Dáil debates

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

 

6:30 pm

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Justice and Equality; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Tairgim: "Go léifear an Bille an Dara hUair anois."

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Today I am introducing the Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015. The Bill sets out the wording of the thirty-fourth amendment that will be put to the people in a referendum on 22 May 2015. The referendum will be on the question of marriage equality. The people will have the opportunity in the referendum to consider whether the Constitution should be amended so as to allow couples to marry without distinction as to their sex. The referendum is exclusively about civil marriage and the consequences that flow from civil marriage for the two persons choosing to get married to one another.

The Government agreed on 5 November 2013 that a referendum should be held in the first half of 2015 on the question of enabling same-sex couples to marry. The Government's decision was in response to the report of the Convention on the Constitution. The convention's third report, Amending the Constitution to Provide for Same-sex Marriage, issued in June 2013, recommended that a change be made to the Constitution to provide for same-sex marriage. As Deputies will be aware, the convention sought submissions from interested parties and received 1,077 submissions from interest groups, church organisations and private individuals. It held a plenary debate on this question on 13 and 14 April 2013. The outcome of its deliberations was that a strong majority of its members recommended that provision be made for same-sex marriage.

The Government noted the third report of the Convention on the Constitution when taking its decision to hold a referendum on this issue. It also noted the high level of engagement of the members in the process and the strong interest of civil society in this issue, as reflected in the large number of submissions, and the high level of support within the convention for the recommendation to change the Constitution to enable same-sex couples to marry.

The Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015 was published on 21 January 2015, following Government agreement on the proposed wording that day. The Government has since agreed, on 3 March 2015, the general scheme of the marriage Bill 2015, which sets out the legislative changes that will be undertaken if the referendum is passed by the people.

The Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015 provides that, if the referendum is passed, a new section would be inserted after section 3 of Article 41 of the Constitution. If approved by the people, this section, which would be Article 41.4, would contain the following wording: "Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex." No other amendments would arise in respect of Article 41. The wording is intended to give a right to marry to couples without distinction as to their sex. If the wording is approved by the people, there would be a corresponding obligation and requirement on the State to respect and vindicate that right in its legislation. Therefore, it would not be open to the State to maintain in being legislation which prohibits the marriage of same-sex couples.

I propose to outline the rationale behind the wording proposed for the thirty-fourth amendment. The first element, "Marriage may be contracted", draws on the precedent of Article 41, which recognises marriage as an institution. The proposed wording seeks to convey that marriage is an institution which two persons may enter. The decision to use the term "contracted" was taken for the following reasons. It is the term already used in Article 41.3 in respect of marriage. Furthermore, the term confirms that what is at issue is civil marriage, which is a contract between two persons in the eyes of the State.

The phrase "in accordance with law" has been included in the proposed wording to confirm that marriage would continue, as at present, to be regulated by statute and common law. The manner in which marriage ceremonies are registered, for instance, would be regulated by statute.

The phrase "without distinction as to their sex" reflects language already used in Article 16 of the Constitution. Articles 16.1 and 16.2 use the phrase "without distinction of sex" with regard to the eligibility of citizens for membership of the Dáil and the right of every citizen to vote for members of Dáil Éireann. The wording proposed for the thirty-fourth amendment builds on the language of that precedent to provide for a couple, regardless of their sex, to be eligible to marry.

There has been some commentary on the decision to use the term "sex" in the wording of the proposed amendment. The reason it has been used is that it is the term already used in the Constitution. Furthermore, the barriers which prevent persons from marrying under Irish law are impediments relating to a person's sex rather than a person's gender.

If the referendum is passed by the people, the right to marriage equality will be enshrined in the Constitution and Ireland will advance along the path to marriage equality which has already been taken by many countries. An increasing number of countries are giving same-sex couples the right to marry. The Netherlands was the first country to pass a law in 2001 enabling same-sex couples to marry.

Since then, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, Denmark, France, Brazil, Uruguay, New Zealand, Luxembourg, Finland, England, Wales and Scotland have all given same-sex couples the right to marry. It is possible for same-sex couples to marry in 37 US states. The US Supreme Court is currently considering whether that right should be extended throughout all US states. Only last week, the Slovenian Parliament approved a law in favour of marriage equality. More and more countries of the world are recognising that couples should have the right to marry one another regardless of their sexual orientation.

At issue is the question of who should have the right to marry. The referendum would not, if passed, redefine marriage. Marriage would not change if same-sex couples were given the right to marry. Couples would continue to marry in exactly the same way and according to the same conditions as at present. The manner in which marriages are registered would continue to be regulated by law. The effects of marriage on property, taxation and succession would be unchanged. The people will have to decide on a simple question: whether marriage is open to all couples who wish to enter it.

Marriage is an institution that we hold dear in Ireland. It is enshrined in our Constitution as an institution that the State is pledged to guard with special care. According to census 2011, there were 1,708,604 persons married in Ireland, representing an increase of 143,588 since 2006. EUROSTAT statistics for 2012 confirm that Ireland has the lowest divorce rate in the EU at 0.6 per 1,000 of the population. If marriage is so important to us and if it is the means by which we make a profound commitment to the people that we love, why should it be for some and not others? What right do we have to say to some couples that they cannot participate in an institution that is the bedrock for so many people? What right do we have to say to taxpayers, neighbours and citizens that they can live among us but cannot share in all that many hold dear? I believe if we value marriage as significantly as we do, then we should be ready to share it with all who wish to avail of it. In fact, it is a tribute to the importance of marriage as the expression of a couple's commitment to one another that same-sex couples wish to be able to marry too. Enabling same-sex couples to marry reflects the solidity of the institution of marriage.

One myth often put forward in the debate on marriage equality is that the concept of marriage is eternal and unchanging. However, history shows us that the legal consequences of marriage have changed repeatedly over the centuries. For example, let us reflect on what marriage meant for women until the 19th century. Marriage in the past was often a relationship of inequality. We expect nowadays that our marriages are founded on equality. However, modern-day marriage is itself the product of a long journey to equality. The journey to equality follows a familiar path. Some are often outraged that others should seek equality. Some fight firmly to defend the status quo. It is striking that when equality is granted, it becomes inconceivable in the society that it was ever resisted. Some 43 years ago the marriage bar was still in place, preventing married women in many areas of the public sector from remaining in employment. It was as late as 1973 when the marriage bar was lifted.

I wish to make one thing clear: it is my belief that enabling same-sex couples to get married would not affect the marriages of heterosexual couples. They would continue to get married in the same way as currently. Furthermore, the referendum would not change in any way the rights of religious denominations to decide who should get married in their denominations. There are constitutional guarantees that protect the rights of religious denominations. Article 44 of the Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of religion. Article 44.5 enshrines the right of every religious denomination to manage its own affairs.

The Government has approved the general scheme of the marriage Bill 2015. The general scheme outlines the legislative changes that are planned by the Government to give effect to the right to marriage equality anticipated in the constitutional amendment. I emphasise that the general scheme is conditional on the decision of the electorate on the referendum. Yesterday, I circulated Members of both Houses with the draft scheme of a marriage Bill which would be introduced by the Government if the referendum is passed by the people.

The Irish wording of the amendment has been subject to some comment. The Oireachtas translation service is confident that these concerns are unfounded and that the wording, as originally published, clearly allows opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples to marry. However, the Government considers it important that the electorate should have absolute confidence in the wording proposed for the amendment in English and Irish. As a result, the Government has decided to propose a more literal translation of the English wording. I will bring forward an amendment on Committee Stage in this regard. The amendment will propose the following wording for the amendment in Irish: Féadfaidh beirt, gan beann ar a ngnéas, conradh pósta a dhéanamh de réir dlí. This wording can be essentially translated into English as: Two persons, regardless of their sex, can contract a marriage in accordance with law.

Today is a historic day. Today, the Oireachtas begins the process of debating the legislation that will prepare for the referendum. The people are getting the opportunity to determine a simple question: do we give a right to marriage equality to all couples who wish to marry in our society? Do we say that one couple's love is as valid as another's? Do we say that couples wishing to make a lifelong commitment to one another should have the right to constitutional protection? I am honoured to introduce this referendum Bill to the House.

6:40 pm

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Ireland has travelled a long road to reach the point today where legislation can be introduced to allow for a referendum on same-sex marriage. The proposed legislation represents another step forward for equality in Ireland as a country which is proud to call itself a republic.

Fianna Fáil supports this Bill to allow for the marriage equality referendum to take place on 22 May 2015. The referendum simply proposes to add to the Constitution the declaration: Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.

Following a meeting with the Minister for Justice and Equality this afternoon, I understand that the Irish language version of this text must now be changed due to an uncertainty surrounding the wording of the first official language version. While I welcome the clarity that this will bring, the fact that the Minister was willing to acknowledge the possible uncertainty and to act on that, I believe it is an unfortunate incident. If it were not for the eminent journalist Bruce Arnold, his writings and his raising this matter with my office and that of my party leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, this issue might not have been addressed. None the less, my party will fully support the amendments on Committee Stage to correct and clarify the first official language version of the text.

For my party the upcoming referendum is a question of equality and the question of whether, as a society, we believe that those in gay relationships should be afforded the same security and respect as those in heterosexual relationships. Our answer to that question is, "Yes" and that all our citizens must be equal before the law. At my party's Ard-Fheis held in March 2012 our members debated and then voted to pass a resolution supporting equal marriage rights. The party position is that we support that most basic republican proposition: the entitlement to equality on the part of every citizen.

It is important to note that Fianna Fáil has played a leading role in legislating for key issues in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community guided by the fundamental principle of equality among citizens. From the decriminalisation of homosexual acts in 1993 to the Civil Partnership Act of 2010, Fianna Fáil-led Governments led the legislative change. This legislation is a natural outcome of the years of progress which have been made thus far.

I commend the Government and the Minister on finally bringing this matter to the House. I hope the unity of purpose we see in Dáil Éireann today will be reflected in the campaign to bring about a "Yes" vote on 22 May next.

Although this legislation is welcomed by the vast majority of the elected Members of this House, it is important not to take the people's choice in this referendum for granted. There are serious challenges out there, as there always are in referendums, in convincing 50% plus one to back this proposal. The polls tell us this referendum is safe but we must not take victory in the campaign for granted.

One of the first matters which must be clarified is what this referendum is not about. This referendum is about allowing a couple of the same sex declare their love and commitment to spending the rest of their time together in a civil marriage. This referendum is not about adoption, it is not about surrogacy and it is not about other family relationships in law. These issues are being dealt with by the Children and Family Relationships Bill 2015 which is currently passing through the Oireachtas. The referendum will simply ask whether two adults, regardless of their gender, should be able have a civil marriage.

It is vital that these facts are communicated to the citizens of this country in an effective and simple manner. In that regard, I hope the Referendum Commission established for this referendum is given the necessary resources and communicative skills to properly engage with the public. The "No" side in this referendum campaign will thrive on misinformation and scaremongering. It is important to point out that we must respect alternative views in this referendum but we must also seek to outline the facts as they are. We must be clear that civil marriage is a legally binding contract which is regulated and recognised by the State. The proposed amendment deals with civil marriage rather than marriage through a religious ceremony. Civil marriage is protected by but not defined in the Constitution. This proposed constitutional change will not force religions of any kind to carry out marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples. This is a vital distinction which must be made during the campaign.

Another significant challenge in this referendum campaign will be voter turnout. In this regard, the Friday voting is welcome as it will give students an opportunity to travel home to vote. However, there is important work to be done to ensure that people are aware of the date of the referendum well in advance, that a "register to vote" campaign is carried out as part of the referendum campaign and that polling booths are open for a significant period of time on the day in question.

Looking at the specific constitutional amendment, I welcome the simple approach taken by the Minister which will involve the insertion of an extra section into Article 41 of the Constitution. The section to be, Article 41.4, coming at the end of the provisions on marriage of that article, makes sense. The fact that no change is proposed to the existing constitutional provisions on marriage is also welcome and reaffirms the importance this State puts on the family unit overall. In fact, if anything, this referendum shows the strength of the institution of marriage into the 21st century. It is a welcome development that people are seeking to broaden the ability of our people to enter marriage. As the Minister has outlined, if the wording and the amended Irish version of the amendment are approved by the people, the establishment of the right of two persons to marry without distinction as to their sex implies a corresponding obligation and requirement on the State to respect and vindicate that right in its legislation. Therefore, it would not be open to the State to maintain in being legislation which prohibits the marriage of same-sex couples.

Looking at developments across the world, as of 1 January 2015, some 17 countries - Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Uruguay and the United Kingdom, except for Northern Ireland - and certain sub-national jurisdictions around the world, such as parts of Mexico and most states of the United States, allow same-sex couples to marry. Ireland's referendum vote is significant as it is the first time any country has held a referendum to permit marriage equality. There is significant variation across the EU on marriage equality legislation. Ten EU countries permit marriage equality: Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom, with the exception of Northern Ireland. Spain became the first predominantly Roman Catholic country to allow same-sex marriage in 2005 when it amended its civil code despite significant opposition from various sectors of society. Seven EU countries - Austria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Ireland and Slovenia - have legislated for civil partnerships, while 11 countries - Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania and Slovakia - forbid same-sex unions.

In general, the past several years have seen great progress in the development of anti-discriminatory laws for LGBT citizens across Europe. There is a notable East-West divide on the subject of same-sex marriage. Generally speaking, same-sex marriage is more widely accepted in western Europe than in central and eastern Europe and the candidate countries. Recent developments reflect this. Some western European member states have made proposals towards, or brought into existence, legislation legalising same-sex marriage, while some central European countries have actually made moves in the opposite direction. Ireland can be proud of our record thus far in seeking legislative change and particularly in bringing this matter before the people. Although we are not outliers in the provision of same-sex marriage, we are confirming our country's status as a tolerant, open and inclusive place where difference does not mean division.

In conclusion, I want to reiterate my party's full support for this legislation, which will be amended on Committee Stage, and for the subsequent referendum. We will be campaigning strongly for the passing of this referendum by the people of Ireland. The work must begin now to win this campaign. We cannot take anything for granted and we must campaign hard to win. I hope all of my colleagues here will join with me in committing to running a positive, energetic and informative campaign.

6:50 pm

Photo of Pádraig MacLochlainnPádraig MacLochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am delighted to see this Bill before us today. It has been a long road and it is much overdue, but it is great to finally have it here before us. The starting point for Sinn Féin on all issues of human and civil rights and equality is the Proclamation of 1916. It may be almost 100 years old but it is the mission statement for every generation of Irish citizens. As an Irish republican party, equality is at the core of all that Sinn Féin represents. All citizens must enjoy full equality of rights and opportunities under law, regardless of their background, including sexual orientation or gender. Nothing less can be tolerated in a modern, progressive and inclusive society.

Sinn Féin recognises that societal attitudes, the ban on the donation of blood, gender recognition, adoption, transphobic and homophobic bullying, the reporting of domestic and sexual violence, as well as marriage and employment equality, are a few of the areas of life where LGBT people suffer inequality and isolation. LGBT people suffer higher rates of depression, self-harm and suicide, directly attributable to social conditioning, the stigma and isolation of the historical and, unfortunately, State-led criminalisation, discrimination and harassment. Of course, that is not unique to Ireland and has, sadly, been the history of states throughout the world.

I hope that, some day, Ireland will stand as a beacon of LGBT equality and that we will cherish, protect and celebrate the diversity of all of our citizens. The Bill before us today takes us a step closer to that vision. I am heartened to see Ireland edge closer to ensuring all of its citizens are equal. In 2015, it is simply unacceptable that the law does not treat each person equally. However, I am hopeful that we are on our way there.

As a proud republican, I strive for equality every day.

Republicanism is not unique to Sinn Féin. It exists across our people and in every political party. We believe in a real republic where all citizens are equal, regardless of the colour of their skin, religious belief, sexual orientation, where they live and what they do. To only offer same-sex couples civil partnership is to only offer them a second-class right. This is absolutely and entirely unacceptable in Ireland in 2015.

The time has come for full marriage equality for all. Put very simply, 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. Same-sex couples and their children are families just like any other, but these families currently do not have the same legal rights and protection that are available to other families in the State. This is wrong.

We now have the chance to ensure that same-sex couples are no longer treated as second class citizens in our State. It is an exciting opportunity for us to have a chance to change all of this. What better way to celebrate 1916 than by enshrining rights of equality within the Constitution, which is our primary law and the people's law? Approaching the centenary of the 1916 Rising, Sinn Féin aims not only to commemorate the revolution but to achieve one of its most noble aspirations, that of cherishing all the children of the nation equally.

We are serious about this. Sinn Féin has always campaigned on issues that can bring about positive change for all the people living on this island, and for that precise reason we will be actively campaigning for a "Yes" vote in the upcoming referendum. This May the Irish people have an exciting opportunity to say that we value all of our relationships equally. My party is proud to support this referendum and we ask the Irish people to vote "Yes" to civil marriage equality. A "Yes" vote would send a powerful message to couples who have waited their entire lives to legally mark their love for one another. We also need to make it clear to all young people who are having difficulty coming to terms with their sexuality and struggling to deal with it that we support them and that their choices are as legitimate as the ones that every single person around them, straight or gay, is making. This referendum was called by the citizens at a Constitutional Convention. This is the people's referendum.

Civil marriage equality is about protecting our families, neighbours and friends. It is about two people making a commitment to share in the ups and the downs of life. Lesbian and gay people are not alone in their demand for full equality of rights and opportunities, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity or background. My party wants everyone on this island to have the same opportunity no matter who we are, what we look like, where we are from or whom we love.

On 22 May we, the Irish people, should take pride in entering the ballot box to extend equality to our neighbours, friends, colleagues or family members. Irish people are being given a chance to create an Ireland where our citizens are valued equally. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for first-time voters and the established electorate to end the discrimination that many lesbian and gay people living in Ireland continue to experience.

Marriage is important to Irish society. It is a secure foundation for committed and loving couples. Everyone should be free to marry on those terms. A "Yes" in this referendum is a yes to lesbian and gay people being full participants in Irish society and fully equal in the eyes of their fellow citizens.

7:00 pm

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Deputies John Halligan, Catherine Murphy and Finian McGrath wish to share time. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of John HalliganJohn Halligan (Waterford, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

During the debate on this Bill today and tomorrow, it is timely to reflect on and remember what is happening to gay people around the world. Homosexuality is still a crime in almost 80 countries. In five of these, and in parts of two others, homosexuality is still punishable by the death penalty. A further 70 imprison citizens because of their sexual orientation. Recent years have seen some countries, such as India, strengthening existing penalties. Even where homosexuality is legal, many countries treat those in same-sex relationships differently, such as having an unequal age of consent or a ban on marriage altogether. Russia's ban on the promotion of non-traditional sexuality is one example of many.

As many speakers have said, Ireland has come a long way since it decriminalised same-sex relationships in 1993, which encouraged new generations of lesbian and gay people to live their lives more openly. I would like to pay tribute and give credit to the work of Senator David Norris, who brought respect into this meaningful debate and has been a strong campaigner throughout Europe and the world for the rights of gay people.

The Bill is a further step on the road towards a more liberal and equal Irish society. By bringing it forward, the Government is sending out a clear message to the world that we want to eliminate discrimination against thousands of our citizens.

I am disappointed, but not at all surprised, at the attempts to link marriage equality with having children. Gay parents already exist in this country and neither this Bill nor the ensuing referendum will give them additional parental rights if passed. What concerns me is that these attempts to frame the "No" argument around family rights could be quite upsetting to children in so-called non-traditional families. No child should be made feel that his or her family is of lesser value than anyone else's.

As I see it, there is no logical argument against supporting this Bill. We, as legislators, have no place denying two adults in a loving relationship the right to get married. The argument about whether people are married in the eyes of the Catholic Church, for example, has no place in Dáil Éireann. Secular law is not beholden to theological discussion in this country any more, and Deputies must leave their personal beliefs and values at the door. It is important to state this because the Catholic Church will come out against this and perhaps attempt to influence how people should vote.

We in the House are not asking the Church to change its position. Rather, we are attempting to change civil law to give a section of our people civil rights previously denied to them. We are attempting to give gay people the legal recognition of their relationships and the same dignity and respect that is accorded to opposite-sex couples. Without that legal recognition, gay partners have been denied hospital visitation rights. In the event of a partner dying, they have been denied the right to bury their life partners, have been excluded from funerals and have lost their homes because estranged families have come forward to inherit the properties of the deceased. We cannot allow this to continue.

There is always a danger that some voters will use a referendum to pursue an anti-Government agenda, regardless of the issue at hand. I have been getting some feedback, as many of us have, on social media and within my constituency, that there are people who intend to vote "No" in the upcoming referendum simply as a protest vote to the Government. That is a horrific prospect. This Bill and the upcoming referendum will affect the lives of thousands of gay people, who are our people, in Ireland. Voters will be doing them a serious injustice if they attempt to use the referendum as an opportunity to vent their anger over austerity policies or because they do not like the Government or some section of it. In the coming weeks, I would urge every Deputy on the Opposition benches to reiterate the point that this is not an election. Voters will have their day next year to show the Government what they think of austerity or whatever. For now, the focus must be on gay people being given the same recognition and protection as everyone else.

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

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.

7:10 pm

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

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.

7:20 pm

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Minister, Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

"The spirit of self is a great evil; the love of superiority is a great evil. The liberty which I look for is that which would increase the happiness of mankind." So wrote Daniel O’Connell in the late 1790s. He was just 21 years old and about to embark on the career that would make him a national hero and an international champion of the weak and oppressed. Two hundred and forty years ago, the Liberator was born into a country where Catholics did not have the vote, could not own land, had few rights, and could not even sit in Parliament. That all changed in his lifetime. At the time, those who opposed civil rights for Catholics believed fully and sincerely in the justice and rightness of their position. They held that full equality would undermine society and order. They were proven to be wrong.

Throughout history there are numerous examples of good people being on the wrong side of history. We are reluctant to change, and so it is often easier to accept the way things have always been. Why risk what change might bring? Fifty years ago women could not serve on juries in this country and had to resign from the Civil Service when they got married, two things that seem unbelievable today but which were supported at the time by many good and honourable people who were unable to see the damage these policies were causing, or the validity of the arguments on the other side, which they often saw as radical, rather than just modern.

This is a Bill which asks us to act as legislators for the whole country, for future generations, and to do something that will benefit all of society in the long run. This is not a Bill about "gay marriage", it is about "equal marriage". It is not about weakening one of the strongest institutions in society, it is about strengthening it by making it inclusive and for everyone. It is about removing the sense of shame, isolation and humiliation from many who feel excluded. It lets them know that Ireland is a country which believes in equality before the law for all its citizens.

A hundred years since the Rising, it dares us to truly cherish all our children equally and to reaffirm "The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities of all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all its parts ... oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government which have divided a minority from the majority in the past." This Bill allows allow gay men and women, for the first time, to be equal citizens in their own country. No exceptions; no caveats; no conditions; just equal. This is not an act of generosity to a minority, rather it is an act of leadership by the majority. It is a recognition that the majority does not become superior by making another group feel inferior. It recognises that same-sex relationships are equal to opposite-sex relationships, and by doing so, all are enhanced and neither is diminished.

In this House we have heard strong support from all sides for marriage equality but we must not allow this to be a campaign where we talk to those who are already committed. There are good and honourable people in the country who are unsure about marriage equality. They are not prejudiced. They just have concerns. We should not dismiss or ignore their concerns, but should attempt to answer, address and alleviate them.

People often fear change, which is only natural, and will want to protect existing ways. It does not make them bad people or prejudiced people. It is up to us to convince them that this change is one for the better. It does not seek to transform our society so much as to recognise it as it already is. Perhaps one way is to ask everyone to think of the best marriage they know, the one that is the most loving, the most stable, and the most inspiring, and then ask ourselves a few simple questions. Is that marriage any more likely to break up because two men or two women down the road get married? Did the introduction of divorce really undermine any of those marital relationships or did they survive untouched? Did the end of the marriage bar undermine marriage or did the institution survive intact? Those who speak loudest against marriage equality proclaim that marriage is a fundamental building block of our society, yet they seem to think it is such a fragile institution that it needs to be wrapped in cotton wool, frozen in time and denied to those they do not trust or understand. Instead of being real champions of marriage, they are almost afraid of it because they do not believe it is robust enough to withstand change, evolution and modernity. We believe in marriage as an institution, and so we believe equal marriage makes it stronger and makes society stronger too.

In the 1916 Proclamation the leaders evoked the power of our "dead generations". In this debate let us call upon the new generation, the voters who have grown up in a very different Ireland from the one of the past, to come forward. A whole generation of people believe strongly in marriage equality because they instinctively know that true love between two people is not something to be afraid of; it is something we should embrace as a society and validate by our law. Happiness is not a zero sum game which requires some to be unhappy for others to feel good. We all benefit from increasing the numbers of secure relationships and allowing every loving couple to experience the kind of stable union, comfort and partnership that everyone believes in, regardless of their views on this Bill.

This is not a threat or a challenge to existing marriages in this country. Rather, it recognises that it is precisely because marriage is so important that we want to be able to extend its benefits and protections to others. This Bill is a reaffirmation of the institution of marriage in our society. It is a statement that marriage remains an integral part of our modern and changing society, something so special that we want all our citizens to be able to share in it equally.

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Referenda are generally about some issue it is difficult to have an immediate personal connection with, be one a Member of this House or a voter outside it. There have been referenda on very technical legal issues. Most have been about the EU and the size of an institution with which most people have no personal connection. Others are to do with some moot constitutional point. Occasionally, we have had referenda on very emotive issues where set positions were taken and fervently believed in and a very divisive campaign ensued.

This referendum is fundamentally very different because at its heart and at that of the legal process we are initiating this evening are people and the most basic emotion - love. It respects the right of two people to celebrate their love, regardless of gender, law and rules which, as the Minister said, belong to a different tradition and the past. This referendum allows a celebration, expansion and strengthening of marriage as an institution. Those of us who support this Bill are not seeking to diminish marriage. We are seeking to open it up and allow more people be part of it and thus strengthen it. We seek to promote and define commitment and allow more people celebrate that commitment in front of their families, friends and communities in a civil and legal way. We do not seek to diminish anybody else’s standing or marriage or any other version of marriage but to open up civil marriage to all and to give everybody the equality this House is supposed to represent. Since this referendum is fundamentally about people, I ask that we have a campaign that remembers that people are at its centre and that the assertions, claims and charges that will be made over the next 11 weeks or so recognise the fact that we are talking about people. This campaign is not about some anonymous institution in Brussels or the Four Courts or in part of this building. It is not about some innocuous Bill that may or may not have an impact on people. It concerns our friends, families, relations, colleagues and community. Each and every member of our community deserves and is entitled to respect over the coming weeks and beyond.

If, on 22 May, we as a Republic affirm the values of republicanism - namely, liberty, equality and fraternity - which are often lost in this country, where republicanism has a narrower and more defined meaning, it will be a good day. It will be a good day to start the commemoration of 100 years since our Rising. It will be a good day for the men and women who took part in the Rising and took their inspiration from the French republican ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity. We can vote to endorse those values on 22 May. Rather than be distracted by arguments about what type of commemoration there should be, about who should march or who should visit, we can actually live the commemoration through our actions on that date. We can endorse the views and traditions of real republicanism, which are equality and respect.

The Minister is correct to say that there are many people for whom this debate is difficult and who have a natural fear of the debate. They have to be won over, because the bubble that is Leinster House and the bubble that is the Dublin media think this is a done deal and that the campaign is won. It is not. Once we leave this House and the Upper House, we and civil society have to go out and sell the view that this is a good thing and that 22 May can be a good day for the institution of marriage. More important, it can be a good day for a republican and independent Ireland. As the Minister said, we have to use examples of our own marriages and other marriages in our community that are strong, secure and successful and we have to demonstrate that they will not be threatened if we vote "Yes" on 22 May but will actually be enhanced by the ability of more people to marry. We have a difficult record of dealing with church and State in this country. Now we must move on and have a civil debate that puts people at its heart and seeks to affirm commitment and affirm love.

There is a tendency in any referendum to do a number of things. One is exemplified by the old slogan, "If you don't know, vote 'No'". That would be wrong on this occasion, because when people vote "No" they are voting against some of their own friends, their own relations and their own neighbours. They should not think they are making a decision that will not have an impact, because they will affect somebody's life by denying them a basic right. In any referendum at a difficult time in people's lives there is also an inclination to give the Government a kick, but this is not the time to do that either, because in giving the Government a kick one is giving one's brother, sister, friend, neighbour or colleague a kick by denying him or her the basic right of marriage. If people want to give the Government a kick, they should hold their feet until next year. On 22 May they should affirm the ideals of a republic and the ideals of decency and Christianity, which respects other views and celebrates other views. Christianity is supposed to take on board all other beliefs and respect the dignity of the person, and that is what we need to do on 22 May.

That is what we can do, but let us not take it for granted. Let us not assume that when we leave this debate it is a done deal. Let us not make plans to gather in celebration on 23 May, because what we do in the next 11 weeks will dictate where this country is at for many decades and generations to come. On 22 May we can endorse the vision of our forefathers, who laid down their lives for this republic, and we can lay out a path of hope and equality for those who come after us. As people who are entitled to vote, we are in a unique position to be able to honour those who fell for our country and for the right for us to actually have a vote on 22 May.

7:30 pm

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin North, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I compliment the Minister on his introduction of this Bill to amend the Constitution to recognise marriage equality. It has already been said that equality is a core principle of a true republic, as is the equality of all citizens under the law, as opposed to the retention of the status quoin which some are more equal than others, which is simply unacceptable. This Bill and the vote in the referendum on 22 May will be about recognising the love of two people, whether they be gay or straight, as equal in the eyes of the Houses of the Oireachtas, the Constitution and the people of this State.

For many years, knowing that this Bill would eventually come before the House, I went on my own journey. As the previous speaker said, there are a number of people in Irish society who are concerned about the potential of the marriage equality Bill and who fear that the coming referendum will in some way affect their own marriage, but this is unfounded. It is far more simple than that. The basis on which this State was founded, by which I refer to the Proclamation, a section of which the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, read a short while ago, is an affirmation of what a true republic is, influenced as it was by the French Revolution.

Our Constitution is 77 years old and has acquired a number of modernising amendments over the past few years. This is another affirmation of the rights, responsibilities and opportunities that the Constitution should reflect for society and its people. Our laws must be reflective of 21st-century Irish society, not the society of 1937. We must support the betterment of society for all and recognise that it is no longer acceptable to actively discriminate against a person based on his or her sexuality. It is not acceptable for us to discriminate against a gay or lesbian couple who happen to be married or in a civil partnership, or in another situation which we will discuss in the House in the near future in the child and family relationships Bill - that is, who have a desire to adopt. I do not know for how many decades we have allowed individuals or married couples to adopt, but we have actively discriminated against those in civil partnerships. That is unacceptable, and I am happy to see that being addressed as part of a suite of legislation which the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, is introducing.

I will close by referring again to the journey I myself went on a couple of years ago in deciding in what way I would greet the marriage equality referendum. It boiled down to a simple matter, to which Deputy John Halligan referred a little earlier. When one enters the gates of Leinster House or this Chamber, one is not a Catholic Deputy - I am a Deputy who happens to be a Catholic. I also represent Protestants, Jews, Muslims and people of no faith. I have to make sure I represent all my constituents in the Bills I choose to support in this House.

I need to ensure that I represent all my constituents and not only those who adhere to my particular beliefs. That is what a true republic is about, namely, rights, liberty, happiness and the prosperity of the whole nation and all of its parts.

I believe civic groups must lead this campaign. It is not the preserve of the Houses of the Oireachtas or the political parties within them to run this campaign. It is far more important than that. I agree entirely with the views of Deputy Calleary that this not a sure thing. As Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas, we need to get out in society and support civic groups who are mounting a campaign to ensure that this referendum is passed on 22 May.

7:40 pm

Photo of Regina DohertyRegina Doherty (Meath East, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

As the Minister is leaving the House, I want to say it was lovely to be here in the Chamber to listen to his contribution because it was poignant and very effective. My contribution probably will not do any justice to the topic we are discussing.

I got married 17 years ago and I have a lovely husband. I do not think I take him for granted. I respect him. He is my best friend. I probably like him now much more than I did when we got married. When I listen to people, groups and organisations who are anti-marriage equality say that if people vote "Yes" on 22 May it will somehow redefine the definition of marriage and, probably more importantly for them, that it will somehow undermine marriages like mine, I fundamentally disagree with them. Every time somebody says something like that, the voice in my head screams "No" and I switch off.

I read a recent article in TheHuffington Post by a lady who was at a same-sex marriage ceremony. She happened to be at it without her husband and the display of commitment and passion by the two people getting married made her miss her husband and think about him extremely fondly. That got me thinking and it made me start to listen to the debates with a different ear and to view the articles in the newspapers and posts on Twitter and Facebook in a different way. It got me to think about my marriage. I listened to people who do not have access to the institution marriage and heard how genuinely committed they were to each other, and how much they were willing in public, which cannot be easy, to display their love for each other from the rooftops and their genuine need just to be the same as everybody else in this country. Perhaps there is a change because it made me think about something, which I probably take for granted every day, far more in the past few weeks than I have in the past 17 years. It has made me realise that I need to cherish something, to which I have had access all my life, simply because I have had such access. There are people in this country who do not have access but think about it and are far more passionate about displaying how they feel about it than I have been in the past. It is important for us to make sure that we take the opportunity every day to recognise how lucky we are to have access to the institution of marriage and to cherish, honour and respect it and to do all the good things we promised we would do on the day we got married.

I have decided in the past few weeks to say "thank you" to my friends, young and older, inside and outside this House, for making me change the way I feel and I make a commitment here that I will work my socks off every day and every night that I can between now and 22 May to make sure that we extend the institution, to which I have access, to every man and woman in this country who wants to marry. I want all of us to be as committed as some of the people who have been brave enough to go on the public airwaves in the past few weeks to tell us as a society how much they are committed to each other and how much they want access to something that I have taken for granted for the past 17 years.

I commend the Minister on bringing this Bill to the House and I look forward to working for a "Yes" vote on 22 May.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The next speaker is Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan and I understand she is sharing her time with Deputy Mattie McGrath when he arrives.

Photo of Maureen O'SullivanMaureen O'Sullivan (Dublin Central, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Yes. Táim ag tacú leis an mBille seo. Tá sé ag baint le cearta an duine.

It is strange to think of two people of the same sex being married because we are not used to it. For most of history from the Middle Ages onwards, we have seen male-female marriage, so this is different and sometimes society is very slow to take on difference, but it is important that society embraces difference and diversity. Therefore, I support this Bill because that is what it is about.

I am coming to the Bill from the point of view that it is a human right and no one should be discriminated against on the basis of their sexuality, gender, religious beliefs or none, or their ethnicity. As far as I am concerned, the Bill is about a human right for homosexual and gay people to marry and to enjoy the benefits of marriage.

I was a member of the Constitutional Convention and I was there when this issue was being debated. Over the course of the convention it was one of the more moving debates. It was also at times disturbing to listen to people deprived of the right to marry and to listen to the children of same-sex couples who are deprived of rights because their parents were not married. My overall impression from all the debate at the Constitutional Convention was that, far from undermining or threatening marriage, it was in fact affirming marriage because that is what same-sex couples want.

The 66 citizen members of the convention who came from a wide section of society, urban and rural, and of a great variety in ages, gave a strong endorsement that was supported by the political representatives there. It was interesting to see the vote on it. Some 79% voted to change the Constitution to provide for civil marriage for same-sex couples, 78% favoured directive or mandatory wording in the event of such an amendment going ahead, meaning that the State should be obliged to enact laws providing for same-sex marriage; and 81% voted for the State to enact laws incorporating necessary changed arrangements in regard to the parentage, guardianship and upbringing of children in lesbian and gay headed families. That was a very strong endorsement. That is reflected in the various opinion polls that have been taken, that there is support for equality in marriage.

I think back to when homosexuality was illegal in this country, and I acknowledge the work of Senator David Norris in bringing about change. I am also conscious that while we are discussing a step much further on, that of marriage equality, there are countries in the world, particularly in the developing world, where gay, lesbian and transgender people are suffering massive discrimination. They are being put into jail and tortured there and being punished horrifically because of their sexuality.

We have had civil partnership legislation for a couple of years now and the sky has not fallen and marriage has not been undermined. What we are seeing from those in civil partnerships is their desire to enjoy what other people have in marriage. This Bill is just another step towards our society embracing difference and really being inclusive. It is continuing the journey that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people have been on. It is a journey that has been very painful for them at times and very difficult because they suffered abuse and discrimination, bullying and harassment. There were times when some of them had to deny their sexuality. Times have changed. Civil partnership was a step forward and now marriage equality is just furthering that progress.

The Referendum Commission will be very important to ensure that everybody is aware of what this means. Up to now generally it has been the parents, siblings, children of same-sex couples and support groups who really know what this means to people who want equality of marriage. It is time that this spread to society in general. It is also about the kind of society that we want, one where respect and dignity are valued and one that is inclusive when it comes to human rights, and that means the human right of same-sex couples to marry.

7:50 pm

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

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.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Deputies Dominic Hannigan and Joe Costello are sharing the next slot.

Photo of Dominic HanniganDominic Hannigan (Meath East, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Tá áthas orm bheith anseo anocht chun an t-ábhar seo a phlé. When I was growing up in Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s, homosexuality was still a crime. Today, in this House and throughout the houses of Ireland, gay people can be open and honest about themselves. For many of us it is a freedom that was unimaginable back in those days of the 1980s. Anybody middle aged or older will recognise the changes we have seen in this country in the past few decades. We have moved on so much that we are now at the stage where full equality is achievable for the LGBT community. We are on the verge of introducing marriage equality.

Some people argued in the past that it might be possible to introduce civil marriage by bringing forward a Bill in this House, passing it and then seeing whether the courts found it to be constitutional. I prefer this referendum approach because it demonstrates to the world how far we, as a country, have come. It means the Irish people can show that they believe it is time to extend equal rights to all citizens in the country. That is a much more powerful message to send out compared to a court decision.

I will be working hard to make sure that we get a "Yes" vote in the referendum in May. Following it, there will still be battles to be fought and won. In particular, we need to do more for our young LGBT people. Apart from being a Member of this House, I am a director of the charity BeLonG To, which helps young people deal with their sexuality and gives them the tools to grow up into mature adults. I know from my work with BeLonG To that bullying of young LGBT people still takes place. I know the impact that bullying can have on many young people, but I know also that things are starting to improve in this area because of the work of organisations like BeLonG To and the work of the former Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, and the current Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, who brought in new proposals to tackle this issue.

This morning, I spoke to 300 school children in Edenderry, County Offaly, during their LGBT awareness week. I was asked in by the student council, with the permission of the teachers, to address the students. It is wonderful that in 2015 we have schools that consider it important to raise awareness of LGBT issues among their students. When we see our younger citizens organise events like that, it is impossible not to feel great hope for our country.

I spoke to the children about the history of LGBT rights in Ireland and what it is like to be a member of the LGBT community, and the importance of acceptance and of making sure that gay and straight people work together to overcome what can be a very difficult period during the teenage years of development. One of the benefits of a "Yes" vote in this referendum will be to show that all of our young LGBT teenagers can grow up as equal citizens, equally valued as their straight colleagues and peers.

The referendum campaign is swinging into full gear. I will be canvassing for a "Yes" vote as I know will many other people from this House. I look forward to the debates that will take place over the coming months. I am sure that at times it will be frustrating and difficult and I imagine that many tears will flow over the course of the campaign.

I do not expect it to be a completely pleasant experience, but it is a necessary experience.

If this referendum is carried, Ireland will be the first country in the world to introduce same-sex marriage by referendum. Some states in the United States have introduced same-sex marriage, but no country has introduced marriage equality by means of a popular vote. If we vote "Yes", then we can truly say that we are leading the world in how we treat the LGBT community.

As we approach the centenary of 1916, I cannot think of a better way to honour those who fought in the Rising than to show how we, as a nation, are delivering on the Proclamation: "The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally."

8:00 pm

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Leas-Cheann Comhairle as ucht an seans chun labhairt ar an mBille tábhachtach seo inniu. I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important legislation.

This is a ground-breaking, long-overdue Bill. If the referendum is passed, it will mean that we will treat all our citizens, irrespective of their sexual orientation, equally. The amendment to the Constitution would insert the following text: "Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex." If that wording is approved by the people, the Government would then be enabled to introduce legislation to ensure that right is vindicated.

The Labour Party has long been to the forefront in supporting and advancing progressive social policies. It is hard to think that in the 1980s, it was Mr. Barry Desmond, then Minister for Health and Social Welfare, who liberalised the availability of contraceptives; in the 1990s, the Labour Party in government decriminalised homosexuality and introduced a referendum that allowed divorce to be introduced; and in the 2000s, we were the first to push for the introduction of civil partnerships. This Government has advanced the cause further. For many years, previous Governments failed to legislate for the X case. That has now been done. This Government ensured that the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act was passed in 2013. Moreover, legislation on gender recognition and the Children and Family Relationships Bill are currently before the House. That is an impressive amount of legislation in a socially important area to have gone through the Houses in recent years.

Indeed, the programme for Government included a provision that a Constitutional Convention would be established, and the third report of that convention, as referred to by Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan, recommended by a large majority that legislation should be introduced to amend the Constitution in this respect. Since the foundation of the State, the Labour Party has been the most consistent socially progressive party in these matters. It has been extremely important to seek to broaden the scope of personal freedom in personal relationships in the face of traditional, religious and cultural views and practices that were restrictive of the lives of the people. There are other areas that we are coming to terms with, particularly in relation to the restriction on the lives of woman and children in society.

If this legislation is passed, Ireland would become one of the growing number of countries that have already achieved marriage equality. As Deputy Hannigan stated, we would be the first to achieve this through a popular vote by means of a referendum. More and more countries are recognising that couples should have the right to marry, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Importantly, this referendum will not change what is meant by marriage. It in no way interferes with the marriage of a man and a woman. Heterosexual couples will continue to marry as they always have done. If passed, however, what will change is who has the right to marry. Other couples will now have that right. We must respect all the citizens of the Republic and treat them equally.

It is important that, on the eve of the centenary of 1916, those precious values that were expressed in the Proclamation of 1916 would be reflected in the acts that we are engaged in at present and that we would pass legislation that would ensure similar rights for all citizens. It would add to the totality of rights that were pledged by our forefathers at the foundation of the Republic. It is important for us to address the matter in that context and to ensure that every effort is made to explain fully to the people what exactly is meant by this proposal in the Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015. It is extremely important that we show leadership here and that every party that has signed up to this legislation would also show that in a practical fashion in the course of the campaign. This does not necessarily mean they should campaign individually but this is an opportunity where different parties could campaign together on an issue shared by everybody, both in this House and, I understand, in the other House, to get the word out clearly that love is love and that two persons who love each other are entitled to share that love and to have it expressed constitutionally by marriage.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I now call Deputies Paul Murphy, Thomas Pringle and Seamus Healy who share ten minutes.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, Socialist Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Some of the reactionary forces in Irish society who have crawled out of the woodwork in recent weeks could do with reflecting on these words of the late Harvey Milk:

It takes no compromise to give people their rights... it takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression.
Look at the statement today from the general meeting of the Irish Catholic bishops which opposes same-sex marriage. What is the rationale for that? They state that "the union of a man and a woman in marriage, open to the procreation of children, is a gift from God who created us 'male and female'". That is a marginally more sophisticated version of the argument, "it was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve", nothing more. The argument that a marriage is something that is open to the procreation of children is clearly nonsensical. Will the bishops argue against the elderly being able to marry? Will they argue for a referendum? There are lots of married couples who do not have children, by choice or not by choice. It is a fundamentally mistaken and wrong idea about what is marriage.

They also argue that "Mothers and fathers bring different, yet complementary gifts and strengths into a child’s life". This is an echo of the argument of the "No" side that every child deserves a mother and a father. It is an insult to the LGBTQ couples who currently raise families, to single mothers who currently raise one quarter of all children on this island and to the 30,000 single fathers who do the same. It is also an insult with no factual basis because there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that a heterosexual couple makes better parents than a homosexual couple.

I say to the Catholic Church and to any other church that nobody will force them to have religious same-sex marriage but they should stop trying to impose their conservative values on society as a whole. It was summed up by Panti Bliss, who said, "Get the hell out of my life".

As for the Government, it takes every opportunity possible to express, in particular, through the person of the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Ó Ríordáin, the fear that those who are anti-water charges and anti-austerity will vote "No". It is deeply cynical. It attempts to portray the anti-water charges protesters as some sort of Neanderthals, in contradiction to the sophisticated pro-austerity liberals of the Labour Party. Believe me, the vast majority of anti-water charges anti-austerity protesters are not that stupid. They know this is not the Government's or the Labour Party's referendum. It is a referendum as a result of pressure from below of thousands of courageous LGBTQ activists who have fought for their rights.

They know that this is a great opportunity to further isolate the forces of reaction and backwardness in Ireland, to show that society has moved on and that the control that the church holds over the institutions of the State is wildly out of step with its influence in society as a whole.

A massive "Yes" vote will be a blow to the traditional establishment in this country and another big step forward towards real equality although it will not be the end of the battle. The ongoing legal discrimination against LGBT people, for example, against gay teachers in schools or against gay and bisexual men donating blood, must be ended. The homophobic bullying and physical violence that many face must be challenged but a "Yes" vote will be a powerful signal that homophobia is not okay and that LGBTQ people are entitled to equal rights.

8:10 pm

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal South West, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I will start by saying that I will be voting "Yes" on 22 May next. It is vitally important that we encourage as many people as possible to come out and join us in voting "Yes". If the majority votes "Yes" on 22 May, Ireland will be joining many other countries in recognising same-sex marriage, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, Denmark, France, Brazil, Uruguay, New Zealand, Luxembourg, Finland, England, Wales and Scotland. It is important to recognise that what we are doing in this country by voting "Yes" is not something out of the ordinary. It is something that respects people and citizens regardless of their sexual orientation, which is vitally important. As other speakers have said, it is remarkable that we will be the first country to do this by popular vote.

Voting "Yes" to marriage equality makes everyone equal in the eyes of the law and strengthens everybody's marriage in this country. It could not undermine marriage to give everybody who is in a loving relationship the right to have that relationship recognised in law and constitutionally. That is what we are doing with this referendum. There is nothing more natural than allowing two people who love each other to declare that love equally under the Constitution and before the law. We all have a great opportunity on 22 May to come out and affirm that right for every citizen living in this State. There may be people who have concerns about it but it is our job during the forthcoming campaign to assuage those concerns and to assure those people that what we are doing is providing for equality and fairness and enabling couples who love each other to declare that love before the law. That is all we are doing and rather than undermining people's rights or undermining marriage, this will actually strengthen rights and strengthen everybody's marriage in this country. This issue is extremely important. I fully support the referendum on 22 May and look forward to it being carried on that day.

Photo of Séamus HealySéamus Healy (Tipperary South, Workers and Unemployed Action Group)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this legislation and I confirm my support for the Bill. I will be voting "Yes" in the forthcoming referendum on 22 May. The referendum arises from the Constitutional Convention vote of 79 to 19 in favour of same-sex marriage. This is a civil rights and equality issue and is about removing the barriers which deny some couples the chance of marrying and having relationships that are constitutionally protected. I believe that loving committed relationships between two consenting adults should be treated equally regardless of gender or sexual orientation. In a democratic republic based on equal citizens, such as Ireland, civil marriage should be open to all citizens, including lesbian and gay people.

As Deputy Pringle has just said, in the many countries where marriage equality has already been introduced, marriage has not been changed or damaged. There are no fewer marriages taking place than before, public perception of marriage has not been damaged and divorce rates have not increased. There is absolutely nothing to fear from allowing people to marry those whom they love and neither is there anything to fear from treating every committed, long-term relationship equally. A "Yes" vote in May will create a fairer society in which, regardless of one's sexuality, one is not any different. By voting "Yes" we will tell all gay and lesbian people in our community that we want them to be treated the same as everyone else. By voting "Yes" we will tell them that we see them as equal citizens.

Father Iggy O'Donovan in a recent article in The Irish Timesraised some issues which should inform this debate and our decision on the issue. He argued that "In Ireland, we have inherited a tradition which has associated religion and politics in a way that has excluded some of our fellow citizens" but that "the State is a secular reality whose principal duty towards religion is to ensure its freedom". He went on to say, in the context of the referendum: "When we become legislators, though, as we do when we vote in referendums, we legislate for ALL our fellow citizens. We do not vote as members of this or that church or faith."He argued that we need to remember the difference between civil and religious law and also that it is possible to have "deep and passionately held convictions without seeking to have those convictions imposed by the State on fellow citizens who do not share them and may have opposite convictions which are equally deep and passionately held". He argues further that "Respect for freedom of others to hold religious or moral views which we ourselves find we cannot share is a sign of strength, not weakness".

I support the Bill and will be supporting the referendum.

Photo of Seán KyneSeán Kyne (Galway West, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

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.

8:20 pm

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Tonight in this Chamber I am reminded of the words of Frances Wright, the great social reformer, who said "equality is the soul of liberty; there is, in fact, no liberty without it". Tonight in this Chamber we debate a constitutional referendum Bill that is not about children, urban versus rural, political parties and Independents against each other, liberals or conservatives or church and State. It is about us as a nation and as citizens and our Constitution. This Bill is about marriage equality but it is not asking our citizens to do anything they do not want to do. It is asking them to vote, hopefully, in favour of the referendum. This Bill is about extending to all of us as citizens the right to marry the person we love. It is about us as equal citizens under our Constitution.

This is the last great civil rights battle of a generation. As many speakers have said, as we approach 2016 and the anniversary of the 1916 Rising, the words of our Proclamation, as have been quoted tonight in this Chamber, ring true - cherishing all of our children equally. We are nearly there but we are not quite there. That is why this referendum is so important. What kind of equal society says, "you're not worthy, you're not equal, you don't deserve true membership"? I contend that we cannot as a nation claim equality if we push our children away from something we value and cherish. This referendum is about the republic we live in: a republic that represents all of its people, all of our citizens no matter who they are. It provides the conditions for all people to prosper, which includes spiritual prosperity. It allows us to love, to hope and to share our dreams. A republic grants equal status to everyone regardless of race, creed, culture, language, social status, family status or sexual orientation.

This Bill and the referendum to follow give us an opportunity reaffirm our republic - the republic. It allows us to recognise the rights of all our citizens. Marriage is a long-regarded institution and because it creates a bond between two people who want to live together in love, it creates stability for those people. It gives them recognition and confidence to be open about their relationships. Many of us have had the privilege of growing up in a household with that love and commitment. I contend that in this referendum, people will enter into different sideshows about family and children but this referendum is about the rights of all of our people. There is no undermining of society, family and existing heterosexual marriage. Where is the undermining in this referendum? There is none because the marriage that my sister or my brother has will not be undermined nor will the marriages of my friends, my parents or other parents I know. It will be the opposite in fact. All that will come from this Bill and the referendum being passed is a mature, outward and forward-looking Ireland that is more caring, gentle and accepting. That is why we are taking another small step tonight on the road to full equality for all our people. It may not seem much to some but for many of us and our friends, it means an awful lot.

I compliment our older generation of citizens, some of whom are unsure about this referendum and marriage equality. They are people across our country over a certain age who have gone through more changes than any previous generation, including families in every county, townlands and rural area, and who have lived with their sons and daughters coming out and in some cases entering into civil partnerships. The overwhelming majority of these older people, parents in many cases, can be proud of how generous and supportive they have been and how they have responded to their loved ones coming out. Those parents are thinking that their love for their children did not disappear when they found out they were gay. It was the contrary. I ask them tonight why they would or should accept their sons and daughters being excluded from something as precious as civil marriage.

Nobody has anything to fear from this Bill and this referendum being passed. We may as a nation have been slow to embrace change but as a people, we have come a long way from the monocultural society we were only a few decades ago to being one that has discarded the relics of the past. We have lanced many of those boils in this Dáil under this Government. Who genuinely believes we are a weaker society for giving equality in law to women, the disabled, the Traveller community and those of different religious or racial backgrounds? We are a stronger nation as a result of those actions and we will be a stronger society in passing this referendum on 22 May. I hope that we as a nation will embrace this referendum - a vote that will allow us to improve the lives of our fellow citizens and take another significant step on the road to that hallowed republic.

I commend the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, on her stewardship as Minister.

I am proud to have sat next to her tonight, as I was in 2010 when as leader of the Fine Gael group in the Seanad, she led the debate on civil partnership. She has been a champion for equality in this House tonight and at the Cabinet table. I commend other members of my party, including former Senator Sheila Terry, Brian Hayes, MEP, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, and former Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Deputy Alan Shatter, for their work in this area in the 1990s and 2000s on behalf of the Fine Gael Party. I also commend the men and women of GLEN, Marriage Equality and LGBT Noise who have worked tirelessly to ensure that this matter is put before the people in a referendum.

For the younger generation who will have an opportunity to vote in this referendum, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for them to have their voice heard and to make real change. They will be the custodians of a new legacy, one of an Ireland that is inclusive and welcoming. Let us be the first democratic nation to vote "Yes" in favour of marriage equality. I am proud to be a member of this Government and of this House of the Oireachtas. I hope the Irish people, in their hundreds of thousands, will vote in this referendum. This is about the lives of all of us as citizens. It is about the future, a new republic in which we are all cherished under our Constitution as equal citizens.

I commend the Bill to the House and hope that the people will vote "Yes".

8:30 pm

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the Second Stage debate on this Bill, which, like much of the legislation introduced in this House, is landmark, progressive legislation which recognises the need for equality. As a nation, we have always prided ourselves on being a compassionate and caring nation. Those of us in public life for many years have come across many instances in which that caring and compassion did not always apply. It is important we recognise how others feel when, for whatever reason, they are isolated.

The Minister and all those associated with the introduction of this legislation are to be complimented on the manner in which it addresses fundamental issues in our society at this particular time. It is particularly important that the progressive nature of this legislation is recognised. It is easy to shy away from difficult issues on the basis of convention or on the basis that we should not change for one reason or another. It is timely that this legislation is before the House. It is also worth mentioning that there is all-party support for this legislation. It was previously suggested that this debate would be divisive. I do not see any reason that should be the case.

When enacted, this legislation will recognise the situations of a minority of people. Our society must be an inclusive society.

Cuireadh an díospóireacht ar athló. Debate adjourned.