the Constitutional Convention with making recommendations on such matters and it recommended that this be put to the people. Our reluctance to allow that process to flow unhindered will effectively undermine the credibility of the convention. Sinn Féin will actively and enthusiastically campaign to ensure the civil and legal rights of the LGBT community, including the right to marry, are fully protected in the law.
Let me now make a personal reflection. I got married recently and this has brought me great happiness. The Minister was one of those who shared congratulations with me on my marriage. Like with all married couples, my and Sinéad's wedding day was a very special day. During it and the days leading up to and after it we felt the embrace and good will of family and friends all around us. This was a wonderful time in our lives. Among the guests at our wedding was a good number of gay couples. I had the privilege of attending the marriage of one of those couples in Spain and that was a powerful day.
There have been many civil partnership ceremonies all across Ireland and more people have had their eyes opened to how important it is to allow two people who love each other to marry. The words of Barack Obama on this issue were very simple, but powerful. He spoke about two people who love each other, who want to step up to the plate, if that is their choice. Some people do not get married and their love is equally as valid as that of those who are married. If two people who love each other want to step up and say they want to make a life commitment in every legal way they can to the person they love, that should be facilitated. The day Sinéad and I got married, I felt a tinge of sadness that we were able to get married, but in our presence were couples who loved each other every bit as much as we did and who had made a commitment in every way they could to each other, but who could not have the same equality or moment we had. The sooner that day comes and the sooner I can go to their weddings the better.
I know we live in a diverse society and that we must respect everybody's perspective. There are people who profess to follow the word of Christ, but who use the word of Christ, as they interpret it, to oppose the right of two human beings who love each other to be married. These people are wrong. I am a Christian and I have faith in Christ, but I cannot for the life of me understand how people who believe in the Christ I love and in whose teachings I believe can advocate that Christ of love, compassion and every good thing we learnt about him and believe in and oppose the right of two human beings, two children of God who love each other, to have that moment to say they commit themselves to each other for as long as they both wish. I was deeply moved by the comments of Barack Obama and by those of his remarkable wife, the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, who both used their words so powerfully. They challenged those powerful forces in American society who opposed same sex marriage by simply speaking about two human beings who love each other.
I wanted to share this with the House because we had a wonderful wedding day. Marriage equality was our theme on the day and we used the rainbow colours of marriage equality throughout the day. Sinéad's bouquet was the marriage equality colours. Our wedding day was a powerful day. I ask everybody and I am willing to discuss it with them over a cup of coffee or in whatever forum they want, to think about the reasons they oppose same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage is not a threat to marriage between man and a woman or to the love or status of these couples because of the marriage of two other human beings. I thank the Chair for indulging me on this contribution.
Perhaps the House will agree to Private Members' business starting five minutes late. I am conscious it was the debate previous to this that impinged on the time allocated for this debate. I have no difficulty with ensuring Deputy Finian McGrath can have his few minutes to speak, if the House is agreeable to this.
I strongly recommend the report of the Constitutional Convention on the matter of same-sex marriage. In particular, I recommend the recommendation by a large majority, 79 to 19, that a referendum should be held to change the law to allow same-sex couples the right to a full marriage. Furthermore, I am pleased the Government has committed to holding the referendum during the first half of 2015. I commend the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, for taking these important steps towards full and equal rights for all couples who want to marry, no matter what their sexual orientation . I also commend the Taoiseach for supporting this and for pledging to campaign for a "Yes" vote.
The proposal to hold a referendum should give hope to the 1,500 couples who have already celebrated a civil partnership in this country since the civil partnership legislation was enacted in 2010. The fact this high number of people has opted for partnership in the three short years since that option became available demonstrates the strong demand among the gay and lesbian community to demonstrate their love and their commitment to each other and to their partners in a formal way.
While I welcomed the Civil Partnership Bill as it passed through the Dáil, I sought to highlight in my contribution at the time the frustration of those gay and lesbian couples who needed and deserved more than just a civil partnership. Gay and lesbian couples should not be made to feel like second class citizens. Full equality in the eyes of the law is what we all deserve as human beings. Equality does not have to mean sameness. True equality in society and law should respect and value differences, no matter what those differences are. We should celebrate our differences and avoid labelling each other.
In my previous speech on civil partnership, I also stated I did not agree with people who said the Bill undermined the institution of the family. Judging people or discriminating against them because of those they love goes against the very meaning of love. We know the Irish people are ready for this. A Millward Brown poll conducted in 2012 showed that 75% of people would vote "Yes" in a referendum proposing same-sex marriage.
Last year, I had the privilege to attend the civil partnership weddings of a number of close friends. In my eyes, they were weddings in all but name. They were the celebration of the love between two people and the great joy of grandparents, parents, the wider family and friends who finally saw their loved ones and their relationships being recognised by society and the State and that was something wonderful to behold. Being part of that made me feel very proud. Like many other speakers, I have attended many weddings of family and friends in the past and I do not see why there should be any difference between those weddings and those of same-sex couples. If two people love each other and are committed to each other, there should be no difference.
I wish to recognise the Constitutional Convention and thank its members, the people of this country, for their hard work, under the expert chairmanship of Tom Arnold. This particular report of the Convention is extremely positive. I hope that when the referendum is ultimately passed, these people will feel proud of their contribution to advancing change and progress in society. I thank GLEN and the many other groups that came to me in the past and recently in regard to this issue. I welcome the fact we have the opportunity to speak in the House and that we are privileged to be here and to be in the presence of the many who want to share their love together.
Before I get to the issue of the report, I would like to say that the Constitutional Convention, of which I am a member, has been a smashing example of democracy and I believe there is a place for it post February 2014. We need to consider what that place should be. The Convention has been a place of transparency where we have discussed pertinent issues, such as same-sex marriage. This was the most important issue discussed and was done in a democratic, transparent and respectful way.
Tonight's debate concerns the report of the Constitutional Convention on same-sex marriage.
Given that every other party has spoken about its proud track record it would be remiss of me not to mention the Labour Party as its only speaker in the debate. It is not about the Labour Party, Fine Gael, Sinn Féin or Fianna Fáil but most people mentioned their party.
The Labour Party was the first to have an LGBT sector on the island of Ireland and we have a very strong track record on issues of equality, standing when other people did not want to voice such issues. The facts speak for themselves on this but it is not the issue being discussed. I am a very proud member of the Labour Party because of our strong track record on equality issues. It is why I am a member of the Labour Party. I am glad to see the pushing, shoving and shouting when other people were telling us not to knock on their doors because we were speaking about things which should not be spoken of has moved to a stage whereby we have cross-party agreement on such an important social issue and that such a change has happened over 20 years.
As a man who is gay, or a gay man, or whatever one wants to call me - I would prefer just to be me - I am very proud to be here and I am particularly proud we have seen such social advancement whereby we are debating in the House the actuality of a referendum on same-sex marriage in 2015. Recently I visited St. Kevin's College in Ballygall. The sixth year in the boys' secondary school invited me as part of a project on same-sex marriage. I thought it was fantastic a group of 18 and 19 year old boys were speaking about same-sex marriage and that they invited me. When I explained the reason we will have a referendum on same-sex marriage they could not believe we needed it. They could not believe we live in a bizarre society which for too many years has decided to relegate constitutionally a sector of society purely based on sexuality and not afford all the constitutional rights every other person has to gay and lesbian people. They were dumbfounded. This dumbfoundedness of the young people was also found in the overwhelming 79% of people in the Constitutional Convention who believe we should have a referendum on same-sex marriage. This has been mirrored in subsequent polls and was higher in a Red C poll.
A sector of society has been left out and the time has come to stop leaving them out because of their sexuality. It is time to bring them in. I believe the Irish people, as the Minister stated, are pretty much ahead of the Legislature on this issue. Anybody I speak to does not understand why we do not have same-sex marriage. Given conditions being the way they are, in 2015 a majority of people will support it because they have brothers, sisters and parents who are gay. We are speaking about real people. Sometimes people think this is an abstract debate. The real people we are speaking about are me, Deputy Jerry Buttimer and many of those in the Visitors Gallery. Some of them have children and they are forgotten about. We have a chance to put it right and to state we value every citizen of the country regardless of their sexuality. The only institution in society of which I am aware which treats gay and lesbian people as second-class citizens is civil marriage. As a state, we will have an opportunity in 2015.
I commend every person, from all parties and none, and from NGOs such as the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, GLEN, and Marriage Equality who are present this evening, for the Trojan work done for years on end. I believe the people will come with us on this. I believe they will not let people down and that is what this is about. It is an issue of equality and nothing else. The sky will not fall in. If anything, the sky will be a little brighter after 2015.
I thank the Minister for trying to facilitate me with speaking time but I believe Standing Orders overruled both of us. I am grateful for this opportunity to speak on the third report of the Constitutional Convention on same-sex marriage. I warmly welcome the report as it is important to build and develop a new society based on equality and respect for all citizens. It is also an opportunity to start a process of building a new and inclusive Ireland and about enjoying and celebrating difference and diversity. We all need to work hard on the reform agenda and what we all promised at the last general election. I want to stand up for a new and changed Ireland which respects all of our citizens and puts equality at the heart of the country and the Constitution. This is what the debate is about. I urge all Deputies to support the recommendations of the report. It is very progressive and I warmly welcome it.
All of us who are Members of Parliament come here and work every day on behalf of the people. On occasion we forget this is the Parliament of the Irish republic and this evening has been very important. We have made history. We have debated a very important issue. We have had contributions from every party in the House and contributions from Independent Deputies. We have unitedly agreed there is a need for constitutional change in this area. We have unitedly agreed we should hold a referendum. This is something we should celebrate, but we should not assume automatically the referendum will be successful. One of the reasons the Government took the decision that a referendum would not be held until 2015 was to ensure the nature of the referendum to be held is not misrepresented and to ensure there is absolute clarity in the minds of those of our people who come out to vote as to what it is they are voting about.
It is important we have this level of understanding and clarity. The referendum will be about one, and only one, issue and that issue is whether it is agreed by a majority of the people of the Republic of Ireland that individuals who are gay can celebrate a marriage. This is the only issue. We already have on the Statue Book civil partnership. Civil partnership in many ways resembles marriage but not in its entirety. Those who wish to be treated equally, who are entitled to be treated equally, and who are equal citizens in the country want when they are in an intimate loving relationship to have the same recognition granted to the relationship as is available to heterosexual couples. It is a very simple question, and it is a question which has been answered in a range of other countries listed earlier. It is my hope the answer to the question will be "Yes".
I want to emphasise, because Deputy Catherine Murphy raised the issue, the referendum will not be about children. We should not be led into a debate about children.
We need to address the issue to which the civil partnership legislation, which was very much welcomed and which I supported, was blind and which I raised during the course of the debate on the legislation. It was blind to the fact that gay couples had children, cared for children and brought up children. The HSE places children for fostering with gay couples. That is why we believe it is crucial that before we have a referendum all of the issues relating to children which affect gay couples, cohabitees be they heterosexual or gay, and affect married couples where they utilise assisted reproduction; all the issues surrounding guardianship and the upbringing of children and identifying family relationships and rights and obligations of those who are truly parenting children and the best interests of children are addressed in legislation because all of these issues are relevant to where we are today. They do not in any way uniquely relate to the celebration of a marriage by a gay couple. They are relevant to where we are today in the context of the diverse range of families we have throughout the length and breadth of the country. They are relevant to individuals who are parties also to civil partnerships.
The legislation is at an advanced stage in the preparation of the heads of a Bill which I expect to publish and take through the Cabinet in January. I had originally hoped we would have them in December, but they have taken a little longer to prepare. We are reasonably close to being sufficiently assured to say that by the end of January the heads of the Bill will be published and that they will go to the joint Oireachtas committee for consultation. I hope to publish the Bill in final form well before the summer vacation and to have it enacted, with the assistance of Members of both Houses, by the end of next year. We will then be able to focus in 2015 on the referendum to facilitate the marriage of same-sex couples.
There are two or three crucial issues, the first of which is the question that should be put to the electorate. There must be absolute clarity in order that there will be no confusion as to what the question the people are being asked to favour or reject. The second is preparation in advance to ensure the public fully understand what they are being asked and the issues involved in order that no one can say he or she has been taken short. The third issue which was raised by Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan and is legitimate is the need to ensure there will be a debate that to which the electorate will listen and on which it will form a judgment and which will give them the facility to vote in the referendum. I hope a majority will vote "Yes". My concern which I share with the Deputy is the manner in which media outlets, in particular broadcasters, have interpreted Supreme Court judgments results in a distorted media discussion in the lead-in to a referendum. I recall during the court of appeal referendum campaign RTE inviting people who favoured a "No" vote in the referendum to text in because its view was it could not interview anyone, including me, as the Minister who had brought the proposal before the House and who favoured a "Yes" vote, unless it could find someone who favoured a "No" vote. It is my hope there will be reconsideration in that regard. The Supreme Court requires a representative proportionate discussion in the media reflecting the reality, not artificially seeking out people who will say "No" to a proposition that every Oireachtas Member and the overwhelming majority of people support. Those who oppose a proposition must be heard, but we are now operating a system under which those who favour a proposition are censored and there is a barrier to them in articulating the case to inform the people as to why they should vote "Yes".
I thank everyone who contributed to the debate. I also thank Marriage Equality, GLEN, the ICCL and my Fine Gael colleagues, led by Deputy Jerry Buttimer, who are committed to change and equality in this area. I look forward to bringing forward the necessary legislation to facilitate the referendum.