Wednesday, 23 September 2015
Marriage Bill 2015: Second Stage
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
On 22 May 2015 the people had the historic opportunity to vote in a referendum to extend marriage to same-sex couples. We voted in the largest numbers ever - more than 1.9 million people voted - and we said a resounding "Yes" to marriage equality. In agreeing to add 17 words to our Constitution, "Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex," the electorate has determined that our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender family, friends and neighbours are entitled to share the social and legal supports of constitutionally recognised and protected marriage.
I was moved by the sheer exuberant joy and delight of many LGBT people and their friends, families and communities over that weekend, as, I am sure, were many of my colleagues in the House. Many tears of profound happiness and relief were shed. Ireland made history on 22 May. We are not the first place in the world that said "Yes" to marriage for same-sex couples by way of referendum – the states of Maine, Maryland and Washington in the USA did so in 2012 – but we were the first sovereign state to do so and we did so by a decisive margin. We debated the issues extensively and listened to many arguments. Ultimately, the people made an informed and generous decision on this vital issue.
In the wake of those often passionate debates, it is important to acknowledge that many who voted "No" did so in the belief that it was the right thing to do. Many voted "No" because they feared that a treasured institution would change. I put it to those people now that there is nothing to fear. Marriage will not be weakened by people who passionately wish to be able to marry. Our concept of family will not be damaged by being more inclusive. Instead, marriage has been strengthened and made responsive to the needs of the 21st century. What has changed, unquestionably, is that our society has decided that our institutions have to reflect the diversity of society. Many LGBT people will find this society warmer and more hospitable as a result of the decision made by the people.
The constitutional amendment requires the enactment of implementing legislation so that marriage may be contracted by two persons in accordance with law without distinction as to their sex. The Marriage Bill 2015 will give effect to the referendum result. It will make the essential changes to the Civil Registration Acts 2004-14 to ensure that same-sex couples may legally marry. It will discontinue the statutory scheme of civil partnership so that the option of marriage will be the only option for same-sex couples, as it is currently for opposite-sex couples.
The Bill will effect the removal of the civil partnership option. Civil partnership was not made available to opposite-sex couples when it was introduced on the grounds that it would be a competing institution to marriage. If it were available to all couples who have the right to marry, it would not respect the pledge of the State in Article 41 of the Constitution to "guard with special care the institution of Marriage, on which the Family is founded, and to protect it against attack." Since marriage will now be available to same-sex couples, the Bill will remove the option of civil partnership after a reasonable transition period. It underlines the firm commitment to defend marriage as a unique and paramount institution.
I realise acutely that many civil-partnered couples have waited years to marry. Many entered civil partnerships as a de factomarriage. While it is not possible to convert civil partnerships into marriage, in view of the distinct differences between them, the Government has sought to make the administrative processes for civil partners wishing to marry as easy as possible. Where a couple have already booked a civil partnership ceremony that is due to take place during the transition period, they will be offered the option of marrying instead, if they so wish, and there will be no fees for any administrative changes. There will be a reduced fee for civil partners marrying each other if their civil partnership was registered in Ireland. There is no provision in the Bill covering this for the simple reason that it is not required. The relevant fees order can be made by the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection under the Civil Registration Act 2004. Her intention, which I fully support, is to reduce that fee significantly from €200 to €50.
I will set out some detail on the Bill. It is a short and rather technical Bill, given the profound effects it will have. It consists of 23 sections set out in six parts. I will summarise the main effects of the Bill. The statutory impediment in the Civil Registration Act 2004 preventing parties of the same sex from marrying will be removed. A couple will be able to accept each other in their marriage vows as husband, wife or spouse. Couples already in civil partnerships will be able to marry one another without having to dissolve their civil partnership. As I noted already, couples who have given notice of their intention to enter a civil partnership will be able to opt to convert that notification into notice of their intention to marry. Civil partnership will be closed to new couples after a transition period. Provision is made for religious bodies and religious solemnisers, a matter I will address presently. Finally, foreign marriages between same-sex couples will be recognised under Irish law as marriages.
Part 1 consists of sections 1 to 3. These are standard provisions. The legislation will be known as the Marriage Act 2015. It will be commenced by a ministerial order, which I will make after consulting with my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection. I emphasise that the intention is to commence the legislation as soon as is reasonably possible. The General Register Office is already preparing for its implementation. I estimate that it should be possible to commence the Bill within a fortnight of its enactment. This brief period is necessary to enable the registrar to contact couples who have civil partnership ceremonies planned to ascertain whether they wish to proceed with a civil partnership or marry instead.
Part 2 is an important substantive section which changes the current impediments to marriage. Section 4(a) removes the impediment that "both parties are of the same sex" from section 2(2) of the Civil Registration Act 2004. This is the most important provision, because it is this change that will, in the near future, allow many loving and committed same-sex couples to solemnise their marriages.
Paragraph (b) further amends the impediments to marriage. Since commencement of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010, the impediments to marriage have included that “[O]ne of the parties to the marriage is, or both are, already party to a subsisting civil partnership”. If we did not amend this provision, the 2,000 or so couples who are already in civil partnerships would not be able to marry each other unless they first dissolved their civil partnerships. The Bill modifies that impediment by carving out an exception relating to civil partners who wish to marry one another. The precise exception is then set out in a new section 2B of the Civil Registration Act 2004, inserted by section 6. That new section specifies that “There is not an impediment to a marriage by virtue of both of the parties to the intended marriage being parties to a subsisting civil partnership with each other”. It is simple and limited, and ensures that a couple in a civil partnership wishing to marry each other are not put through the onerous and futile requirement of having to dissolve their civil partnership. Of course, a civil partner will continue to be unable to marry a third party if already in a civil partnership.
Paragraph (c) sets out a new impediment to marriage. At the current time, the impediments to marriage are set out in marriage laws which predate the State. The Marriage Act 1835 specifies that marriages within the prohibited degrees of consanguinity or affinity are absolutely null and void. I shall briefly explain these terms. Consanguinity refers to a blood relationship, as in the relation of people who descend from the same ancestor. Affinity refers to a relationship based on marriage rather than on common ancestry. As Members will know, the current law has specific limitations in place as regards the degree of consanguinity or affinity which may exist between parties to a proposed marriage.
Paragraph (c) of section 4, together with a new section 2A of the Civil Registration Act 2004, inserted by section 5, sets out that prohibitions on the grounds of consanguinity or affinity shall apply to couples of the same sex as they do to couples of the opposite sex, subject to any necessary modifications to those prohibited degrees relating to the sex of the parties. These provisions are in line with our overall policy to interfere in the implementation Bill as little as possible with existing provisions of law relating to marriage. The Bill follows through on that principle and is in place only to the extent that it is necessary to deliver on the decision the people took in the referendum.
Part 3 of the Bill consists of a single section setting out the position for religious bodies and religious solemnisers. A religious solemniser is a person, such as a priest, who is registered with the General Register Office as a solemniser of the church or religious denomination of which he or she is a member. We have been very clear that equal marriage as a right refers to the civil aspect of marriage, and not to any religious or sacramental aspect of it. Historically, many religious bodies in Ireland have carried out the civil aspects of marriage simultaneously with the religious aspects and this will continue to be the case. It has always been the case that religious bodies have substantial discretion in choosing which marriages to solemnise in accordance with the tenets of their beliefs, and it is important to stress that this will remain the case. Nevertheless, it was considered important to make it absolutely explicit in the Marriage Bill that religious bodies will not be compelled to solemnise particular marriages as a consequence of the amendment of statutory provisions. This special provision is limited to the specifically religious activities of religious bodies and solemnisers. It does not affect or restrict the operation of equality legislation more generally.
Section 7 specifies that neither this Bill nor any other enactment shall require a religious body to recognise a particular form of ceremony. A "form of ceremony" is defined as including that form in so far as it relates to the sex of the parties to the ceremony. The effect of this provision is to ensure that no religious body will be required to authorise new marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples. The section goes on to specify that no religious solemniser shall be obliged to solemnise a marriage in accordance with a form of ceremony not recognised by the religious body of which he or she is a member. This is a double-lock guarantee. Neither a religious body nor an individual cleric will be compelled to solemnise marriages which do not comply with the marriage criteria of the relevant religious body.
In short, section 7 demonstrates that the constitutional guarantee contained in Article 44 of the Constitution, namely, that each religious denomination shall have the right to manage its own affairs, is not undermined by this most recent constitutional change. What this means is that religious bodies will not be compelled to do anything by this legislation. They will have the choice to decide whether to solemnise same-sex marriages. I am aware that some religious denominations may decide or may already have decided to enable same-sex couples to marry in their ceremonies. There is nothing in this Bill or in the Civil Registration Act which will restrict them from carrying out the civil as well as religious aspects of these marriages. That decision will be up to them.
Part 4 sets out the arrangements being made for civil partnership. As I have already mentioned, that policy, based on the new constitutional context, is that civil partnership registration will cease after a reasonably short transitional period. Section 8 repeals a large proportion of Part 7A of the Civil Registration Act 2004, which had set out the basis for registration of civil partnerships. Some provisions are retained to ensure proper maintenance of the civil partnership register for the protection of couples who are currently civil partners.
I should, of course, stress that the status of current civil partners will be completely unchanged. There is no question of removing any of the rights and obligations of couples in civil partnerships or of changing their status in regard to each other. They will be free to marry each other if they so choose, but are under no obligation to do so. If they choose, they can remain as civil partners for the rest of their lives. To achieve this, the repeals in the Bill are carefully targeted so they will remove access to civil partnership registration, but will leave the status of existing civil partners unaffected. They will also preserve the registrar’s powers and responsibilities regarding corrections to and maintenance of the civil partnership register.
Section 9 inserts a new Part 7C in the Civil Registration Act 2004 to make certain transitional provisions. The inserted section is a technical one which allows the registrar, on the marriage of a couple who are civil partners, to record in the civil partnership register that the civil partnership was dissolved on their marriage to each other. This is a housekeeping provision; where the couple have registered their civil partnership in Ireland and subsequently marry here, those facts will be fully recorded in the registers.
The new section 59L of the Civil Registration Act 2004 contains important transitional provisions relating to the wind-down of civil partnership registration. For example, for couples who have already notified the registrar of their intention to register in a civil partnership, it provides that they may request that the notification be converted into a notification of marriage. The notification period does not re-set, so a couple who have notified the registrar of their intention to register in a civil partnership on 1 December may be able to convert that notification into a notification of their intention to marry on that same date.
The registrar will contact couples directly in the coming weeks to advise them on the differences that exist between the impediments to civil partnership and those relating to marriage. This is to ensure that in the unlikely event of a couple being prohibited from marrying by the prohibitions relating specifically to marriage, they will be able to proceed to civil partnership instead. The section also provides that where a couple have completed a civil partnership registration form before the commencement date, it will remain valid. The couple will be able to proceed to register their civil partnership within the six month period for which the form remains valid. These are all necessary technical adjustments.
Another exception is made for the very unusual circumstances in which an objection to a civil partnership registration is made. If a couple are unable to register their civil partnership due to an objection which, on investigation, is found to be without merit, they will still be able to proceed to register their civil partnership, even if the finding that the objection is unfounded is not until after commencement of the Bill. Despite the repeals set out in section 8, those repealed provisions will continue to apply in their entirety to the exceptional cases I have just outlined.
Some of the circumstances for which these exceptions are set out, as Deputies will see, are quite unusual and may not arise. However, if they did, the consequences for a couple who found themselves in those situations could be quite grave. They would no longer be able to assume legal rights and responsibilities for each other and receive legal protection for their relationships. The exceptions that we are making are careful and limited. They are designed to ensure that couples who have already commenced the formal legal processes involved in registering their civil partnerships can do so. They are very practical sections.
Section 10 inserts a new section in the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010. Although the general rule is that a civil partnered couple may not dissolve their relationship unless they have been separated for two out of the previous three years, this new section specifies that where a civil-partnered couple marry each other, their civil partnership is dissolved effective from the date of the marriage. This is to ensure that the status of the couple in relation to each other is completely clear and they are not considered to be married and civil partners at the same time.
Part 5 deals with the recognition of certain foreign relationships. It essentially provides that marriages lawfully contracted abroad by same-sex couples will be recognised as marriages here. Under current law, a marriage is not recognised in Ireland if, under the law of their habitual residence, the parties did not have the capacity to marry at the time that they married. If we did not include specific provisions on recognising foreign relationships, this could have serious consequences for Irish couples who married in other jurisdictions before the commencement of this Bill. Subsection (1) therefore specifies that the sex of the parties to a marriage does not preclude its recognition in Ireland. Of course, if there were another impediment, such as one of them being already married or underage, the marriage would not be recognised. The same rules apply.
Subsection (2) specifies that the recognition of a marriage between a same-sex couple will take effect from the date of the marriage or the date on which the section comes into force, whichever is later.
Subsection (3) provides that a marriage recognised under a section 5 order is not precluded from being recognised as a marriage. Section 5 orders are the orders under the civil partnership Act that recognised certain registered foreign relationships as entitled and obliged to be treated as civil partnerships under Irish law. These orders essentially recognised marriages contracted abroad as civil partnerships here because we did not have marriage then so that was the way we dealt with it. These provisions, given that we have a changed situation, are now being removed. These marriages contracted abroad will therefore be able to be treated as marriages with no need for any further action on the part of the couple married abroad.
Subsection (4) provides an exception to the recognition rule for cases in which a couple has married in another jurisdiction and has since dissolved that relationship, whether under the provisions of the civil partnership Act or otherwise. It would be absurd and unfair to subject a couple in these circumstances to having to divorce for, as they would see it, a second time.
Subsection (5) is another transitional provision relating to relationship breakdown. Our constitutional provisions on divorce require that the couple concerned must be separated for four out of the previous five years in order to divorce. This provision takes account of the fact that some couples who married in another jurisdiction may currently have been separated for some time. Recognition of their marriage should not reset the clock, and so a period of separation prior to commencement of the Bill will be taken into account for the purposes of the Family Law (Divorce) Act. There is other legislation for which periods of separation are similarly relevant, including access to certain State benefits. Any pre-commencement separation period will be recognised for those purposes too.
Subsections (6) to (10) of the section repeal each reference in every section 5 order to marriages made in the specified jurisdictions. This ensures that marriages will be recognised exclusively as marriages. There will be no risk of their being treated as marriages in some situations and as civil partnerships in others.
Section 12 sets out a restriction on the recognition of other types of foreign relationship recognised by section 5 orders. I have set out the policy that civil partnership registration for new couples is to close. The last day on which a civil partnership may be registered in Ireland will be six months after the Bill commences. For consistency with this policy, section 5 orders will not recognise new civil partnerships registered in other jurisdictions more than six months after the Bill commences. Couples whose relationships are currently recognised will be completely unaffected by this change. Couples whose relationships are registered after the cut-off date will not be recognised as civil partners in Ireland. However, the option to marry here in Ireland will be open to them.
Part 6 of the Bill amends a range of legislation. Some of the amendments are simply to ensure that a married person has the same rights and obligations whether the person is married to someone of the same sex or someone of the opposite sex. I will outline these very briefly. Section 15 amends the Guardianship of Infants Act to ensure that where a child is jointly adopted by same-sex spouses, both will be the guardians of the child jointly. If either spouse dies, the other will be the child’s guardian alone, or with any testamentary guardian or court-appointed guardian. It also amends section 6B(1) of the Act, which was inserted by the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015. Where the spouse, whether the husband or the wife, of a donor-conceived child’s birth mother is also a parent of the child within the meaning of the 2015 Act, that spouse is also automatically a guardian of the child.
Section 16 amends the Succession Act 1965. The usual rule is that a will is revoked on the marriage of the testator, unless the will is made in contemplation of the marriage. The amendment modifies the rule so that, where civil partners marry each other, a valid will made by either of them will not be revoked by their marriage. A reference in such a will to the testator’s civil partner will be construed as a reference to the testator's spouse. This will reduce the risk of unexpected consequences emerging, possibly many years later, for civil partners who marry each other. It will also eliminate unnecessary administrative burden and costs to them in preparing new wills.
Section 20 amends the statutory provision setting out the declarations to be made by the parties to a marriage within the ceremony. Each of the parties can, as appropriate, accept the other as a husband or a wife or a spouse. This ensures that there is no question of a same-sex couple only being able to accept each other as spouses. This will not require any change to any form of ceremony currently approved. Opposite-sex couples remain free to accept each other as husband and wife. However, this is one of the few provisions in the Bill which has a very small direct effect on opposite-sex couples intending to marry. This is because these couples may also, depending on whether they are marrying in a religious or a civil ceremony, choose to accept each other as spouses, if they prefer.
Section 23 makes a very symbolically important amendment to the Gender Recognition Act 2015, in that it removes the single status requirement for an applicant for a gender recognition certificate. On commencement of that Act, those provisions were not commenced because the marriage amendment had already taken effect. This was a source of great relief for people who feared they would be in the invidious position of choosing between their relationship and their preferred gender. The Tánaiste, Deputy Joan Burton, has done a huge amount of work on these provisions and I am very happy to take this early opportunity to remove them entirely.
As can be seen from what I have said, this is a short Bill. It is very technical. It must deal with many technical issues, but it is clearly a momentous Bill which brings into force the amendment supported by the people of Ireland earlier this year. That result was brought about because of the actions of a very broad range of people and, as I stated at the beginning, because of individual stories, the support the LGBT community got from so many individuals throughout the country, the work of people from Yes Equality and the Marriage Equality campaign and so many individuals who made such a contribution.
The Bill confirms that marriage is not being changed. Couples will go through largely the same arrangements to register a marriage once the Bill has been enacted as on 21 May. However, what will have changed fundamentally as a result of the referendum is the notion that marriage is the preserve of one group and denied to others. What will have changed radically is the idea that some couples' relationships are less valued than others. On 22 May 2015, the people of Ireland sent forth to the world a resounding message about Ireland.
They told the world that Ireland values people in all their diversity. They told the world that Ireland values relationships. They reminded the world that families come in many forms and all deserve our support. We owe it to the people of Ireland to implement what they have decided. We owe it to the many couples who are waiting patiently to get married. That wait is coming to an end. This legislation will enable couples to get married without distinction as to their sex. Finally, marriage equality will become a reality in Ireland. I commend this Bill to the House.
It is a great pleasure to welcome this Bill before the House today, which will implement the will of the Irish people as expressed in the referendum result in May this year. Ireland has travelled a significant road to reach this point today, where legislation can be introduced in Dáil Éireann to allow for same-sex marriage in our State. The date 23 May 2015 will be remembered and celebrated in our Republic and across the world for years to come. As a country - the first to approve same-sex marriage in a popular vote - we can be rightly proud of the journey we have made together. I take this opportunity to thank and congratulate all those volunteers, both from political parties and from civic society, who went out night after night to knock on doors to win this campaign.
I was honoured to have led the Fianna Fáil efforts in the campaign in May as our director of elections for the marriage equality referendum. One thing on which I am sure the Minister will agree is the massive contribution made by young people throughout the country in this campaign. The engagement from our young people was heartening and created a buzz and positivity throughout the weeks leading up to the referendum vote. The fact that many supplementary registers were adding thousands of new young voters before the referendum shows that our young people remain engaged and anxious to play an active role in our political system.
I hope that Members opposite would allow me indulge in noting today Fianna Fáil’s 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 2010, it was a Fianna Fáil-led Government that brought legislative change. This legislation before us today is a natural outcome of the years of progress that have been made thus far. As I did during the debate to legislate to allow the referendum take place, I commend the Government and the Minister on putting the referendum before the people and winning that referendum. I also congratulate the Minister on finally putting in place the last piece of legislation required to allow for same-sex marriage to take place in this country.
I will note one area of dissatisfaction in how this legislation has been brought before the House. I would like it noted by Members that when the Supreme Court examined the judgment on the marriage equality referendum’s process, the judges noted that it was relevant to mention the fact that we in this House and in the Executive must respect "the legal process by other organs of State". This is not the first time this Government has come into difficulty with referendums and the Judiciary. The judgment of the court did not affect the progress of this legislation, but that is not to say that a similar mistake on behalf of the Government in the future could not undermine referendums. The Supreme Court had time to consider the appeal from a member of the public but there was sloppy practice from the Government that could have serious consequences if it is replicated in the future.
I am happy that I and my party have the opportunity to vote for this Bill, which is a result of decades of hard work by so many people. It is an important moment in the journey towards full equality for same-sex couples and I believe the legislation before us will strengthen the concept of marriage in Irish society. I look forward to seeing this important legislation passed by the Dáil and Seanad so that it can be formally enshrined in law.
The events of 22 May 2015 changed lives forever. The result of a referendum in favour of marriage equality was hard-fought by equality champions along a journey that stretched back many years. They changed lives that day when they campaigned and marched for rights. Those people faced discrimination and intimidation and were labelled second-class citizens. Those people stood tall when others tried to bring them down on their knees. They knocked on doors, wore badges, spoke to their friends and built the movement for change and the movement for equality. These are the people I am so deeply honoured to call family, friends, comrades and fellow Irish men and women. They were ordinary people who carried out an extraordinary task. They saw injustice and set about to change it, and that is deeply commendable.
Sinn Féin welcomes this Bill to the floor of the House with open arms. It is a momentous occasion, where we as a people come together to end a two-tier system of marriage inequality. Sometimes in reading from a speech it is much better to speak from the heart. Today I will stick to the strict script and we can enjoy the peculiarities of parliamentary practice. Marriage is about one thing: love, and a lasting commitment to honour love. Nobody should ever be denied that opportunity. It is quite difficult to sum up the magnitude of this decision. It is hard to put into words the effects that this will have, the happiness for thousands of citizens and their families and the foundation it has laid to build on this equality and expand it in terms of socio-economic rights to others at the margins of society. This great occasion called for something different. It needed to hear a voice representing those who it affects the most.
The following is an extract from a letter that was sent to me from a gay man who became a civil partner in May and now plans on becoming a husband. Chris put his journey into words and they carry much more weight than mine. He states:
As a gay man who in his formative years was terrified by my own identity, it is impossible to accurately communicate the meaning of what the result truly means to me. When I was a teenager I hated myself because I did not fit in, I did not belong, I was an outcast. I thought that being gay was a feeling that would just go away and that someday I’d marry and have my own family. The feeling of being attracted to another man never went away. In reality, the law told me I was a criminal. The church told me I was an abomination and the mere mention of being gay in the schoolyard was enough to set off alarm bells that stopped me from being the person I wanted to be.
Although the decriminalisation of homosexuality took away the criminalisation aspect, it did not change how I felt inside. Inside, I had a shadow over me, a scar, and I was wounded. My true identity was not just hidden from my friends and family – it was hidden from me. I was oppressed by my own conditioning and the loneliness nearly killed me, for nobody knew the isolation in my head.
Coming out was one of the most terrifying moments of my life. I had to ask those around me for their approval. I was terrified they'd reject me and I'd become further isolated in my own loneliness. In the end, nobody rejected me. Those around me only wanted me to be happy and to encounter the true feeling of love. You see - the isolation and marginalization was embedded in my subconscious since my early teens. It took years for me to see it and to deal with it. From working with groups like Gay Switchboard I knew I wasn't alone and I know there's many more like me.
Four years ago I found that love. I found the most beautiful kind hearted [soul] and I cherish every day I have with him. It took me 40 years to find him and I'd wait another 40 years to spend just one day in his company, to experience just one moment of the serenity of love. We're planning on getting married in August. We don't know if it will be a civil partnership or marriage as the legislation may not be through in time. But we don't care because May 23rd represented our freedom, our emancipation!
For me, The Marriage Equality Referendum represents the abolition of the shadow I held inside. The emphatic nature of the result was Irish society saying it's OK to be gay - it's OK to be different and we want you. It was normal Irish people sending a message to say we are equal and they want to shake off the shackles of the past and demanding a new, equal Ireland.
On the day of the count, when we were inside the central count centre waiting for the final declaration in Dublin Castle, it was an honour to be there but my heart was not in the courtyard. I wanted to be outside. I wanted to be with my soul mate. That's my only regret but I'm sure there'll be plenty of time to make up for it.
I'd go so far as saying that in a hundred years' time the 23rd of May will been seen as, not Ireland's, but one of humanity's proudest moments because it was a day when equality conquered fear. Perhaps May 23rd should become a bank holiday and called Equality Day to remind future generations of the significance of, not just our emancipation, but the equality of every citizen.
I wanted to read Chris's words into the record today because they say much more than the typical contribution from a political party to a Bill on a day like this. Just reading them now has the hair standing on the back of my neck. Chris's journey, and the journey of thousands like him, is admirable. It makes me proud that I put an X next to the Tá box on the day of the referendum.
This Bill is, therefore, welcome. I commend the speed with which the Government has brought it before the House following the court challenges and it goes without saying that Sinn Féin will not be submitting any amendments, but will facilitate the speediest passage possible through both Houses in order that Chris, and other couples throughout the State, can marry the person they love as soon as possible.
There's a Gaeilge saying: "Níl aon leigheas ar an ngrá, ach pósadh", meaning "There is no cure for love, but marriage". To stand in this House to legislate for that love, for marriage equality, is an honour.
So I gather. I will take my ten minutes for starters and see what happens. Not only does this Bill give effect to May's referendum by making marriage equality a reality in Ireland, it also puts into perspective just how extraordinary the vote was. If one looks at foreign media over recent months, especially during the referendum, Sky News, BBC, Fox News - of all news stations - and others all recognised that something extraordinary was happening in Irish politics and in the Irish political or social system. Although about 20 countries worldwide had already legalised gay marriage, what was so extraordinary about Ireland was that we became the first to do so in a plebiscite and we showed the world just how far we had come since 1993 when homosexual acts were still illegal in this country. The 1.2 million people, 62% of the population, who voted in favour of same-sex marriage in May are now inspiring governments in other countries around the world to proceed with a similar referendum. That is an historic achievement of which people should be proud. I know Irish people around the world in other countries where there is a difficulty with same-sex marriage are advocating this on social media and are advocating change in countries where it may or may not take place in the next few years. The battle to get to this day has been hard fought. I acknowledge the campaigners who put many years into working for a "Yes" vote. There is a widespread consensus that it was the parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins and neighbours who made a "Yes" vote a reality.
I also acknowledge the cross-party co-operation. For instance, I openly canvassed with Seán Kelly, MEP, in Waterford one full Saturday and I thought he was fantastic. I had some of my councillors with us and there were also some Fine Gael councillors. We all worked together on that day and that was very important, to show the people this had cross-party support. It remains important. Perhaps it is a message for further on in the Dáil that we are not all about being in opposition or in government. It is possible to work together and we need to be more communicative with one another to be able to do that because many ideas and ideals are not too far apart for many of us. If the Government does something good, I acknowledge it. I have acknowledged the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, on a number of occasions and I do so again now.
We also need to acknowledge the honesty of the young campaigners who, in sharing their personal stories on the doorsteps and in the media, convinced the Irish electorate that it was not a debate about family values but simply a debate about equality. That was very important. This was not about values but about equality. It was about removing discrimination and prejudice from the personal decisions that everyone in the country now had a right to make. It is wonderful that the current generation of Irish schoolchildren will grow up in a country where civil marriage is a legal, political and human right for all. As they do so, I hope the homophobia that was commonplace in previous generations fades into oblivion. Those of us who bothered to go out and campaign and knock on doors and so on got a little bit of it and it was dreadful to find that there were still people who had this homophobia embedded in them for some reason. Having said that, it was quite clear to many of us during the debate and the campaign that this was going to be passed, that a substantial number of people were going to stand by this Bill and the proposals the Government had put forward.
That is why I applaud the Government for making the passing of this Bill a priority in this new Dáil. Registrars and wedding venues are already experiencing a surge of inquiries from same-sex couples wanting to tie the knot. Many of these people have waited decades and the sooner we can get this Bill through the House, the better for them. I think it will pass pretty quickly, as Deputy Mac Lochlainn said. I welcome the provision in the Bill which states that same-sex couples who contracted marriage in another state are automatically recognised once this Bill passes and the Act commences, and that the marriage is recognised not just from the day of commencement of the Act but from the date of the actual marriage. This will be meaningful to many couples.
Although I was wholeheartedly disappointed with the church's campaign for a "No" vote in the referendum, I agree that priests and religious ministers or organisations should not be compelled to solemnise a marriage under the Bill. Just as I believe in equality, I also believe in the right of religious freedom and I am a humanist and an atheist. This is still a highly sensitive issue and Irish people now hold a broad range of views on it. It is important the referendum was never about asking people to change their beliefs in any way. We were insistent that this was an equality issue, as has been said by the European Parliament and all the campaigners on the "Yes" side. It is important we remember this is what it was about.
The Government parties, in supporting the referendum in May last, made great leaps in recognising the injustice and discrimination in Ireland in the 21st century. They further demonstrated their support for equality by introducing the Gender Recognition Act, which is a marvellous piece of legislation. I must applaud the Government on bringing forward that long-overdue legislation. This has been spoken about in manifestos by Government and Opposition over a long number of years and I wondered was it ever going to happen. I am delighted that happened. It is important for all of us.
It is important for this country to push ahead and to deal with what we perceive to be inequality within our country. There is a lot of inequality in our country. This is not the time to talk about it. We are here now to congratulate and praise the Government and the Minister for bringing this legislation forward.
I thank all the people of Ireland, particularly the young people. Fourteen friends of mine who had emigrated to Australia came home specifically to vote and then went back after two days. It was a wonderful act to come all the way from Australia. They were tired on arrival, came down from Dublin, voted and two days later they went back. They felt strongly about it and I think that is important.
I again congratulate the Government. I congratulate all in the Opposition who came together to stand by this Bill. I am delighted that it will speedily go through the Dáil.
I compliment the Minister and commend her for successfully piloting this Bill through the House today but, more importantly, for her work prior to the referendum. It is appropriate this morning that we pay tribute to the men and women of the Yes Equality campaign who are in the Gallery. These are people who have for a long time worked to bring the referendum to the people.
The Minister, in her speech, stated that the Bill was giving effect to the vote of the people, and that is what we just did. Four short, but seemingly long, months ago the Irish people voted after a campaign the likes of which was not seen before in any type of referendum or political campaign and that is a tribute to everybody who was involved in the Yes campaign. We will not engage in revisionism or re-fight the referendum today, but all of us could read out a letter, such as Deputy Mac Lochlainn's, because the referendum empowered people. The referendum gave people a licence from within to be free, to be who they were.
I suppose it was encapsulated by Ursula Halligan in her remarks during the referendum campaign about herself. For those of us involved in public life there is a certain element of us signing up for it, but if I could, I will pay tribute to Ursula Halligan for her courageous bravery in a key part of the campaign. When we hear about standards in journalism, this was a women, in my opinion, who was absolutely brave, and I commend her on the floor of this House.
The Minister, in her remarks, makes reference to the new provision in Article 41. Is it not fantastic that we can have a new provision within the Constitution? Next year, we will celebrate the centenary of the Rising. This year, the Irish people have had their own rising, awakening and empowerment, and by their vote they have said "Yes" to each one of us. That is why this referendum was so important and that is why this Bill is critically important.
It may be a technical Bill but it means so much more to many of us because it is about our lives and the quality of the lives that we all share. One hears about people shattering glass ceilings and about reaching to the highest offices in a part of the world etc., but if one were to reflect on the period since we decriminalised homosexuality to today, there has been a considerable change in the attitude and culture of the Irish people toward those of us who are gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual. One need only look at what we achieved in the calendar year of 2015 - the Gender Recognition Act, the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 and marriage equality.
Last week I happened to be in the Balkans where I had the pleasure of speaking in the Serbian Parliament in Belgrade. The sense of Ireland amongst people there because of this vote has increased 100%. I was in the company of many people. Mr. Brian Sheehan, who is involved with ILGA-Europe, is here in the Gallery and he knows much more than I do about the struggle and fight of many to bring change across the world. Those people engaged in a struggle are uplifted by what we have done. It is not about the politicians. It is about the people involved in Yes Equality, Marriage Equality, GLEN, LGBT Noise - all the groups coming together to form one concerted unified voice.
I was struck during the course of the referendum campaign, as the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, and I stood at the College of Commerce bridge in Cork, by the engagement of people. Whether pro or anti, they were engaged. The referendum was a demonstration of political engagement that, I hope, many of us can replicate in other social issues and other issues of importance. As for what the referendum did, I use the word "empowered" at lot. Having canvassed nearly every night with people who were never involved in any type of political process previously, after the first night they got into the referendum campaign and enjoyed it, and it gave them a licence but it also gave them a sense of civic duty.
I suppose one of my nicest moments in the referendum was seeing, at almost a minute to closing time on polling night, a young man sprinting in to vote having had to go through an arduous bus journey. Having had to take a difficult route because of a car crash, he got there. He sprinted, and leapt in the door. That is what it meant.
It meant grandparents and parents, in many cases for the first time, had a conversation with their child, grandchild or family member. I do not want to relive the campaign, but the opponents of the referendum did not understand that this was about people. It was about humanity.
The Pope is in America today and he is meeting President Obama, and he is, hopefully, engaging in a changing of the church's attitude. The Minister makes reference to the issue of religious solemnisation in the Bill. I hope - I want to use this Chamber today - to extend an invitation to the hierarchy of the church, in particular, the Catholic Church, to meet those of us in the LGBT community and to engage with us in a dialogue that is meaningful and real because this is about the lives of people. It is not about a church teaching or about State versus religion. It is about the lives of all of us. I hope Archbishop Martin, as the Primate of Ireland in Armagh, will engage and I invite him to, and I will write to him after today to do that. It is important as we move to an Ireland that is a gentler and friendlier society that we have real engagement.
It would be remiss of me if I did not make reference to Yes Equality people in Cork.
They ran a phenomenal campaign. It motivated and inspired a whole new range of people to become involved in civic society and I commend them on it. It is extraordinary that in this Chamber today we are debating a Bill that arises from a referendum result to allow all of us to get married. The Taoiseach, in his Ard-Fheis remarks in Castlebar and during the course of the campaign, and the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, today, mentioned 17 words. That is all it is: "Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex". That is what it is.
In the course of the Minister's remarks, she referred to section 16 in terms of the Succession Act. I have received a number of pieces of correspondence regarding it around the issue of section 67A of the Succession Act, about which some people have concerns regarding people who are gay. I will pass the information to the Minister. There are issues she might examine. Although I am not a qualified expert in it, some of the people who have contacted me are and I will be happy to pass the information on to the Minister after the debate to see whether she and her officials see any merit in the suggestions being proposed.
Ireland's position in the world has changed as a consequence of the vote. While we are a small nation, in that last week of May we had a huge heart and shone brightly across the world. I was in America during the summer, where the Supreme Court made its decision, and they were still in awe that the Irish people, in their eyes a conservative nation, would have voted in such numbers for marriage equality.
The Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism, and Sport, Deputy Ring, was here earlier and was getting worked up about the Wild Atlantic Way.
The message we sent was a positive and welcoming one and I hope our tourism sector can build on it because there is economic potential.
In the Minister’s capacity as Minister for Justice and Equality, I hope she will work with other countries to bring equality. As long as we see inequality in parts of the world where people’s human rights are being denied, particularly people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, we have a job to do. While we, in this country, may be putting the roof on our house, work will always remain to be done in the pursuit of equality. In many parts of the world there are people less fortunate than we are. As I said, I was in the Balkans last week, where they have made significant progress in some states. Although progress is being made, we have much work to do. While we may be happy today in our country, we must not lose our international outlook in working with our brothers and sisters who require and need our help. We must always be outward looking in how we approach the issue of rights for LGBT people.
In 2012, I had the pleasure of forming Fine Gael LGBT with a group of very dedicated people. I commend those people, whom I will not name. The Minister was the first Minister to speak at the inaugural event. It was because of those people within my party that we got major support across the board and I pay tribute to the members of Fine Gael LGBT. I never thought I would speak in a parliament welcoming such a Bill. Ironically, on this day in 1984, I entered St. Patrick's College, Maynooth as a seminarian. It just came into my head as I spoke, 23 September. On that day, Kerry beat Dublin. The roles have been reversed. It is ironic that, today, I can speak on the Bill as an openly gay Member of our Parliament, of Dáil Éireann. I am very proud of this and I commend the other Members of our Dáil and Seanad who are gay and lesbian because they have played a major role. I also thank all Members of the Dáil for their support, not just in the referendum but in the events up to it and since. For many in the Chamber it was a significant leap forward, a journey which many did not shirk. I commend them on it.
It is a fantastic piece of legislation, and is not just technical but very personal for many of us. The referendum result in May transformed people’s lives and gave them a new and different outlook and attitude about themselves. In a time when we speak about mental health, the referendum in May freed many people from the shackles of worry and concern about what people thought about them and how they would be treated. The Irish people across our country, in hundreds of thousands, who had never voted before, said “Yes” to marriage equality. What pleased me most was that we gave old and young, mothers and fathers, and grandparents the opportunity to say “Yes” and they did not let us down. The challenge for all of us in the political world is to listen to the people on social issues and engage with them.
I pay tribute to the former Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, whom we should mention today, for the role he played before leaving office. He was a significant player. We always say civil partnership was a “stepping stone”. It was probably the wrong term. It was what was available to those of us who wanted to get married at the time. Thankfully, it will enter the lexicon of history and we will have full and equal marriage.
Again, I thank the people involved in Yes Equality, without whom we would not be here today. They mobilised and supported people, travelled the country and made it personal. The referendum campaign was an opportunity for people to tell their stories, and that is what happened. It was a telling of a story that had a ripple effect that challenged the perception and the notion, and that gave people the opportunity to vote “Yes” to change our world for the better. I commend the Bill and thank the Minister for her work. I look forward to its being enacted and to the first marriage in our country which we will celebrate as a new and better Republic in which we are all free to be who we are.
For us, the Bill marks a big step forward for LGBTQ equality in Ireland. The referendum was an opportunity for people across Ireland - and they took it - to say they opposed discrimination and homophobia. The referendum was held because of pressure from campaigning groups and the vote was won because of activists who had worked tirelessly over the years on the issue, Marriage Equality, the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network ,GLEN, LGBT Noise and a host of other organisations. LGBTQ people who had never been politically active before became campaigners and fighters for equality, going door to door, talking about their stories, mobilising their friends, organising canvassing and sharing their stories on social media. The work they did had an enormous effect across the country. Particularly, young people, women and working class communities were inspired to mobilise, come out to vote and be part of the campaign.
People instinctively understood that discrimination should be rejected and supported the referendum.