Wednesday, 11 March 2015
An Bille um an gCeathrú Leasú is Tríocha ar an mBunreacht (Comhionannas Pósta) 2015: An Dara Céim (Atógáil) - Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015: Second Stage (Resumed)
There you are now, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.
You should not tempt us because we could start talking about anything.
This legislation is such a no-brainer that it is almost peculiar that the House is spending time discussing it. I am not surprised the debate is proceeding more speedily than anticipated when it was scheduled. How could anyone oppose such a rational proposition? It is almost embarrassing that the House is discussing an issue related to a personal commitment between two people. That such a commitment could be prohibited in modern Ireland on sexual orientation grounds or for any other reason is a ludicrous idea. This view is shared by the vast majority of citizens, as I hope will become clear on 22 May.
I believe the groups opposed to the legislation represent a small but loud minority. They argue that no other country provides for same-sex marriage in its constitution. However, no other country imposes the same restrictions on citizens' personal lives as our Constitution does. The idea that the State would restrict the personal behaviour of citizens is abhorrent. I am glad, therefore, that all political parties and groups in the House support the legislation as it shows that there is not much to discuss.
The issue of equality lies at the heart of this debate. How could anyone favour inequality? If people do not want to enter into a same-sex marriage, no one is forcing them to do so. How can people have the brass neck to argue they have a right to impose a restriction on marriage or deny an opportunity to somebody else? That is a reprehensible idea.
The institution of marriage has changed utterly. Historically, it was linked to the transfer of property rights, with women and children deemed to be the property of the male in the marriage, which was always heterosexual. The purpose of marriage was to protect property through the use of dowries and so forth. It also had a strong basis in religion, with Catholics and Protestants prohibited from marrying and so forth. While a modern marriage may be solemnised in a religious service, nowadays it is generally a civil arrangement between two adults who wish to make a public declaration of their commitment to each other. No one else is affected. There is a strong belief that the State has failed to keep pace with the major changes that have occurred in society in recent years. The forthcoming referendum presents a positive opportunity to do something about this failure.
Research suggests that the only way the referendum could be lost is if people do not turn out to vote. I would like to use whatever influence I have to appeal to anyone who cares about my opinion to please come out and vote to take this step. People have traditionally used referendums to vote against the Government because they are not happy with its work in other areas. While it is understandable that people adopt this approach, they should not do so on this issue. The referendum should send out a positive signal to the world and minority groups living here that Ireland is a society of equals. It is rare for citizens to be given an opportunity to vote for something that is good and positive and will make a difference. This is one such opportunity.
As Deputies are well aware, the well-being of children has nothing to do with the legislation. Nevertheless, the issue has been manipulated and introduced to the debate. Marriage has nothing to do with children per seand it is an insult to suggest that children would be worse off if they were raised in a relationship that is not heterosexual. That view also belies the research that has been done in this area. Large numbers of people are raised in different modern family arrangements, for example, many children are raised by grandparents, a mother or father living alone, a father and-or mother with a stepfather and-or stepmother or two fathers and two mothers. Who cares? If people love their children and look after them, that is all that counts. It is laughable to suggest that people should be prevented from making a commitment to each other on the basis of their sexual orientation.
This is the first time I have been able to welcome wholeheartedly a proposal put forward by the Government. That alone is special and I appeal to people to come out on 22 May and deliver a resounding "Yes" vote.
As Deputy Clare Daly stated, this is a happy occasion because we are further expanding the boundaries of freedom, equality and self-determination and placing another example of bigotry in the dustbin of history where it belongs. I very much welcome the Bill and look forward to the referendum campaign we will conduct in the weeks ahead. I hope and confidently believe we will achieve a resounding "Yes" vote on 22 May. While same-sex marriage has been a long time coming, it is nevertheless very welcome that we have finally reached this point.
As someone who has fought for choice on many issues and in many areas in the 25 years that I have been a political activist, one of favourite pro-choice slogans is "Not the church, not the State, women must decide their fate". It applies every bit as much to this issue as to pro-choice issues because it relates to people's private lives. Human beings should decide their fate without interference from religious or State institutions that believe they can dictate to people how they live their personal lives. People's lives are their own and they should have the right to live them as they wish, provided they do not hurt anybody else. In that regard, it is very welcome that we have reached this point. I hope we will achieve a resounding victory on 22 May.
The hypocrisy of the "No" side is stunning. They are dinosaurs who should fold up their tent and get off the stage. The main plank of their argument against the basic idea of equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, LGBT, people is that they do not mind equality for LGBT people but they want to protect children. There is an irony in this. How exactly did the institutions in question protect children when, for 70 or 80 years, they forcibly separated children from their mothers simply because their parents were not married, incarcerated children in mother and baby homes and orphanages and incarcerated mothers in Magdalen laundries where many of them were enslaved and treated appallingly? Where was the care then? The very same institutions which claim to be championing the rights of children treated women and children abominably.
I am not targeting all religious or Christian organisations, many of which continue to fight for justice and equality.
Indeed, there are some brave voices within the Catholic Church who have come out in recent days to say that they will be fighting for a "Yes" vote, opposing the diktat of the Catholic hierarchy.
Let us consider the way other people have been prevented from getting married historically, in this country and elsewhere, and who the forces were. It was not simply about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Let us consider some examples of people who have been prevented from getting married. Catholics were prevented from marrying Protestants for a long time. Was that a prohibition? Was it because of the interests of the children or the protection of the heterosexual relationship? No, it was not. It was simply pure religious bigotry, nothing more. The Queen of England is precluded from marrying a Catholic. What is that about? It is simply sectarian bigotry. Black people were prevented from marrying white people before black civil rights were established in the United States. Was that about protection of the family or children? No, it was simply racism and bigotry. Often, it was the Christian right in the United States who headed up the charge, frequently making the claim that somehow black people were lesser and that this was why white people should not marry them.
There is a nasty subtext to the arguments being made by the opponents of marriage equality. They do not have the honesty to set out fully their prejudices and bigotry. There is a nasty subtext when they suggest that somehow marriage equality for LGBT people is going to damage children. I will not even suggest what the subtext is, but it is obvious: there is an implication that somehow LGBT people are dangerous for children. It is absolutely nasty. It represents a veiling, under an apparently progressive argument about protecting children, of a nasty prejudice.
Let us consider the abuse of children. There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever to suggest that there is any greater likelihood or propensity for children to be abused by gay and lesbian people than by heterosexual people or in heterosexual family circumstances. In fact, if anything it is probably the latter more than the former in terms of the history of abuse, sexual abuse and child abuse in this country. It represents a stunning hypocrisy and dishonesty by these organisations.
The other thing we need to put to bed is the notion that somehow these people, in defending the heterosexual notion or norm of marriage, are actually protecting a historical norm. It is absolutely not true. Let us consider the historical and archaeological evidence of human civilisation. We have discovered that gay, lesbian and trans people have been a part of human civilisation and culture since the beginning, since the mesolithic and neolithic societies and other ancient civilisations. Indeed, in ancient Ireland there is a plethora of or overwhelming evidence that same-sex relations and trans identity and so on have been part and parcel of human civilisation and culture since the beginning. It is the norm in terms of human history and culture. It was only in the latter half of the 19th century, as Deputy Daly has indicated, that a particular notion of marriage, connected to property rights, social control and passing on wealth, which actually degraded human and sexual relations by connecting them with money and passing on property, emerged. Human relations and marriage should be about love and human interaction, not passing on property and wealth.
In the previous debate I referred to people like Oscar Wilde and some of the other early victims of this, as the most reactionary elements in British society, joined, sadly, by the Catholic Church, set up certain family norms. Anyone who was outside those so-called norms was persecuted in the most despicable way. I watched a fantastic film last night, "The Imitation Game", about Alan Turing, the man who developed the machine or the early computers to break the Enigma code that the Nazis used. Having saved if not the world then millions of lives through developing this machine, he committed suicide because he happened to be gay. He was jailed and persecuted despite the major contribution he had made to human civilisation. He committed suicide because of his persecution.
In line with all of this, I appeal to the Government to boycott the New York St. Patrick's Day parade this weekend, organised by the ancient order of homophobes, sometimes known as the Ancient Order of Hibernians. It is absolutely despicable that the organisers of the St. Patrick's Day parade in New York refuse to allow the Irish LGBT community onto that parade. I note that Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York city, has quite rightly made the decision to boycott that parade for the second year in a row. In solidarity with the LGBT people of this country, the United States and the world, I believe we should make a political point in favour of equality and against bigotry by refusing to join that parade this year.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important and historic Bill. I very much welcome the publication of the Bill. I will be voting "Yes" and campaigning for marriage equality.
The one thing about human beings is that we are all different the world over. Sadly, history has shown how badly we, as human beings, treat people who are different. We need only look back at how the American Indian was treated as well as people of colour, women, particularly if they were pregnant outside of marriage, disabled people, or, as they would have been known in those times, handicapped people, transgender and intersex people and finally how gay people were treated and are still being treated in some societies today.
We are all born as we are. We come into the world as we are. We are either Irish, English or Scottish, depending on where we were born. We come in as we are, male or female. We come into the world as we are, whether we are gay, straight, intersex or transgender. We need to accept this. If we could accept the basic simple fact that we are as we are born on a worldwide basis, then I believe life and the world would be a better place.
The type of world that I want to live in is a world where equality is at the very root, where people are treated and respected equally and where we can all be who we are. We should not have to declare that we are somehow different. For example, I should not have to let everyone else know whether I am gay and therefore have to tell them that I am gay. I want to see a world where that thinking is eradicated. I want to see an Ireland where we do not have to do that any more and where a person is as she is and is accepted as who she is.
We are moving slowly but surely to this world of equality in small parts. In particular, I am delighted that we are discussing this here today. However, we have a great deal more to do. We have more educating to do and we have much to get across to people who are in opposition to what we are doing.
Allowing same-gender people to marry is no threat to society or to existing civil or religious marriage. Marriage has a stabilising effect on our society. As far as I am concerned, the more people who want to get married, the better. I do not mind if a person is young or old when she gets married, as long as she is old enough and sensible enough. I do not mind whether it is two men who want to get married or two women who want to get married. I believe it is good for society. The fact that people want to get married is something we should welcome rather than reject or make people feel that somehow their love for each other is less in some way. That is what marriage is all about. It is the commitment of loving each other and deciding that they are going to face the world together as a unit and grow old together. Why should people of opposite gender feel that their love is superior in some way to people who are of the same gender? Fundamentally, that is at the core of this. When I hear people talking about how allowing people of the same gender to get married is somehow going to threaten my marriage or someone else's marriage, it is an argument that holds absolutely no water as far as I am concerned.
I think back to when I was a child and growing into my teenage years, as well as reflecting on my own children in their teenage years, and trying to come to terms with their identity and who they are. It is difficult enough for a straight teenager but can we imagine how difficult it must be for a gay teenager? Can we imagine the children who are looking at this debate and discussion and saying to themselves: "Am I not good enough? Am I not accepted for who I am? Do I have to pretend to be somebody else to be accepted?" I want us to move to a place in our society where Ireland can show the way and be one of the leaders in the world, and will actually say: "We welcome you for who you are. We are glad that you are who you are and you are welcome in our society, and we will extend the rights that everybody else has to include you so that you can get married in a civil marriage, if you actually want to."
I had a very interesting discussion about this with a very nice man who came to my clinic the other day. He said he was for traditional marriage and that he could not get his head around this. I explained to him my feelings on traditional marriage and what we perceive to be traditional marriage. Was it traditional marriage where a woman actually became a possession of her husband? Was that right? No, it was not, but it happened not too long ago. In my grandmother's lifetime, it was the case that a wife could not actually own property herself and her husband automatically owned it.
I would ask the opponents of this referendum to consider very carefully the message they are sending out. If we are sending an impression that families who are less than their ideal, such as people who are reared by widows, by widowers or by aunts and uncles, are somehow lesser families, then I believe that is a very wrong message to send out. I would ask them to consider this very carefully and to be very respectful in this discussion. We should all have respect for each other's views but I would ultimately hope that this referendum will pass resoundingly.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this very important Bill. I am 100% behind the referendum because it is all about equality and we cannot and should not measure equality. We are either equal or we are not, and that is basically it. This referendum will ask the Irish people to consider whether Article 41 of the Constitution should be amended so as to allow couples to marry without distinction as to their sex, which I believe they should. The Constitutional Convention recommended the introduction of same-sex marriage and marriage equality, and I thank it for its recommendation to bring this forward.
The Government has committed to putting this referendum before the Irish people and I hope they will support it. If passed, people in this country will be able to enter into civil marriage regardless of their gender. The referendum is not about religion or religious marriage. It is a contract between two people. Some may say that same-sex couples have civil partnership and then ask is this not enough. I believe it is not. Allowing same-sex couples to marry and enshrining it in our Constitution gives these couples certainty that their union is legal and recognised in law. This is about the personal lives of two citizens and an expression of their love and commitment to one another. It is about respect for each other, even if there are differences or even different beliefs and values.
Marriage is all about love between two committed adults who promise to love, cherish and protect one another. Being a married woman, I lean on my husband deeply in terms of our dreams, our hopes, our disappointment and even our anger. I believe having somebody to stand beside you in those difficult times is very important. Who am I to say same-sex couples cannot marry and express their commitment and love in the same way as heterosexual couples?
As a mother, if one of my children told me in the morning they were gay and wanted to marry their partner, I would support them unconditionally. Any parent only wants what is best for their children and wants them to be happy. I would be very aware of the challenges they would face and, in many ways, I would give them a little extra support.
This Bill does nothing to undermine marriage between a man and woman, whether they marry within the church or outside. Some people have raised the question of children in the context of this referendum. This referendum has nothing to do with adoption or same-sex couples having children. It is all about equality and love, whereas all of those issues will be dealt with in the Children and Family Relationships Bill which is currently going through the Oireachtas.
I welcome the Bill on the grounds that it speaks about equality and it speaks about love. Most of all, it speaks about the commitment of two people in their lives to enter into a partnership, whether they are a man and a woman or a same-sex couple. I want to finish with a line I came across a few weeks ago while reading. It says that the only true measure of human success is love and, without love, even the ones who appear to be most successful are nothing more than the clouds that appear great and powerful in the morning but have disappeared by the afternoon. To me, that reflects what this referendum and this Bill are about. As we campaign for this referendum, I would urge all of the people out there to consider their own children and how they would feel if they were tomorrow asked by their sons or daughters, or by grandchildren or great-grandchildren, to love them and to cherish them as much as they did those other members of their family who marry into religious marriage.
I am pleased to contribute to the debate. I want to deal with an area on which same-sex marriage will have an influence, which is the stigmatisation of gay people and the effect this has on their mental health and well-being. There is the whole area of how our society treats or abuses gay people, both historically and in the present. I believe same-sex marriage will contribute significantly to the de-stigmatising of the LGBT community, although it will not eliminate it.
Researchers have found that attempted suicide and rates of suicidal ideation among LGBT youth are comparatively higher than among the general population. LGBT teens and young adults have one of the highest rates of suicide attempts. Bullying of LGBT youth has been shown to be a contributing factor in many suicides, even if not all of the attempts have been specifically addressing sexuality or gender. In the United States, since a series of suicides in the early 2000s, more attention has been focused on the issues and underlying causes in an effort to reduce suicide among LGBT youth. Parental acceptance and even neutrality with regard to child sexual orientation can bring down the suicide rate.
Gay people in Ireland have a tenfold risk of self-harming behaviours and are seven times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexuals, according to 2013 research by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. Professor Mary Cannon, a psychiatrist who led this study, said the striking finding was a link between sexual orientation and mental ill health. A hugely elevated risk of mood disorders, self-harm and attempted suicide was found among LGBT youth when Professor Cannon's team followed up the study. People who engage in suicide attempts and plans are at greater risk of later suicide. In 2001, some 212 students aged 13 to 15 were randomly selected at several northside Dublin schools in a study to assess levels of mental disorder. About 80% agreed to take part in the 2013 follow-up survey. About 6% identified themselves as either lesbian, gay or bisexual. The study found that the mental health of this group was far worse than that of their heterosexual peers. There were higher rates of depression and about 50% had engaged in an act of deliberate self-harm, such as minor cutting and overdose, compared with fewer than 20% for the rest.
A person of minority sexual orientation is at a tenfold risk of self-harm behaviours. The reason is unclear, although there is evidence that being part of a minority group suffering discrimination is itself stressful. The National Suicide Research Foundation in Cork did research which indicated that young people with worries about their sexual orientation and who are bullied had higher rates of self-harm. The disapproval of family members may also be a factor.
The LGBT groups seem to have identified more problems in the family environment. Those who are working had some difficulties with colleagues. Much of the difficulties are a result of young people not fitting into their environment.
Other research shows the experience of being LGBT in Ireland can have a negative impact on mental health. When LGBT people experience a number of stressful situations, such as fear of coming out, a lack of support after coming out, harassment in their communities or homophobic bullying, there is an increased risk of self-harm and suicide. The GLEN Supporting LGBT Lives report is a comprehensive study of the mental health and well-being of LGBT people in Ireland to date. In addition to examining mental health, the study investigated LGBT people's experience of growing up, school, coming out, work, using health services and day-to-day experiences. The study found that 27% had self-harmed and 85% of those did so more than once. The average age of first self-harming was 16 years, 40% of females and 20% of males had self-harmed, 18% had attempted suicide and 85% saw their first attempt as related to the stresses associated with their LGBT identity. The average age of a first suicide attempt was seventeen and half years, while 24% of females and 15% of males attempted suicide at least once. Of those aged 25 years and under, one third had thought seriously about ending their lives within the past year. Over 50% had done so at some time.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on what is an important and historic debate in the Chamber. If the referendum is passed later this year it will be a momentous achievement of which I will be proud to be a part. My colleague, the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, said: "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." The idea that my friends, work colleagues, neighbours, people I know or family members who we do not always know are gay might not have the same rights as me is ludicrous. The idea that someone is treated differently because he or she is gay is ludicrous.
This year, every citizen in Ireland over 18 years of age will have the opportunity to change that, and I urge people to exercise their right to vote and to vote "Yes" in the upcoming referendum. Times are changing and I have been privileged in the past two weeks to speak on two Bills which have come before the Dáil, namely, the Gender Recognition Bill and the Children and Family Relationships Bill. Both Bills are reforming and show that as a people and society we are changing. While I understand that some people do not like change, and are often afraid of it and what it might mean, the only change the referendum will bring about is that we will be a more equal society, and surely that is something we should welcome.
As has been mentioned, in the Ireland of 100 years ago, women could not vote. Some 40 or 50 years ago in Ireland a woman's place was in the home and when women got married they had to give up their jobs. As recently as 20 years ago in Ireland, people could not divorce, if a person took his or her life, he or she was seen as a criminal, and contraception was not readily available. As someone living in the here and now, all of this seems ludicrous, but back then it did not. We are not living back then; we are living in the here and now. Right now every person in this country is not being treated equally and I want to live in a country and world where people are treated equally. To me, marriage is about two people who love each other and want to commit to each other, irrespective of their gender, and this Bill and Government shows leadership and shows the rest of the world that we treat our citizens as equals and respect each other. While we recognise that we are different, as individuals, we all want to be treated with the same respect, and so we should be.
I was very disappointed by the remarks that were made over the weekend against those advocating for a "Yes" vote. Those who are opposed to marriage equality need to take a step back and consider how they would feel if one of their children, family members, brothers, sisters or best friends told them they were gay. Would they see him or her as less of a person because he or she was gay?
I am 28 years of age and in a committed relationship. If the next step is marriage and it is what we both want, then that option is available to us. However, it is not available to everybody. While we have civil marriage, it is not defined in the Constitution and this is something we need to change. We face a challenge in the referendum this year. Voter turnout might be an issue. The children's referendum took place only a few years ago and I understand turnout was as low as 32%. Sometimes when people feel something has nothing to do with them they take a step back. I ask people to think about what they would do and how they would feel if this affected their friend or family member and whether they would treat them any differently.
We are sending an extremely positive message to our young people, namely, that marriage is about two people who love each other. I would be proud to live a country that allows that to happen, irrespective of gender.
I wish to share time with Deputy Conway. I am delighted to speak here today. I do not have a lot prepared. I received a call that I was due to speak; I thought I was due to speak later today. A number of things come to mind.
The teenagers who beat Declan Flynn to death because they thought he was gay were given suspended sentences 32 years ago yesterday. That was the type of society in which we lived until recently. People are not being beaten to death for being gay today, but let us not forget that there are people who are stigmatised and cannot be themselves today because they are gay or feel they are treated differently.
In 1974, a gay person was seen as having a mental disorder and had to visit a doctor to check if he or she was okay. Thankfully, we no longer have to do things like that. We have come a long way in the intervening 40 years. When the gay switchboard was set up 41 years ago, it could not have its number in the telephone directory because the term "gay" was not allowed to be printed in the posts and telegraph directory, as it might have been back then. Young people today might have forgotten or do not know about such things, but Ireland has moved on in the past 40 years. In the past 20 years it has accelerated very quickly towards legislation to protect people and minorities.
Homosexuality was decriminalised in 1993. Young people growing up today probably never realised that one could go to prison if one was gay. Those days are gone. In May, we will be asked whether we believe that every citizen in this country is equal. We all know what love feels like. We fall in and out of love many times in our lives and most of us eventually find the one. I hope Deputy McEntee has found the one for her and that he asks her the question some day. We cannot touch or see love, but we can all feel it and it feels fantastic. It warms one's belly and makes one laugh, cry and do crazy things for the person with whom one falls in love. That is love, and it is not confined to any gender or sexuality. It transcends all people who live in every country and it is the same love whether one is gay or straight.
Until now we have decided to say that love is not the same for gay and straight people and the love for people who are heterosexual is different from that of people who are gay or lesbian. All of us in the Chamber know that is different. We are here today because we believe that the people of Ireland, regardless of their sexuality, are equal and should be treated the same. I thank my colleagues who have spoken today and the people who have made it possible in recent times for the people of Ireland to have a referendum in May and share the view of society, namely, that the love between two loving adults, regardless of their sexuality, is the same and people should have the right to marry regardless of their sexual orientation.
Irish people are fair minded and if the people who believe in this, who are in the majority, come out in May, they will vote "Yes". People are being asked to vote on whether they want to make a difference in Irish society, make it better and ensure everybody is treated equally, or whether they want a society that treats people differently because of their sexuality.
Irish people are not stupid and it is a no-brainer for most people. I do not live in a bubble, despite what people may think. Many people favour this but they need to come out in May and endorse their point of view and the strong feeling they have for equality in the ballot box. It will be no good if most of the people in my area or other parts of the country believe this is good and we should have equality for people in accessing civil marriage but sit in their houses. They must come out and make it happen.
As others have said, the sky will not fall in with this referendum. Any marriage that exists today will still be same as it was yesterday. We will allow a sector of society that is currently being treated unequally to be treated equally. These people feel love when they get butterflies in their stomach and it will be treated as equal to the love felt by other citizens in this society. I welcome this Bill and I believe the Irish people will endorse this referendum. We must not lose faith in the issue and we should ensure that we ask everybody we know to participate. That includes everybody in our phone books, on our Facebook pages and our Twitter accounts. We must ask people to come out and vote because we need them to do so.
My good friend and colleague, Deputy John Lyons, spoke about the equal right to civil marriage, regardless of sexual orientation and gender. Equally, it is a great source of pride for parents around the country to submit their child's wedding photograph to the local paper, whether it is the Longford Leaderor the Waterford News and Star. I cannot wait for Deputy Lyons's ma to be able to send his wedding photograph to the Northside Peoplewhen we pass this referendum in May. Not only do the "mas and das" of the country take great pride in this but it is also a great source of embarrassment for us, their children. As somebody who was relatively recently married, I cannot wait for the day when my friends, colleagues and family members can experience the wonderful joy of being a married person.
Some of the people who speak out about this referendum talk about the issues of family and children. I ask the people who speak out against it that if a married couple does not have children, are they any less married than somebody who has children? We know they are not. It also causes great offence, as others have mentioned, to men and women around the country who have lost their partners in death and who have raised children as widows and widowers. Are these people any less of a family? No, they are not.
We must be really careful with young people living at home who have listened to radio stations and television debates. They are reading online articles and newspapers and it might be argued that there is something wrong with being gay and wanting to marry a loved one. We must be very careful in looking after these young, vulnerable people that Deputy Neville mentioned who have great difficulties in coming to terms with the fact they are gay. There are adults, including opinion formers, community activists and leaders, as well as leaders of religious organisation, who argue that being gay and the associated feelings are wrong. I am glad to say that is not true. This country has taken great strides to tackle the issues important to gay and lesbian people and include them. It is a source of great shame that it took until 1993 to decriminalise homosexuality; although that is a number of years ago, it is a relatively recent change to our Statute Book.
I am very proud to be part of a Government that is putting this question to the people of Ireland: do we believe that people who love each other should be allowed to make a declaration to say "I do"? Regardless of gender and sexual orientation, everybody in this country should be entitled to that day out. Every ma in the country should be entitled to wear her hat and every dad should be entitled to tremble at the thought of making a speech at that wedding. I believe strongly in this and for the first time in a long time in politics, I am excited about this campaign. There is a great sense of positivity and we are doing something good and momentous. We will be the first country in the world to put this question to a popular vote. It is a risky strategy but I hope and know the Irish people will be able to deliver on it.
I have been engaging with a really wonderful family lately who told me about a young son who they adopted from Russia. He is gay. The family brought him to this country for a better life and the family members told me, with great distress, that if he was still living in Russia, he would be imprisoned, beaten up or maybe killed by the regime over there. This family and the son's friends want Ireland to send a signal that we are a progressive country that treats all our citizens equally. For that young man, his family and families right around the country, the people of Ireland must come out to vote "Yes" in May. It is important to realise that the people who will vote "Yes" and have made up their minds cannot just speak to each other. We need to get out and talk to people who do not have this on their agenda. Perhaps these people have not made up their mind. We must ensure a good turnout and make this a real issue. We never know what is down the track for our children, our nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters, mothers or fathers. We do not know what will happen or who may come out in years to come. I know that I want to be part of an Oireachtas that will give the equal right to say "I do" to all our citizens, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. I thank the Minister for her efforts on this and I look forward to working with her until polling day in May.
I am glad to have the opportunity to speak to this very important matter. I was in my office earlier wondering what I would say about this and what I could pack into the short few minutes I have to speak. A copy of the Proclamation was on the wall so I took it from its frame and brought it with me. It begins by addressing "Irishmen and Irishwomen". It does not refer to "straight Irishmen and straight Irishwomen" and it does not differentiate between gay, bisexual and transgendered people. It repeats "Irishmen and Irishwomen" in a couple of places. Further down, it indicates that 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 all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally". That says it all, and I quoted the part about cherishing all the children of the nation equally approximately three years ago when I spoke on this issue. I asked at that time that in a nation that cherishes all of her children equally, this matter should not really be such an issue for debate. I very much welcome the opportunity to put this to the people. It is a major step forward, although unfortunately long overdue, coming almost 99 years after the Proclamation was written. This is the year to which Marty McFly went "Back to the Future"; and I hope this will be the future of Ireland. We may not have hoverboards but I hope we will have marriage equality. That is fundamentally important for every citizen.
I ask for respect in the debate between now and 22 May, with all sides being given the opportunity to make their views known. All sides must respectfully listen to the opposite views, as well as opinions along the spectrum. There are many differing views in this regard. I encourage people in my constituency in Kerry to support the referendum. It is fundamental to achieving equality in this country.
It says a lot about us as a people. I commend the very powerful contributions by my colleagues. I acknowledge the importance of marriage. I am a married man. It is very important to me and I could not imagine not having that opportunity at some stage in my life because of my sexual orientation. As a straight man I have never had to come out and put that on the record as a public representative. Unfortunately, even today, some of my colleagues have felt compelled to do that. Maybe the day will come when that does not happen or is not an issue. Progress and evolution are slow, but I like to think we are getting there. This Bill is a huge step along the way.
I have been watching Deputy Mathews, who likes to bring books into the Chamber. I have brought in a little book called Keel - A Gathering of Images. I and my good friend, Gráinne Murphy, put it together in Keel in Castlemaine, where I come from, to mark the year of The Gathering in 2013. It is a collection of approximately 1,000 photographs dating back to the 1860s from the parish of Keel up to the present day. Tucked unassumingly into a corner on page 169 is a photograph of a couple who were the first couple in Keel to live in a civil partnership. We put it in with photographs from all over the parish, wrote the caption and thought no more about it. We did not realise how important it was to those people in the photograph who made a public point about this, saying it might not have happened ten years ago. That is a measure of how we are coming a long way as a society, and changing. It also shows that we should not underestimate how much little things mean to people, whether small positive things such as that little photograph, or big positive things such as bringing this matter to a referendum and hopefully getting the right result. On the flip side, there are the hurtful things. We should not underestimate how hurtful some of the things being said during this discussion can be to people. We all need to bear that in mind, and I add that to my call for a respectful debate.
I acknowledge some Members, past and present, who have recently made very powerful contributions to this debate that carried a little more weight because of their personal circumstances. I refer particularly to a fellow Keel man and former Minister, Pat Carey, who recently made a very powerful contribution to this debate. I congratulate him on his contribution. He has an important role to play in the rest of this campaign.
As the father of a young child, and hopefully from June of two children, I realise that this Bill affects not only this generation but also future generations. It is about the type of country we want our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to grow up in. I urge a "Yes" vote in May and urge those who have made up their minds to vote "No" to reconsider, to listen to other views and to think about the country they want their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to grow up in, and about what will be best for them. I urge them to think about eventualities and make sure they will have all the freedoms that most other citizens have. If people do that, it might change their minds or help them come to a different decision. We need to live and let live and love and let love.
I thank the Deputies who have contributed to this debate on the referendum Bill. It has been a very moving debate. We can be very proud of the values articulated here. The heartfelt, passionate and personal contributions by Deputies on all sides of the House were striking. I welcome the broad support across the House for this Bill. It has been a very considered and thoughtful debate. I hope that will be reflected in the debate that takes place when the people discuss, and are asked to decide on, this issue. Deputies represent all strands of our society. I hope their constituents will hear their very powerful contributions to this debate.
The response to this debate shows that this is a Bill and an issue for our time. As many Deputies have said, it is overdue. It is an issue whose time has come. It is time for the people to decide whether to extend the right to marry to all couples who wish to do so. That will be offered to the people in May. It concerns marriage equality.
I agree with many speakers that it is a fitting commemoration of the legacy of 1916 that we as a nation should get the opportunity to cherish all our people equally. Deputy Griffin brought in the Proclamation and read from it, making some very relevant points. We have the chance, as legislators, to follow in the footsteps of Daniel O’Connell, who, as the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, reminded us last night, fought for decades to combat inequality. O’Connell understood that a society is measured by its readiness to extend rights to all. Once in a generation the people get the chance to define who they are, to decide the boundaries of the rights that underpin our society. The decision is in the people’s hands. I hope the people will exercise their characteristic generosity and fairness and will vote on 22 May in favour of equality.