Wednesday, 23 September 2015
Marriage Bill 2015: Second Stage (Resumed)
Before the break, I was making the point about the movement that developed, in reality from below, in the course of the referendum campaign, but also before the referendum campaign, for marriage equality, but also for LGBTQ rights generally and an end to homophobia. A reflection of that was the very significant numbers who registered to vote in the run-up to the referendum who were likely to have voted overwhelmingly "Yes". Some 66,000 citizens registered. Another striking example was the home-to-vote movement, meme, etc. of overwhelming numbers of young people who had emigrated coming home to vote to strike a blow for a different sort of Ireland, an Ireland of equality. This was also manifested by the registration drives that took place in universities and colleges, and by those queuing at local authority offices to be part of a push for equality in this State.
In particular, I want to mention the area of Jobstown in my constituency, an area vilified by some, which had an 87% Yes vote. There were similar high turnouts and very significant Yes votes right across Tallaght. It is a reflection of the movement that happened, in particular in working class communities, to mobilise for this referendum and to turn out to vote in very significant numbers.
I note the Bill contains a welcome change to the gender recognition legislation allowing married trans people to access official recognition of their gender. I welcome that provision which will make a real difference to the lives of trans people who will be able to gain access to and use the correct documents.
Unfortunately, despite the significant differences that marriage rights will make to the lives of many, LGBTQ people will not enjoy full equality after this Bill comes into effect. Regardless of the day-to-day discrimination and oppression that people can still experience, side by side with that still goes the legal difference -in reality, legal discrimination - between LGBTQ people and heterosexual people. We know that section 37 means LGBTQ employees, such as teachers and nurses, can be discriminated against and fired from religious-run institutions. The Bill we brought to end this legal discrimination and which passed Second Stage has not been progressed any further and, unfortunately, even the Labour Party Bill, which may not fully protect those workers, seems to be of a low priority on the legislative schedule. My party thinks a priority should be made of it immediately. It is part of what the movement is about. We also know that gay and bisexual men are banned for life from donating blood while those who have had sex with someone who was HIV positive only have a one-year ban.
These are some of the immediate legal barriers to real equality that should be removed through action by the Government and Dáil as a step towards full equality.
Other issues are posed and there are questions of referendums that are necessary to create a genuinely equal Ireland, including divorce. Just as people should have the right to marry whomever they want, they should be easily able to access divorce. Unfortunately, we will need a constitutional referendum to enable people to do so, given that the incredibly restrictive situation that exists and the difficulties people have in accessing divorce, which do not exist in many other states, are written into our Constitution. This issue can come onto the agenda.
The major issue that will rightly be present in the political debate will be seen this Saturday when many who fought, mobilised and voted for marriage equality will join the march for choice at 2 p.m. at the Garden of Remembrance, calling for another referendum to repeal the eighth amendment to the Constitution so that 4,000 women are not forced to travel abroad every year to access the abortion services they need. People will have seen the front page headline in yesterday's Irish Examinerwhich showed a clear majority of farmers in favour of repeal of the eight amendment. It is a sign of how much things have changed. We clearly have a massive majority in favour of repeal of the eight amendment and no longer are the Government and establishment political parties able to hide behind a supposedly conservative social majority as an excuse for failing to take action on these barbaric, backward laws. We need action on it now. This is what people are demanding and we will be fighting for it. Those people will continue to fight for full LGBTQ equality, both legally and socially. Although attitudes have changed much due to that movement from below, much more needs to be done, and the Anti-Austerity Alliance will be part of it.
Earlier, I was asked whether I was opposed to everything, and I made the point that I am opposed to quite a lot of what the Government does. If I were not, I would be part of it. It is our job as Opposition Deputies. I was asked whether there was anything on which I would compliment the Government. It was a real struggle, and the only one I could come up with was the legislation we are discussing. In many ways, it was not necessarily delivered by the Government any more than this side of the House. The result in the marriage equality referendum was a resounding vote by the people outside the Chamber, the real people who make up Ireland in the present decade. It was incredibly enlightening for many people across the generations and I am glad the Government held the referendum and hope it learned from it that the people can be trusted.
Probably the most significant lesson that can be learned from it is that these issues which in some ways could be deemed to be private matters or moral issues between citizens have no place in a country's constitution. While I will make some points about why we need to change the Constitution regarding women's rights and abortion, the debate we should be having is on the type of Constitution we want in the modern age. A secular Constitution for an open, tolerant society and a redrafting of everything would be far preferable to tinkering around the edges and going through every single article that needs to be updated and modernised by a huge degree. We should take much confidence from the fact that on a world stage we were the fourth country to introduce such a measure by a popular vote. When one couples it with the trans legislation which the Government passed, which went beyond what it had originally proposed, which was very good, it should be taken as a signal for how business could be done in the House. While it was not perfect, it moved on a lot and beyond what many other countries which would be deemed to be progressive have.
For a country such as Ireland which came from a religious dominated ethos, it is very enlightening and would have inspired many people. It is not false to say that people around the world are looking at Ireland and thinking that some very interesting things are going on here. We need to package it and bring it into debates on other issues and agendas. I would like to see a completely grassroots discussion on the type of Constitution we want. Issues of private, personal morality have no place in a constitution, no more than private health matters. They are irrelevant. If people want to make a moral judgment, if people believe in a certain religious ethos, I will fight for their rights to practise their religion, however, it should not be in a constitution and, as an atheist, I believe it should not be in our schools and hospitals but should be a private, personal matter. We have a long way to go to reach this situation.
I agree with the points that the idea of being accepted has been a major plus for gay, bisexual and trans people. The personal stories were very important in the debate and they showed Irish life in all its multifaceted ways. The idea that we have a nuclear family of one mammy, one daddy and 2.whatever kids has long been in the past, and a reflection of real lives and differences in sexuality was very welcome. It is carrying on into the debate on abortion rights with, again, real women, real mothers, grandmothers and daughters telling their stories about the circumstances that led them to choose an abortion. We need to reflect all of it, and if people have a religious ideology we should respect it. Nobody will force them to have an abortion or marry a gay person, and they should not stop other people from doing it.
There must be a catch-up in the legislation after the marriage equality vote. Regarding section 37, while it is true that we have moved on, we have a long way to go. The moves in our education system regarding patronage of schools are not what we should be doing. We are replacing one patron with another and allowing a system of discrimination and segregation to continue. It is not advisable. All children of all religious persuasion and none should be educated together in schools near the areas in which they live and any other religious or moral teaching should be done privately. I agree that regarding full rights for teachers and nurses, section 37 must be examined beyond what the Government and the Labour Party Bill proposes, given that it would still allow discrimination against atheist teachers in our peculiar education system which is 100% State funded but 100% privately run.
We should seize the feel-good factor the marriage equality referendum delivered. There will be an economic kick from it. Ireland is a location for gay tourism, and I hope the gay couples who I hope come here in their thousands do not find the experience different from that. I am very glad they see Ireland as a gay-friendly destination. We can seize the feel-good factor in terms of women’s rights. I note the Minister’s comments yesterday published in some of the newspapers about the idea of abortion not being part of the Constitution and I welcome them.
For women in this country, the idea that a private, personal health matter relating to our bodies and choices being put in the Constitution is reprehensible. It has no place in a modern Ireland. To compound the problem, our Constitution says women have a legal right to an abortion and a legal and constitutional right to abortion information, but no right to access that medical treatment at home. Some people are very clear and happy and find the decision to have an abortion easy while for others the circumstances are not easy, for example in cases of rape, horrendous cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and so on.
As the UN and European bodies have said, our failure to recognise people's right to access this medical treatment here means that the most vulnerable women - migrant women, poor women and sick women - are the only people who cannot access their constitutional right to an abortion anywhere else.
The marriage equality referendum showed us that the idea that there is a conservative majority - a marauding band of people who are silently waiting in the wings to jump on any measure of progress or social change - is just not true. In fact, those people have had a disproportionate influence on social policy. Time and again, studies and surveys have shown that even those who feel that abortion is a moral issue or a personal choice are happy to leave such choices to the people who have to make them. They do not want to preclude such people from making certain choices. I think that is a really healthy development. We can grow on the basis of what was achieved in the marriage equality campaign.
These issues would have been sorted out long ago if they had been left to the Irish people, who are very tolerant and practical. We know that life is not black and white. We are not all the same. We do not all have the same life experiences. We want society to respect everybody. We know it would be brilliant to have a society in which people have children when they are ready, when they have the necessary supports and when they are able to raise them with dignity and respect, etc. Would that not be a great Ireland? It is embarrassing that in the past, people who had crisis pregnancies were hidden behind the walls of Magdalen laundries or confined to mother and baby homes. Years later, we had to apologise for the damage we did to them. Now we tell people in such circumstances that we know they have a problem and advise them to get on a Ryanair plane or to purchase illegally a packet of pills on the Internet. We have been telling them that we do not want to know them. I think that is changing now. The marriage equality referendum showed that people do want to know these people. The women in question want to tell their stories. That has been a real follow-on from the marriage equality referendum.
I acknowledge that the Government gave citizens an opportunity to have a say on what way they want Ireland to be. I am delighted about that. I appreciate it. I am begging and hoping that the Government, or the Government that follows next time, will give the people the right to make the same decision in terms of women's rights. I do not think the people would disappoint us in such circumstances. I think it would be a very good thing for Ireland. To be honest, it cannot come quick enough. These issues of old morality have no part in our Constitution. There are many different shapes and sizes. All are welcome, all are different and all are equal.
I thank the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, for putting this Bill before the House following the extraordinary decision made by the Irish people back in May. When I was given my speaking slot a little earlier, I thought about what I would say. What a day it was when 61% of the electorate voted and 62% of them supported the proposal to change our Constitution. I remember standing in Dublin Castle with many of my colleagues, including the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Taoiseach. As we watched the results coming in, we saw the reaction of the crowds inside and outside the castle. Dame Street was blockaded, more or less, by a very large crowd of extraordinarily happy and proud citizens of our State, many of whom had put so much into an extraordinary campaign which touched the lives of many people who would not normally involve themselves in the electoral process. I spoke to an 81-year-old great-grandmother who described herself as very conservative, but was out canvassing because her grandson is gay. She said she wanted him to have the same rights under the Constitution as she does and she wanted the fundamental principle of equality to be extended to every child and great-grandchild in Ireland. Her gesture was a shining example.
Dozens of people across all parties and none came out on a very regular basis with the Marriage Equality teams, which I tied in with during the campaign. A terrific local lady in Malahide texted me pretty much every morning to say where her team would be at various times and to make it clear that she expected me to be there. Indeed, I was there most of the time. Ireland is a shining example in regard to the rights and privileges that are extended to citizens. These rights now include the right of all citizens to have their love recognised by the State in a partnership. I am proud to have played a role in the extension of the right to marriage to all citizens. It speaks volumes that we as a people made a statement on 22 May last that we were, to a certain extent, demonstrating our love and acceptance of one another as part of the ongoing movement towards full equality for all citizens across the whole spectrum of life in their interactions with the State. I suppose it shows a decency among people and perhaps a recognition that there is a move away from the more traditional view of marriage and the more conservative view of life in Ireland. People come in all shapes and sizes. They may or may not have religious beliefs. Some people are gay and some people are straight. Some people are working, others are unemployed and others are college students. We come in all shapes and sizes. It is only appropriate that the State recognises all people in that way.
I was heartened, as I am sure a great many people were, by the number of people who came home to vote. I heard the stories and saw on Facebook and Twitter that people were getting on planes in Australia, Canada and the United States. I know a lady who came all the way from southern Chile to Dublin. I understand she arrived into Dublin Airport at approximately 8 p.m. on the night of the vote and just made it. When my colleague, Deputy Buttimer, spoke on this Bill earlier, he referred to someone who sprinted to the polling station. When I went to check my local polling station just before 10 p.m., I met a man who was despondent for a few seconds until I told him to get to the door quickly. Of course he was allowed to vote by the presiding officer of the polling station, who interpreted the rules appropriately, in my view. The presiding officer decided that even though it was after 10 p.m., the citizen in question was inside the curtilage of the polling station and therefore was allowed to vote. I suppose it was a progressive way of recognising that a person had gone to great lengths to get to the polling station. People were coming in from all over the world. Marriage Equality demonstrations or marches were held by Irish citizens in pretty much every large city across the world. That in itself was an extraordinary message to send home from those who could not make it here to vote. In certain cases, people actually voted on behalf of those who might have voted the other way. That was another phenomenon of the campaign.
I would also like to recognise the enormous work that was done by the Minister for Justice and Equality and her predecessor to ensure this matter got a hearing. The word "journey" was used by many people across this State, including me, to describe how we came to choose not only to vote "Yes" but also to campaign throughout the entire process. I campaigned not just on my own behalf but on behalf of many of my constituents. Indeed, my constituency ranked second in the country in terms of its support for a "Yes" vote. I think we had a "Yes" vote of 70% and Dún Laoghaire had a "Yes" vote of 76% or something like that. There was also an extraordinarily high turnout in my constituency. That is why I am on my feet today. Am I out of time?
Okay. I conclude by thanking the Minister.
Perhaps I will weigh in at a later stage with regard to some specific aspects of the Bill. I commend not just my colleagues who participated in the campaign across both sides of the House, but all the citizens across this State who got up, went out and knocked on doors because they believed it was the right thing to do.
I am delighted to speak on this very important Bill. On 22 May, Ireland made history as we became the first country in the world to extend in a direct vote the institution of marriage to all couples irrespective of gender. Very often, and particularly in the recent history of our country, political and social change has been driven by court rulings after which the Oireachtas acted. Much more powerful, however, is the social change that is brought about by a vote of the people. In other countries, such as the US, marriage equality has become a reality because of Supreme Court rulings and the legal aspects are no less significant, but the fact remains that a referendum of the people is a much clearer and more resounding statement.
The "Yes" vote in May is more than just a referendum result. It is a statement of the kind of Ireland we want to live in. The resounding "Yes" is a "Yes" to marriage, equality, inclusion and a warmer, gentler Ireland. I pay tribute to everybody who worked so hard to secure the referendum result and to secure today, the day on which the Oireachtas begins to implement the legislative changes necessary to reflect the decision of the people. An overwhelming and astounding grassroots campaign uncovered support for marriage equality from across Ireland and from Irish people living abroad. Leading the civil society campaign were the stalwarts of a long campaign, GLEN, Marriage Equality and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties. The Yes Equality campaign invigorated and stimulated debate and action in communities across the country. People who had never campaigned on an issue before, who had never knocked on a door over a political issue, took part in what became a movement for change.
I acknowledge the Minister's own involvement in this campaign. Also, on the political side, I take this opportunity to recognise the work of our campaign director, the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, and, in particular, his constituency colleague, the chair of Fine Gael LGBT, Deputy Jerry Buttimer, who worked relentlessly to achieve a "Yes" vote. Public meetings, canvassing, leaflet drops, media work and, above all else, communication with the public as well as with party members formed the exceptional work of this group, led by Deputy Buttimer and by Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy. I also acknowledge the work and support of the previous Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, in this campaign. The Fine Gael slogan "Equality for Everybody" perfectly encapsulated what the campaign was about and highlighted how every person and every vote mattered.
The nationwide approach was essential. On countless occasions the sentiment that "Dublin will carry it" was pervasive but those with experience of elections and referenda knew otherwise. The result demonstrated the importance of all constituencies in securing the momentous result. In my constituency, for example, the final "Yes" result of 62% mirrored the national result. The tallies from the count centres showed, however, that the "Yes" vote came from all across the constituency and was not just concentrated in the city or urban areas. Parts of the city had high "Yes" votes with parts of Knocknacarra coming in at over 80% and parts of Salthill also at over 70%. However, places like Leenane, Cleggan, Letterfrack and north west Connemara recorded "Yes" votes of over 70% on the strength of very high turnout figures, which exceeded 75% in some places. In many other parts of Connemara, such as Moycullen, Oughterard, Na Forbacha and An Spidéal, the "Yes" vote was higher than the 62% overall constituency vote - again, on the strength of a high turnout.
In terms of the Bill, section 4 amends section 2 of the Civil Registration Act 2004 which has been the main legal impediment to marriage equality. After the enactment of this Bill, marriage will be available to all couples irrespective of gender. Section 7 of the Bill is also important because it effectively demolishes and exposes one of the myths that was an unfortunate plague of the referendum campaign. Section 7 definitively states that no religious organisations will have to permit same-sex marriages. This is completely contrary to the scaremongering during the campaign by some. Part 4 of the Bill is also significant and confirms the point made many of us who supported the marriage equality referendum, namely, that civil partnership, while very welcome, has been a separate and unequal category. This Bill will end the inequality by making marriage available to all couples who wish to avail of the institution.
It is not often that we in the Dáil can be certain of support for legislation. On this occasion, however, we know that the Marriage Bill 2015 is supported by the majority of the people of Ireland. While it is a relatively short Bill, its provisions will have profound and positive implications for hundreds of thousands of people across the country and I look forward to its enactment.
I acknowledge the presence in the Gallery of people who have conducted a long and arduous campaign on this very important issue. In 2009, as a local election candidate, I was e-mailed by Marriage Equality and asked my view at that time. I gave my view strongly that where two people of the same sex love each other and want to have that love and commitment recognised by the State, then that should be possible. I am delighted at this stage, following a very positive result, that I played a small part in the campaign. Like many people, I could have done more but I played a part and I am very happy with the result. I was somewhat surprised by the size of the margin in favour. Certainly, a year out from the referendum, I was not expecting such a result but, as the campaign went on, I was delighted to see the positive engagement by people on this very important issue. I am very proud to stand here today as a Member of the Dáil as this legislation is being debated and enacted.
Tá áthas orm deis a bheith agam labhairt ar an ábhar tábhachtach seo. I congratulate the Minister and her predecessor on the excellent work they have done in steering the referendum to a successful conclusion and in now presenting this legislation before us in such a timely manner. I also pay tribute to my colleague, Deputy John Lyons, who was the standard bearer for the Labour Party and did an excellent job, and to Deputy Jerry Buttimer, from the Minister's party, who was in the front line and who also did an excellent job in leading the charge.
No other referendum and certainly no other election of any description of which I am aware or was involved in brought about so much joy, enthusiasm and pride throughout the length and breadth of Ireland. Indeed, as was noted, it was not just people the length and breadth of Ireland, but so many people came from abroad to cast their vote. They wanted to determine the future of Irish society and play their small part in ensuring that Ireland had a more egalitarian approach and that our society would benefit from a "Yes" vote and from marriage equality. In my own constituency, the organisation by "Yes Equality" was superb. Those involved worked night and day throughout Cabra, Dublin 7 and the inner city to secure a "Yes" vote. It was a pleasure to work hand in glove with them on the referendum campaign.
The Labour Party has been to the forefront in supporting and advancing progressive social policies. In the 1980s, the then Minister for Health, Deputy Barry Desmond, liberalised the availability of contraception. In the 1990s, the Labour Party in government decriminalised homosexuality and initiated a referendum that allowed divorce to be introduced. In 2010, we were the first to push for the introduction of civil partnerships. This Government has advanced the cause further. For many years, previous Governments failed to legislate for the X case - for 20 years, in fact. However, this Government ensured that the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act was passed in 2013. Moreover, gender recognition legislation has also been passed. Now, here we are, in the context of the marriage equality referendum, coming to the final step with the implementation of the Marriage Bill.
We have consistently been a socially progressive party since the foundation of the State and have always endeavoured to expand the scope of personal freedom and relationships in the face of quite rigid and regressive traditional religious and cultural values, which were very restrictive on the lives of our people. We do not need to go back over so many of those issues that curtailed and damaged the lives and the health of people because of the manner in which our closed society operated for so long. It is important that as we approach the centenary of 1916 that we remember not just the phrase "cherishing all of the children of the nation equally", as espoused in the Proclamation, but also 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 of all its parts". That is a very important clause in the Proclamation. Much has been done since 1916, when women did not have the right to vote, for example. It is now fitting that in 2015 we will ensure that all our citizens enjoy the same rights and are treated equally under our Constitution.
I attended a civil partnership ceremony last month. It was a very joyful event. I am glad to see that under this legislation the couple will be able to marry one another without having to dissolve their civil partnership.
I am also pleased that a marriage contracted abroad between two persons of the same sex will be recognised as a marriage in Ireland from the commencement date of the legislation. I am delighted that section 23 removes the requirement in the Gender Recognition Act that a person seeking a gender recognition certificate must be single, thus removing the single status requirement. These are all progressive developments.
All in all, we have a done a good day's work. A good many months' work went into preparing the Bill and bringing it to this pass. It is great that all corners of the House are expressing approval for the referendum and the legislation. It was also wonderful to note the number of people who voted in the referendum. It is sometimes said that residents of working class areas tend to be conservative in their social values. In the marriage equality referendum, people in working class areas came out stronger in favour of the proposal than people in middle class areas. This was one of the unique aspects of the referendum.
The outcome of the referendum reflects the fact that citizens are often a step ahead of legislators. Let us move ahead and further broaden the scope of society. The purpose of all legislation is to improve the quality of life of those whom we have been elected to represent.
I, too, welcome the Bill and commend the Minister and her officials on bringing it to the House. Earlier this year, the House discussed the Companies Act, which comes within my brief. This technical legislation was 7,000 pages long, yet it will not have anything like the impact of the small Bill before us, which has received the endorsement of so many Irish people.
As I noted on several occasions during the referendum campaign, referendum campaigns tend to be negative and focused on some type of technical or legal issue related to remote institutions. This referendum, however, was different as it challenged those who supported the proposal to act in a different manner from previous referendums or political campaigns. It challenged many of them to come out to their families and communities and spend time convincing people of the value of the campaign to their lives. It also challenged communities to ask how welcoming and open they were. Most of them answered that question with pride and style last May. The referendum campaign also challenged the political parties to examine the way we do politics. It engaged a cohort of people who had never been engaged in an election or vote because it spoke to rather than at them and did not tell them how to behave. People who had never voted previously registered to vote or queued for hours outside Garda stations to have their names added to the supplementary electoral register. This had never happened before. Voters were engaged not only by social media but also by friends, the stories that were told and a sense of fraternity that extended across society. This is the reason there is such a feel-good factor and sense of celebration nationally following the referendum result.
The referendum result is also a tribute to those organisations that started the campaign many years ago in difficult circumstances. It is ironic that the campaign was bookended in terms of this institution copping on to itself by two female Ministers for Justice. The legislation decriminalising homosexuality was introduced by Máire Geoghegan Quinn, while the legislation before us has been introduced by another female Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald. I do not know if this says anything about the approach of the Department but it is a tribute to both women and the work they have done as well as their officials.
The referendum is also a tribute to many other people. It is hard to believe that this achievement was impossible in the early 1990s because homosexuality was still illegal. Individuals such as Senators Norris and Zappone and Deputies Buttimer, Lyons and Hannigan showed great bravery and courage before the day we had last May. The referendum outcome is also a tribute to organisations which sought to persuade people of their case at an early stage. I refer to GLEN, for example, which invested enormous effort in the campaign that brought us to this point.
This is not the end of the campaign for equality. Discrimination continues in employment and the community. We must ensure the funding available to organisations working on these issues is not cut further and they must be able to continue to do their job. Full equality has not been achieved for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, LGBT, people as a result of the vote. A great deal of work remains to be done and it would be foolish to believe otherwise.
Deputy Costello referred to the Proclamation. As we embark on a period of commemoration and events, I cannot imagine anything else that will mark and celebrate the 100th year of the Proclamation better than the outcome of the vote on the marriage equality referendum, which involved hundreds of thousands of citizens endorsing the Proclamation and its guarantee of religious and civil liberty, equal rights and opportunities to all citizens and promise to cherish all of the children of the nation. Last May, almost 100 years after it was printed, citizens voted to make the Proclamation a living document. It lives because of the legislation being discussed today. As I stated, however, we must drive on and continue our efforts.
I remember being in a house during the referendum campaign where a ten year old girl chided her 84 year old grandfather because he planned to vote "No". Watching a ten year old girl who normally has her grandfather wrapped around her little finger argue with him about his reasons for voting "No" and observing him trying to dodge her questions, as many Deputies dodged questions in this House, was one of the images of the campaign. It is one that gave me a little hope for the Republic. The republican ideals expressed in the Proclamation hung in this building and which we purport to celebrate are too often ignored in our daily lives. They will be safe in the hands of those who are coming after us, however, as they will live them. As a previous speaker stated, citizens took the lead on this issue and we must learn from that.
It is a privilege to speak on this Bill. While preparing my contribution, I thought of Nuala Ward, a person in Galway whom I know quite well. Nuala and two heterosexual friends organised the first Galway Pride parade in 1989. The first parade, which proceeded from Eyre Square to the quays, consisted of two lesbians, two gay men who were on holidays in Galway and ten straight people. I remember Nuala telling me that she was so terrified that she shook while on the parade and continued to shake with worry when she and her friends returned to work. I find it difficult to imagine the courage her actions took at the time, especially as she had been attacked, physically beaten and shouted at as a result of being publicly open about who she was. To this day, she remains a proud Galwegian, citizen of Ireland and lesbian.
When I think of what she and her friends went through I recall, for example, that no one would rent them a room to set up a Galway helpline or hold a disco or party and not one business was prepared to sponsor Gay Pride. Last August, when we launched the Galway Pride Festival, as it has become known, Monroe's was packed to the brim, the event had secured sponsorship and the public parade along Shop Street was enormous. These changes took place in a very short period because Nuala Ward and people like her were not afraid despite having genuine reason to be afraid and showed courage and a pioneering spirit in creating the space that brought us to where we are today.
Speaking of that, I was thinking of my own time when I first went to college in NUI Galway. I started college in 2000 and mine was the first age group where it was kind of okay to be gay. Maybe it was because of the group I hung around with - the crazy lefties or socialists - but it was okay to be gay, albeit still something that was a bit different and a little odd. One was cool by being tolerant, however. I thought then of a friend of mine who, terribly, has passed away in the past year. He was a very active Labour Party member and a very proud gay man who went to college ten years previously. He would have started in 1990 and they had a very difficult time. He came from a very rural part of Ireland in the midlands and Border area and the only way to describe it is to say that he fled from his home. He fled from the rural town he came from and never went back. He hated it in one way. While he loved his family and friends, he hated where he had come from because of the lack of acceptance and the fact that he could not be who he was in that part of the world. He sought sanctuary and found it, I think, in Galway, which always had a little bit more of an open-minded spirit. That was my college experience and his college experience.
During the marriage equality referendum, we had the privilege of hosting a very well-attended meeting in Galway at which the then president of the USI, Laura Harmon, who I see in the Visitors Gallery, was present. She was an openly gay woman who had been elected by the students of Ireland as their president. Those three stories, each about ten years apart, show just how far we have come and the courage, passion, struggle and strife of those who had made that possible. It is something that can inspire. One does not get that feeling often in politics. It is not something one feels where one gets a tingle on one's skin and it would be positive if we could use that energy for the many things that we need to continue on to do.
This is a good day and I commend the Minister on the speed with which she has brought the Bill forward. It is a commitment she made and that we will soon see enacted whereby we can vindicate all those who have struggled. However, let us not look back with rose-tinted glasses or assume the struggle is done. Whether we like to accept it or not, there is still a huge amount of homophobia in this country. There is still a very difficult situation for those who are transgender, something with which people are staring to grapple. While we may be ahead of the curve with our legislation, the public mindset still needs to catch up. If one is bisexual, for instance, it is still a bit more difficult than it is if one is identifying as either gay or lesbian. If one is in a gender fluid or transgender position, we still have a long way to go. Let us not forget some of the horrible rhetoric and accusations we had to put up with about families being broken up and people being incapable of raising children or being substandard parents. This sort of thing still exists and we cannot just rest on our laurels. We still have a major fight to ensure the generation coming up will never have to worry about any of this again. Being gay will be like having blue eyes or red hair or something else that does not matter. It is who one is. People can be proud to be who they are because that is what being is all about. That is what the rights approach entails. It is viewing people and respecting them for the human dignity and human being they are and giving them opportunities regardless of their background, sexual orientation or gender. It is about all those fights we have fought through the years and progressing one bit further in order that we respect and love people as citizens and persons, regardless of sexual orientation.
There have been pioneering people who have always fought for this spirit of change. One can go back to the suffragettes and those who fought for equal pay, the right to use contraceptives and for divorce, including some of my own colleagues. I think in particular of my predecessor in my constituency, President Michael D. Higgins, who fought against torrential abuse in what was considered then quite a conservative part of the country. People protested outside his house and picked on his family because of his positions on family rights and the ability of people to choose what they wanted to do. There is still a long way for us to go. We amended our Constitution to allow people to marry without distinction as to their sex. However, our Constitution, which has given us some very good things, including the House which it created and which has passed the test of time, still has a number of things in it which are outdated. We still have the position of women defined as being in the home. We still have a position which prevents us having an integrated education system by having the patron system. That needs to be looked at. We still have things on the table, such as blasphemy, which are not required in a modern, free speech society. There are a number of things we can do.
If I were to ask anybody who was involved in the campaign, they would say that what the political process did was set it up and get it going. I point out, and this is a slightly partisan point, that we were derided at the 2011 election when we said we would put same-sex marriage in our manifesto. It was derided as the Labour Party going after the pink vote as opposed to it being a matter of the Labour Party championing, yet again, another issue close to the hearts of those outside the political system. If we are to use it for something, let us try to take that approach to more issues. We still have a huge way to go in terms of equality if we are talking about giving people from disadvantaged backgrounds a chance. We are not there on women's rights and women's equality. We are not there on full representation in the House. We are not there on the proper distribution of wealth so that no child is hungry and people have decent housing and a decent standard of living. We still have a way to go on all those issues and must come from the same heart and spirit in dealing with them. We should come from the same heart and spirit in dealing with equality. Equality is best exposed when it is not there and when someone is denied something because of who they are. They are denied it and prejudiced and excluded. We see that in the economic sphere as much as we see it in the social sphere to this day. That is why we need to ensure we continue to progress and fight on and never rest on our laurels or take solace.
The ultimate goal of the political system must be to challenge itself and to change, to seek constantly to improve the capacity of people to participate on an equal footing in society as citizens who, as members of a republic, have their right to enjoy their individual worth, regardless of where they come from and who they are, and respected at all times. The Bill is another small step along that way. We have further to go and many ways we can do it. The referendum showed that the Irish people have a spirit that is based on inclusiveness and that they can be trusted with big decisions and to do the right thing when given the information. Above all, it showed that the Irish people believe in fairness and live and let live in the best possible sense of that phrase. Live and let live, love one's neighbour, love those around you and create that space where we can all flourish, thrive and live together in harmony and create a better country.
I agree with the sentiments of every speaker I heard speak. I am reminded by what some speakers said of an incident two years ago. Various Voices, which is an international gay and lesbian choral festival, takes place every two years and Dublin was, luckily enough, the place to host it at that time. DCU was the campus. We had choirs from all around the world, including from places we would not think have the type of human rights we have, such as China. We had gay and lesbian choirs come from as far away as there to be in DCU to celebrate a festival of music. I was at it for two of the days and was asked to speak at the opening. I had never heard of the festival before that time. Apart from the great music that came out of it, I had an experience on the second night when I was sitting in the atrium of the Helix with my partner chatting to some of those present. I cannot sing, by the way, and was there in another capacity. I wish I could sing but I cannot. The place was just full of gay and lesbian people. Deputy Derek Nolan spoke about how it is when people notice that they are denied something that they feel excluded. It was one of the few times in my life where I had a penny-dropping moment around feeling excluded. It was not that I felt excluded there; it was that I felt so included. For the first time in my life, I felt what it must be like to be straight in this world, if that makes any sense. I turned to Daragh and said it because I was imagining what it would be like if the world was this way. Imagine if everyone had to live in the world I live in as opposed to my feeling of living in a world most others do not live in. What would it be like?
It was topsy-turvy for a while in my favour. It felt magical.
It lasted such a short time. After the penny dropped, the excitement and glory of what it must feel like to be fully human and accepted dissipated and turned to anger, frustration, denial and all of those things. I became angry and frustrated because I lived in a world that did not fully accept me. That is what I was trying to say back then.
It was a rare moment, but it gave some sort of energy, and one had a choice as to what to do with that energy. The referendum was on the Government's work path and everything was building. I chose to ensure that I did everything I could, and to encourage as many people as I knew to do what we could, to convince the Irish people, who did not need much convincing in the end. It was one of those poignant moments, and I was reminded of it this morning when the Minister spoke. Although there were few of us in the Chamber and only some people in the public gallery, there was a strong sense of a positive connection after she spoke. It brought me back to 22 May, to the moment that I will never forget, but I cannot relive the feeling and experience of that day. In politics, one moves on to the next issue and does not get the chance to live the experience for a little longer. This morning reopened the can. It was a good can, one of hope and aspiration for the type of life that we can and do have.
I have written down a couple of points. Members know that I tend not to read when I contribute, but there are some points that I did not want to omit. On 22 May, the hearts, hopes and dreams of a minority were placed in the hands of the majority of Irish people. They were entrusted to make a decision that, one way or another, would have a direct impact upon the lives of thousands of citizens. I and countless lesbian and gay people were relying on the generosity of our fellow citizens to afford us the right to be treated equally under our Constitution.
It reminded me of when my older brother Roy got married in 1994. I was 17 years old at the time and one of my lasting memories was of thinking that marriage would never be an opportunity for me. I accepted it because I did not believe we lived in a society that would ever reach that point. But we have.
As the ballot boxes were opened the next morning throughout the country, it was clear that the majority of our fellow Irish people had given a resounding "Yes" to a better life for our lesbian and gay citizens. The referendum was about marriage equality, but in many ways it was also about how we as a society viewed our lesbian and gay friends, brothers, sisters, family members and neighbours. Most of all, what shone through during the campaign and on 22 May was the overwhelming sense of a common humanity that existed at the inner core of each and every one of us and joined us together as a people, a humanity that was rich in love, generosity and compassion for everyone and knew no boundaries. A number of Deputies mentioned this today. Something struck a match in the Irish psyche and our inner core as people. It shone through on 22 May in a way that I had never seen. The nearest thing was our hosting of the Special Olympics.
On 22 May, there was something in the air. It felt different. There was an extra injection of joy. People across the country were feeling their best. It was amazing. We should never forget what we achieved on that day. Identifying what joined us rather than what made us different made our society better. As other Deputies mentioned, we should try to harness that approach as much as possible. Our citizens are good people. We are amazing people, and when we work together, we can see what is right and wrong in society and work towards making a change for the better. I wish that I knew the formula for a recurrence. Together, we achieve great things.
As a society, we have travelled a long way on the road to equality, from the dark days - when being gay was a criminal offence, and Gay Switchboard Ireland, which was set up 41 years ago, could not have its name listed in the telephone book because it contained the word "gay" - to 22 May of this year, when the people of Ireland spoke powerfully and profoundly and said "Yes" to equality and love.
To the thousands of volunteers - political, non-political, NGOs such as Yes Equality, which comprised GLEN, Marriage Equality and the ICCL, and those whom I have not mentioned - who did what politicians know is a nerve-racking thing and knocked on doors, perhaps for the first time, and to those who won over the hearts and minds of the Irish people by telling their stories, be it me, Deputy Buttimer, the ordinary Joe Soaps who should not be forgotten today, and the mothers like my own Ma, who is a shy woman but who put herself out of her comfort zone because she believed in doing the right thing, I thank them on behalf of everyone, not just me. It is because of all of these Irish people that some will no longer be forced to live in the shadows of our society as second-class citizens or to be battered, bruised and excluded. Today, we stand tall together, shoulder to shoulder, as a better society, a nation of equals.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute on the Bill. While it is technical in nature, it is significant and means much to many people. Last May's marriage equality referendum was a defining moment in the history of our country. It brought people together in a way that we had not seen in many years. Overall, there was a positive atmosphere across every party in this Chamber, testament to how strongly people felt about ensuring equality for all couples regardless of gender. I was more than delighted to see the referendum pass with resounding support from 62% of those who turned out to vote. In my constituency of Dublin South Central, the "Yes" vote won out at 72.3%.
The referendum amended Article 41 of the Constitution to read: "Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex." Not distinguishing between people's preferences or whom they love is what this Bill is all about.
When canvassing in the inner city in my constituency on Christmas week a number of years ago, I met a somewhat older gentleman who asked me into his home. He told me about his partner, who had just passed away after a massive heart attack. He had been with his partner for 37 years, but when the time came for the machine to be turned off at the hospital bed, he was not allowed to make that decision because he had no rights over the man whom he had loved for 37 years. I remember that moment well because there was a newspaper article a couple of weeks later about the same gentleman. He was a top clothes designer, which I did not know at the time. His relationship with his partner had brought him the most unbelievable love he had ever felt. He had been able to live with someone whom he loved and cherished, but on occasion had not been able to be open about it, even with his family. This struck a chord with me. How could this man who loved someone so much not have the opportunity to make decisions on his partner's behalf when he was passing away?
For all of these reasons, this Bill is one of the most important measures that I have seen pass through the Chamber in the short time I have been a Member. It recognises the fact that people, regardless of their gender, can love each other, commit to each other and, above all, be open with each other and their families and friends without hiding behind closed doors.
I could speak technically about the Bill but there is not time. Next year, my husband, Joe, and I will have been married for 40 years. It seems a lifetime away now. When one thinks of 40 years, I was only a young one myself and trying to be persuaded by my parents not to get married at 20 was difficult even then but anyway, we shot ahead and got married. We have had our good times and bad times and our struggles with our children but in 1976, we had a choice. We had the right to make that choice, even though we were only in our early 20s. We made that choice to love each other openly, without hiding away our love from each other, to be committed to each other, our families and our friends and not to be shunned. Sadly, thousands of people across Ireland have waited so long for this moment to happen. Unfortunately, in the past church and State were not opened - in the church, it probably still is not open - to much of what has happened in recent years in Ireland. However, I believe it is the right thing.
I believe the passing of the Civil Partnership Act 2010 has created a major chance and opportunity for those people to begin a new life and to see a new way of life for them as well. I believe this is for the better for everyone who believes in what is known as equality in love. We live in a changing world and on a daily basis, one sees people's lives being changed forever through illness, war and discrimination. As a parent, I seek a world in which my children and my grandchildren can be respected for who they are, not what they are.
When listening to Deputy Lyons speaking in this Chamber today so passionately, it genuinely was humbling to be able to feel and see what he feels. I have only been in this House for a short time but I have never experienced anything like the unity of purpose of all Members of this House and of all parties. Normally, Members squabble and nitpick against one another in this Chamber but the unity of purpose displayed by everybody in this House to make sure the referendum passed and that this Bill will now pass, simply to be able to treat people equally and the same as everybody else, is phenomenal. Not to be patronising but I must say "bravo" to absolutely everybody who was involved, everybody who canvassed, dropped leaflets or went on buses. I come from a highly political family, as probably does everyone present, and I have been canvassing and campaigning since I was barely out of nappies. I was brought to Ard-Fheiseanna in my communion frock, was on European buses with Richie Ryan and have done it all. However, I have never experienced a campaign like this. It was just incredible and brought raw guttural feelings of everybody, mostly positive, to the surface. As Deputy Lyons noted, it was something I had never seen in Ireland before and it probably will be a long time before we get to it again and therein lies the pity. However, this is not to take away from how it is a huge achievement and accomplishment on the part of the people to finally be able to state we value people for who they are, not what they are. That was a wonderful achievement by the people.
Not to be negative but one thing that genuinely irked me during the campaign was those people, who obviously were pessimistic and opposed to the proposition, who noted that civil partnership was in existence and asked for what was anything different needed, because it already was there and effectively was the same. The stunning changes to the various items of previously-enacted legislation that must now be made simply clarify the fact of those differences. There probably have been hundreds of them between it and civil partnership, which I acknowledge was a great start, but which never was going to be enough and certainly was not the end game. I refer to the amount of legislation that must be changed, from changing words like "wife" to "spouse", up to the serious changes that must be made to the guardianship Act and the Gender Recognition Act. There is myriad of them. It is a major credit to everybody in this House, to all our families, friends and supporters, as well as to the mass of Irish people that we have taken this step in 2015. I am exceptionally proud to have been part of it.
When I picked up my post last week, it included an A4 brown envelope which had a black harp on the top of it. I opened it up wondering what legislation would be there for me to peruse and there it was, the Marriage Bill 2015. I was really delighted and could not even explain how I felt when I saw it. I was thrilled that it had come so quickly before Members and I commend the Minister, the Department and everyone involved on not delaying and on bringing it before Members today. It is a tremendous honour and a privilege to be present today to debate the Bill and to talk about one's experiences and one's hopes.
This was one of the most emotional campaigns in which I ever have been involved and the secret of the campaign's success was that so many people so bravely threw away their anonymity. As public representatives, it is one thing one loses and one does not really appreciate it until one has lost it. However, many people, in the interests of trying to achieve understanding, were prepared to leave to one side their anonymity and to come out and share their stories. This was a fundamental key to the success of the campaign. I was honoured and privileged to be involved in this and one of my most memorable days was when I put out the call for canvassers. We had such a mix of ages that it was fantastic. Three of the oldest canvassers were three men over 70 - I will not say what ages they are - but my daughter said to me that if anyone saw us, they would think we were the "No" campaign. However, it was wonderful to see those men out there standing side-by-side with teenagers and with people of my age. We were all at one purpose, which was to share what we all could have with everybody else, that is, access to full civil marriage. I also was reflecting on those who have gone before us, that is, people who were obliged to leave families, to go away and to leave the people and country they loved to try to forge lives for themselves elsewhere, where they could truly be themselves. It is with great sadness that one thinks back to a time, not that long ago, when people left their loving homes to try to build lives for themselves elsewhere where they felt they could be anonymous, where they could be who they are amid strangers. To me, that was the most tragic thing of all, that they could not be who they are with those who loved them and who they loved. They were obliged to go to strangers where they found a more welcoming embrace. That was tragic but now that is ended and in Ireland, people can be who they are.
However, I sincerely believe we still have a job of work to do in Ireland in terms of accepting people. I look back on people who still are experiencing homophobic attacks. Moreover, if one looks back not too long ago, that is, to the 1980s and 1990s, people were being murdered. I came across the case of a man, Charlie Self, who was a set designer in RTE and who was murdered in 1982 in his own apartment in a homophobic attack. No one has ever been brought to justice for his murder. Again, Declan Flynn was murdered in 1983 simply because he was gay and in 1999, an American writer, Robert Drake, was left with brain damage, having been assaulted in a homophobic attack. To this day, there are many people who are well known on television screens but who, when out and about, have experienced horrendous homophobic attacks. We must talk to our young people and, in particular, I think, our young men because one thing I noticed in the campaign was a lot of the negativity came from men. They need to think about themselves and why it should be that they perceive there to be a threat in people being different. I am only on the outside looking in but I listened carefully to my colleague, Deputy Buttimer, and to the heartwarming speeches that he made over the course of the campaign, as well as to Deputies Nolan and Lyons and all the people who shared their hearts with us all. We can try to be more compassionate as a society and try to get young people to see that we are all different.
That is wonderful because it is what makes us all so interesting. We are also all the same in a lot of ways. There is a generation for whom being gay is not a big deal. As far as young people are concerned, particularly those whom I know, being gay is not what distinguishes people. However, a core of negativity remains, in respect of which we must be always on our guard.
I want to acknowledge everybody who was involved in the campaign, including my own colleagues, members of the Fine Gael LGBT group. I acknowledge also the foresightedness of the Yes Equality campaign, including GLEN, Marriage Equality and ICCL, in coming together and figuring out that if they worked together on this they would succeed. In terms of the cross-society support for this campaign it is important to reference the other members of it, including BeLonGTo, Doctors for Yes, EPIC, Face-to-Face, Faith in Marriage Equality, GAZE LGBT Film Festival, GCN, Stand Together Congress, IMPACT, the INMO, Lawyers for Yes, Librarians for Yes, Mayors for Yes, Men's Development Network, National LGBT Federation, the Irish Immigrant Support Network, the Women's Council of Ireland, TCD Students Union, UCD Students Union, Teachers for Marriage Equality, USI, Yes Equality 2015, VoteWithUs and the Outmost. All of those organisations, people across the country and all of the political parties came together to achieve what many of us take for granted. It has been one of the most enriching experiences of my life in politics and I have been in politics a long time.
I sincerely hope that this will be a catalyst for a more understanding and inclusive society because, as others referenced earlier, there are other people in our society that we now must look to support, including, for example, the people involved in Transgender Equality Network Ireland, TENI and what it is trying to achieve in terms of their taking place in society as equal citizens.
I am delighted that we are debating this Bill. I am so proud to have met many marvellous people who worked together. There was no grandstanding and nobody was being vainglorious about this. It was about achieving something spectacular for our society which, I believe, we achieved on 22 May.
I acknowledge the presence in the Gallery of the great campaigners of Yes Equality, the marriage equality group and GLEN. I acknowledge the ICCL also played a huge role in that campaign. It is a proud day today for our Republic to have this Bill before the House. I recall the day the marriage equality referendum was passed and the sense of us actually reclaiming our republic.
I pay tribute to Deputy Eamon Gilmore for putting this matter on the political agenda and ensuring it made its way into the programme for Government, to the Government for proceeding with the Constitutional Convention and to the members of the Constitutional Convention who passed a resolution to ensure the Government proceeded with the referendum on marriage equality. I pay tribute also to the entire body politic which got behind that referendum and then stepped aside and allowed the people of Ireland to make it their referendum. The leadership shown by the Yes Equality people was remarkable. It was a positive campaign. It was something unique. I do not believe that if I spend the remainder of my life involved in politics I will ever again feel anything like I felt in Dublin Castle on the day of the announcement. The colour, excitement and sense that we had reclaimed a little of our Republic was great. A huge number of people, having been failed by this country and fled it for economic reasons, came home on boats and aeroplanes from far afield to cast their votes in this referendum to ensure that this Republic, as we face into the 1916 commemorations, have a different view of what being a Republic truly means. I recall quoting that essential line from the Proclamation time and again at meetings throughout the country, that people open up their hearts to their neighbours and tell them about the lonely lives they have led and their aspirations for their partners and for their futures and families. Equal rights and equal opportunities for all our citizens are not matters to be left only to the Proclamation; these must be underpinned in our laws and Constitution.
We would be foolish to think the battle is now won. There is much yet to be achieved for our LGBT brothers and sisters and community. I reference section 37 of the Employment Equality Act which has been amended by the Seanad and will hopefully be agreed by the Dáil later this year and will ensure that members of the LGBT community and others who feel that they cannot be themselves while working in institutions funded by the State but under religious patronage will have the freedom to be who they want to be. Earlier this year the Gender Recognition Act was passed, which is monumental legislation. There is other legislation we need to work hard to ensure is enacted, in particular hate crime legislation. GLEN has been lobbying over a number of years to ensure that people can socialise as they want to and not feel under threat of attack or intimidation. For this reason, I wish to inform the House that I am beginning preparations on a national LGBT strategy, which will be important. There are many other strategies in place across the equality sphere for other people in society who need to have their voices heard and to ensure that all agencies of the State are listening to what they have to say and advancing their role in society. There are many battles to be fought for the LGBT community, including on the sports field, in advertising, education, health and so on. We need to have consultation on formulation of an LGBT strategy that looks to five, ten or 15 years hence in terms of what life will be like for our LGBT brothers and sisters.
To assume that marriage equality has ended the discrimination against gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender people would be a foolish assumption. This is only the start of the conversation as to how we build a Republic of equals. There are many other groups in our society who wish, in terms of their needs, that they had that moment in Dublin Castle. I know the Traveller groups feel strongly about attaining Traveller ethnicity for themselves. There are many migrants and refugees coming here who want to feel they are part of this Republic and to have a better future. Other groups include people living in areas of disadvantage and those who suffer illiteracy. Reference was made at the Right to Read Literary Conference held in Dublin today to 17% of our adult population suffering from functional illiteracy. These are issues on which we have to galvanise ourselves. We must reassure ourselves that when we appeal to the decency and humanity of Irish people there is nothing that we cannot achieve.
I may have been very negative at the beginning of this year, and was accused of being so, when I said that this referendum could be lost. Perhaps the lesson for everybody in this House is that if we appeal to people's fears we may achieve something but if we appeal to people's humanity and their aspirations for something better and the true sense of being republican there is nothing that cannot be achieved. I congratulate those who were involved in this campaign and who made it the people's campaign. I congratulate people across this House who stood together and fought this good fight. I also congratulate the Irish people for coming out in such huge numbers to support it, in particular the young people of Ireland for showing the rest of us exactly what politics should be about and I call on everybody to strengthen their resolve to ensure that we can achieve more and do more to proclaim a proper Republic.
I am proud to speak on the Marriage Bill 2015, which we are debating following the Irish people having voted through the marriage referendum in May. I recall speaking on the civil partnership legislation in the Seanad five or six years ago. During that contribution I praised the Irish people for their live and let live attitude.
At the time I said that I did not believe the average Irish person had any interest in denying the rights of same-sex couples to enter same-sex partnerships, look after sick loved ones, inherit the family home or commit to each other for better or for worse. What we saw demonstrated clearly by the people on 24 May was that equality exists. They were keen to ensure that every citizen has the ability to live as they see fit and share in the benefits of living in a free and equal society.
I was at the count centre in my constituency in Ashbourne on the day and I saw at first hand the delight and optimism of people when the results started coming through. It was a very positive day. Many volunteers were there. Interestingly, people were ringing in from outside to find out if their village had voted for the proposal. They took great pleasure and pride in knowing that their village or box was voting "Yes".
The campaign was great fun. I have been involved in many campaigns over the years, although not as many as others, but this particular campaign was very pleasant because it involved people across the political divide. We canvassed with members of virtually all political parties, although not all. Virtually all political parties were canvassing for a "Yes" vote. They put in a mighty effort and were joined on the doors by a vast array of ordinary citizens, gay and straight, who took the view that it was essential for them to be involved in this campaign. They wanted to be part of it and show that Ireland was a changed society from ten or 20 years ago. Without their hard work and commitment, I do not believe this referendum would have passed.
The next question is what this means for Ireland. Now, we have a greater duty to look after our young LGBT people. We have told them they are equal. We have seen record numbers of young people coming out and the number has increased since the referendum. We need to ensure that the required services are in place to look after them. Apart from being a Member of this House, I am a director of the charity BeLonG To, which deals with service provision for young LGBT people. The group is seeing a major increase in the number of telephone calls from young LGBT people looking for support. We should remember that although we voted "Yes" to marriage equality, this does not mean the problems faced by the community have disappeared. There are still problems of isolation, especially in our rural areas. Major problems continue to face our young trans people and those from migrant communities and the Traveller community. They all need support and we need to ensure that the networks are in place to support them. We need to ensure that the resources are in place to allow those networks to survive and thrive. This had to take place in both urban and rural areas. We need to continue to fund prevention of homophobic bullying campaigns in schools. We need to ensure the relevant people get involved in the Stand Up! campaign that BeLonG To will be running this November in our schools. I was pleased to see the INTO launch a new primary school campaign this week, called Different Families, Same Love, which reflects the fact that young people are coming out earlier and earlier. The average age now is probably more like 11 or 12 years of age. We need to ensure this information is available in primary schools.
It has been a great experience to be part of this campaign. I hope that in a few short weeks after the President, Mr. Higgins, signs this Bill into law we will see our first gay marriages. We should not underestimate the impact this has had throughout the world. It has had a major impact on Ireland but we should consider what happened some weeks later in the United States, where the US Supreme Court ruled in favour of gay marriage. I believe that was partly because of the message we sent out to the world. In other countries, such as Germany, for example, we have had a similar impact. I spoke to politicians there who thanked us for the "Yes" result in the marriage referendum because it has meant they can put more pressure on the current Government there to introduce same-sex marriage legislation. The same applies with countries like Australia. We have been a beacon of light to the world on this matter and it is fantastic that the Irish people are leading the way. I was never as proud to be an Irish citizen as on the day we passed that referendum.
Like previous speakers, I wish to express my delight at the result, the day that was in it and the campaign. The indication is that we have moved very much towards an inclusive Ireland and an inclusive republic. For many people, especially those who have been campaigning for a long time for this issue as well as those who have been campaigning more recently, the vote was indicative of a tolerant Ireland and a desire by the citizenry to express tolerance and accommodate other people, as well as ensuring that other people enjoy the same protections in their lives that many heterosexuals have taken for granted.
Equality is one thing. Before I turn to the substance of the Bill, I wish to congratulate the Minister on the speed with which she has brought the Bill forward and I congratulate her Department on the speed with which those involved have drafted it and responded to what was a momentous and historic day.
Now we are all equal and we can all get married equally. Unfortunately, though, we cannot all get married equally, because there is a problem in Ireland in the sense that if a couple want to have a non-religious or State marriage, effectively, they have to do it between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday to Friday. This is because the registration of births, deaths and marriages is carried out by the HSE. There are provisions in the 2004 Act to enable the HSE to set a fee for marriages outside HSE venues or non-HSE hours. However, the HSE does not do so because it does not have the human resources or staff to marry people outside office hours, that is, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday to Friday. The great majority of religious marriages take place outside office hours, except, perhaps, during holiday periods. Since people, by and large, need to take time off work for the event, the great majority of marriages take place at weekends. Therefore, perhaps not in a legislative sense but from the point of view of resources, we need to ensure that people can enter a civil marriage at weekends and at a venue of their choosing, once the venue meets the approval of the HSE and is accessible to all, etc.
The HSE has indicated that it does not have the necessary resources. I have written to the Minister for Social Protection and various other Ministers. I have been told that the HSE does not have the resources because we have an economic crisis and there is a staffing embargo and so on. I accept all of that, but there is a potential solution and it is a solution I am keen for the Minister to consider. Perhaps peace commissioners or commissioners for oaths could be allowed to carry out or solemnise civil marriages. The same safeguards would be in place as those which exist now for all HSE marriages. At present, people have to give notice three months in advance and so on. This means the HSE is in a position to say that it does not approve of a given marriage because it falls within the category of relationships involving people who are not allowed to marry, because a given person has been previously married or because it is a sham marriage. Legislation has been passed through this House for that reason. All of these safeguards would still exist. The only difference is that the marriage could be carried out in a venue and at a time of a couple's choosing. We are allowing homosexual people to marry and the day of the result was a great day and Members have been almost unanimous in saying that it was a good day in our Republic. We should allow them to marry, like straight people, at weekends or at a time of their choosing. I call on the Minister to consider that.
Another point might be somewhat more controversial. I read a quote from Peter Tatchell, a well-known gay rights activist in the United Kingdom, who stated:
Many male-female couples (and same-sex ones) don't like the sexist, homophobic history of marriage. They are turned off by the antiquated language of husband and wife. They'd prefer a civil partnership; finding it more egalitarian and modern. They don't want to be married.
There are many people who do not want to be married but who are in stable relationships. These people want legal recognition and protection for their relationships, and above all for the other person in that relationship should anything happen to either of them. Up to now, gay people have had the option of civil partnership. In fact, they did not really have the option; it was their only option. They could not marry because of the interpretation of the Constitution, as accepted by this House. We are now allowing gay people to marry. That is a great step forward but it does not mean that gay people who do not want to marry - there are many gay people who do not want to marry but want protection for their relationship - should no longer be able to enter into a civil partnership. Similarly, I know of heterosexual couples in a stable relationship who do not like the idea of marriage.
They do not like the terms "husband" and "wife" or the religious connotations. There are, of course, religious connotations to marriage, although the institution of marriage predates Christianity and is fundamentally a Roman institution that was absorbed into Catholic theology and canon law. It was governed by ecclesiastical law until relatively recently. Many people still wish to enter into a civil partnership.
The purpose of this Bill is primarily to allow gay people to marry. I congratulate and support the Minister on that, but I wonder if we need to get rid of the option of civil partnerships. This issue was debated at great length in the United Kingdom, which maintained civil partnerships exclusively for homosexual couples. It was not extended to heterosexual couples, but I wonder why we cannot have civil partnerships for gay and straight couples alike. There might be a question mark about whether such an approach would be seen as an attack on the institution of marriage, which is protected by the Constitution, but I do not accept that as valid because civil partnerships already exist and, therefore, are constitutional and not an attack on the institution of marriage. Therefore, how could it be unconstitutional to maintain civil partnerships?
Cohabitees enjoy certain rights, albeit not as advanced as those in civil partnerships. If that policy is not an attack on the institution of marriage, how could allowing civil partnerships to continue somehow be an attack on the institution of marriage? Marriage is still a much more stable long-term institution, as the Constitution requires. A couple must prove that a marriage has irreconcilably broken down before it can be dissolved, but that does not have to be proved to the same extent for a civil partnership.
The votes cast by the Irish people and the campaigns run by the main parties in this House, including Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Labour Party and Sinn Féin, were very much about inclusion, tolerance and accommodation. It was not a case of "Let's buttress the institution of marriage," and "Let's not accommodate people who don't want to get married." It was very much about recognising the fact that there is now a wide variety of families in Ireland which should be accommodated. It was also about accepting that society has moved on and that people live in varied ways, about accepting and accommodating as many people as possible and about providing families with legal protection. Rather than abolishing civil partnerships, the option should be extended to heterosexual couples, something which would better advance the spirit of the vote on the day.
Yesterday a colleague told me the glass was always half-empty with me, but I do not wish to appear like that today because this is not a case of the glass being half-empty. The glass is very much half-full. We now have an opportunity to fill the glass until it brims over. As colleagues on Opposition and Government benches have said, it was a momentous day, and we should encapsulate that in the Bill and move forward. The Minister might consider some minor amendments to the Bill in that regard. I will conclude by congratulating the Minister and her Department on bringing forward the Bill and the speed with which they have done so.
It is rare that this House has the opportunity to pass a piece of joyful legislation, and this is one of those rare times. As a member of the Labour Party, I am proud to have been part of the process that led to the marriage equality referendum that was put to the people of Ireland. I would like to put on the record the fact that I am very proud of my colleague, Deputy Eamonn Gilmore, because we would not be debating this Bill today if he had not made it one of his priorities. I am proud of people such as Mrs. Josie Lyons, the mother of my Labour Party colleague, Deputy John Lyons, a woman who sacrificed her personal privacy in order to advocate publicly for marriage equality. He spoke about his Ma earlier with tears in his eyes, and I am sure he is very proud of her. I am proud of colleagues such as Deputy Ruairí Quinn, who allocated his assistant, the wonderful Niamh Hayes, to a practically full-time role on the campaign for its duration. I am proud of my fellow Labour Party members in Wicklow - I refer in particular to Ian McGahon and Sam Blanckensee - who campaigned tirelessly, day and night, in a successful effort to clearly explain the purpose of the referendum to those voters who were initially less sure of how to cast their votes. I am very proud of the constituency of Wicklow and of east Carlow for having one of the country’s biggest turnouts and one of the highest "Yes" votes nationally.
On the other side of the coin, we are lucky to live in a democracy, and that means that respect and regard is also due to the minority of voters who cast a "No" vote in the referendum. I hope that the carefully worded Bill before us today removes some of the uncertainty that "No" voters may have felt when listening to what were generally respectful but sometimes complex arguments in the lead-up to the referendum. It is clear from the Bill that church weddings, for example, will be unaffected by the change in law. The Bill alters only the law affecting civil, not church, unions. The Catholic Church has, since the referendum, probably cleared up a lot of unnecessary confusion by confirming that church premises will in fact continue to allow the signing of the civil register and that the threatened added complications will not in fact be imposed on wedding parties in church ceremonies. I will not speculate how much higher the "Yes" vote might have been if that particular confusion had not been introduced into the campaign.
It is not such a long time ago that being homosexual was illegal. It was only in 1993, helped by Labour Party pressure at the time, that homosexuality was finally decriminalised in Ireland, just short of 100 years after the notorious conviction of the Irish literary genius Oscar Wilde under similarly archaic laws. Wilde was sentenced to two years' imprisonment with hard labour, a term that left him a broken man and contributed to his early death at the age of just 46. How much richer could our literary heritage in Ireland have been had Wilde been allowed to live a long and happy life?
Unfortunately, even with all of the progress in LGBT rights in more recent times, there are still lessons that have to be learned and relearned by society. This Government has introduced progressive legislation for the transgender community, enthusiastically supported by the Labour Party. Usually, with legislation affecting social progress, the actual level of progress is slow and the media generally tend to be ahead of Governments of the day in terms of attitude to, and acceptance of, the need for change. However, with regard to respecting transgender people within our society, this Government has shown itself to be far ahead of sections of our media. I refer in particular to the reaction from some newspaper journalists to the recent decision by RTE journalist Jonathan Rachel Clynch to no longer conceal what is natural - that is, a deeply personal identification towards gender fluidity. Clynch is a highly intelligent and respected professional, known for thorough analysis and accurate journalistic reporting, and is a person to be respected who has views that can be believed.
New legislation brought in by this Government recognises and legalises the need felt by some individuals to transition from the gender they were identified with at birth. This is not an Oscar Wilde situation. Rather, the law is supporting Jonathan Rachel. Our State broadcaster, RTE, the employer of this journalist, has shown a mature and respectful approach to the decision of its employee. However, a small number of other journalists have taken a position on gender fluidity that in many respects is not that different from the very tragic reporting of the Oscar Wilde case in the 1890s. There should be no column space in the newspapers of today for disrespectful reporting of people because of their sexuality, gender, race or colour. We really need to learn from the past and move on.
Oscar Wilde and his parents were frequent visitors to my home town of Bray in County Wicklow. It is comforting to think that if he returned today, not only would Oscar Wilde be able to live openly as a homosexual man, but he might even choose to get married in one of our great seaside venues. Having celebrated my own wedding just a year ago on the Bray seafront - Deputy McNamara celebrated his wedding a few weeks ago - I can confirm that there is no better place than Bray, County Wicklow, or east Carlow in which to have a wedding celebration. We are looking forward to a big increase in happy nuptials in our constituency, and if anyone wants to invite me to a wedding I am always delighted to get one of those gilt-edged invitations.
I am glad to have an opportunity to speak on this momentous legislation, coming as it does after the people have spoken. The people spoke in no uncertain fashion in May. They spoke after a campaign which was unusual by Irish standards in that we did not have the same confrontation we have had in similar campaigns on social issues. To a huge extent, it indicated the coming of age of the people. It probably indicated that the political parties, when faced with the situation, were capable of conducting and encouraging a campaign which was not divisive. I compliment the people of Ireland who made the decision and all those who campaigned on both sides because, in the end, the result was something the people expected, could expect and accepted, and this is important. We must congratulate the Minister on bringing the legislation before the House instead of postponing it or fobbing it off. It was important to make the decision and follow on in line with the people's thinking.
The Government is to be congratulated for the comprehensive work it undertook. This was done by the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the previous Tánaiste, all of the Ministers in government, the Minister herself and her predecessor. They explained to the people the need to move on in this regard and accept there are other people who feel they have a right to be included in society, be part of society and feel the same as everybody else. There are many cynics in the country, including some in the media, who constantly criticise and carp about the human failings of the human beings who form the Government and the Opposition. In fairness to the people, they stood up to the task they were given, took their responsibility seriously and did their job. All congratulations are due to all of those involved.
The legislation and referendum represent a watershed in Irish thinking, and this is something we should recognise and analyse. I have been involved in politics for a long time and I have been involved in many campaigns and political arguments. I was pleasantly surprised at the degree to which people were prepared to listen and raise sound questions of a fundamental nature, not in an abrasive or challenging way but in a way which recognised they also felt the issue was something that should be taken seriously. This was a great achievement for the people of this country and those involved in the campaign.
We were all canvassing in another election, a by-election in Carlow-Kilkenny, at the same time as the referendum. I do not know why the rural community is always tagged with being extremely conservative and unwilling to move with the times. We raised the question in a very rural area, and at first there was a slow response, but as the conversation developed there was recognition, which we also recognised, coming from the people being canvassed that they were prepared to listen and to try to understand. When they did so it gave reassurance to those of us involved in the campaign because we had been involved in many other campaigns in which people were not that way involved.
An important element was that it showed great recognition on the part of the people that everybody in society deserves the right to be recognised and included in society and to be treated as equals in society. This was a great leap forward in this country, because it was not always like that and certainly it was not always like that in my time in the House. Great credit is due to the mature way in which the people made their decision and were quite clear and emphatic about it. We had another referendum on the same day, and the same people who voted strongly in favour of this legislation voted equally strongly against the other proposal, which in their wisdom they felt was not necessary or desirable at the time. There was a clear decision on the part of the people to make this distinction. They accepted the case being made and dealt with it accordingly.
My colleague, Deputy Anne Ferris, quoted Oscar Wilde, and it is appropriate he should be mentioned in this context for many reasons. He is the guy who also said duty is what we expect of others but not always and not necessarily of ourselves. On this particular occasion, everybody accepted the challenge and stood up and did their duty.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on what is a momentous occasion in the Dáil, when we as legislators are giving effect to the people's decision to amend our Constitution. We must remember that for the main part our Constitution is held very dearly by all our citizens, and to amend it is never a decision which has been taken lightly. If we consider today as a momentous occasion in terms of what we are doing as legislators, it is only in the ha'penny place when we consider what a momentous occasion it was on that day when we as a country were the first in the whole of the world to vote to give people of the same sex a right to marriage. It is not often that we lead the way as a country, and it was a very proud, momentous and emotional day for tens of thousands of people directly affected by this decision and their friends and families.
For me, the decision was all about equality and nothing else. Equality goes to the very core of true republican values. This is why I was more than happy to play an active part in the campaign. It follows a proud tradition of my party, which initiated giving rights to LGBT people. It goes back to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1992, the Equal Status Act 2000 and the civil partnership Act of 2010. These were all important steps in the process. They laid the foundation for what we voted on a number of months ago. I congratulate the Minister who took responsibility in this regard, and I congratulate everybody of all political parties and none. In particular I congratulate the Yes Equality team. The campaign was very different from a general, local or presidential election campaign. I have participated in many campaigns but none quite like this. I had never seen the level of enthusiasm, energy and positivity. It was very positive and very good to be involved in it.
I began by being invited to attend a meeting at the Greville Arms Hotel in Mullingar. Going in, I was not quite sure how many people would turn up, what would be the age demographic of those who would turn up or how the campaign would move on from there. I did not know whether it would just be about public meetings, the Yes Equality bus moving from town to town and village to village or, like so many other referendum campaigns, meeting people on the streets and in shopping centres.
It was not like that; it was about a very dynamic, passionate and committed group of people from all generations. It was not just about the young. One evening I went out with three different generations of one family who all wanted to sow a message of love and demonstrate a message of equality. They wanted to share their deepest and most personal experiences with people at the doors as to why there were good reasons to vote "Yes" and it would be appropriate to change the Constitution. It was about giving every citizen of the country, regardless of sexual orientation, the same right.
I want to give very sincere thanks to the Yes Equality group in Longford and Westmeath for allowing me to be part of that campaign. It was a great honour and privilege, and it provided a great learning curve. Certainly, if I can bring the same level of enthusiasm and vigour to my next campaign - my re-election to his House - I would be quite happy. As I stated, it was quite enlightening to see the different generations of people who got involved, from the young to middle-aged to older people. This affected everybody, regardless of their background, professional standing or so-called economic security. That contributed to the successful campaign.
There is one note of caution and I wrote to the Minister at the time about this. We must acknowledge that almost 40% of people, for whatever reason, did not feel that this was appropriate. It is obvious that I do not share their view, as I campaigned and articulated reasons for a "Yes" vote. Nevertheless, we must respect the views of these people. One of the predominant fears within this group arose because people have deeply held religious convictions. This was evident from people in my church - the Catholic Church - as well as from members of the Presbyterian Church and the Church of Ireland. There was a fear that if the constitutional amendment came about, they might be forced into performing marriages within those churches, but that was not true. I thank the Minister for replying to me at the time to outline why that was not true. This was about civil marriage and equality for all our people.
The campaign also demonstrated a new interest in politics, particularly from a section of society that would not normally have been interested in politics. This section would quite often have argued that politics was not for its people and it does not affect them. This process clearly showed that decisions taken in this House and effected by way of referendum have a direct consequence and a real effect on people's lives. It really hit home to me just how this could have a positive and dramatic effect on people's lives. At the count at Keenagh, people from the LGBT group who had been campaigning broke down and cried while partners hugged and kissed each other. They realised they were accepted as being the same as everybody else, with the same entitlements. Although I had been involved with the group throughout the campaign, it was only at that moment - when the result was declared locally in Keenagh and on a national level - we could see the positivity, happiness and sense of accomplishment. There was also a feeling that these people belonged, which was very powerful. I was delighted to be involved with the campaign and I compliment everybody across all political parties and none on it. I especially compliment Yes Equality because from the very beginning those people drove the campaign and shared the most intimate personal stories, as I witnessed at the doors. They wanted to show this to people who had reservations about voting "Yes", and this proved that when people are open and honest with the population, they will be accepted, respected and supported. It is a momentous day and I am delighted to offer my few words in support of today's legislation.
I thank all Deputies who contributed to the debate today on this Marriage Bill. I am sure all colleagues will agree that there have been very thoughtful and moving contributions from Members of the House on this proposed legislation. There have been very poignant contributions and important statements about the campaign and the type of process that it was. We heard how we need to reflect on it and many Deputies have reflected and learned from it, taking forward many of the lessons and experiences of people from that campaign in order to inform public debate. We can all reflect in that way. I thank everybody who has contributed, and I am sure many people will want to see the legislation progressing quickly. That will now happen.
I thank the Tánaiste and her officials for working so closely with me to effect the changes needed in the civil registration system that has allowed me to bring the legislation forward so quickly. It would be remiss of me not to thank the officials from the Department of Justice and Equality who have worked so diligently over the summer on the legislation. They include Ms Dara Breathnach, Ms Carol Baxter, Mr. Conan McKenna and others. They have put in a major effort right through the referendum period, including its preparations and our dealing with the various issues that emerged. They have also helped prepare the legislation. I also thank the Attorney General, Ms Máire Whelan, and her staff, who have been so involved with the process right the way through and who have made a major contribution.
Others have mentioned the support evident across the political spectrum, which was very important. We demonstrated leadership as a country and the first sovereign state to agree to marriage equality by way of referendum. It is something of which to be proud. Leadership was demonstrated by many people, as has been mentioned in the House today. The Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, led the way for the Fine Gael Party. We also heard from the Tánaiste, Deputy Joan Burton, and the former Tánaiste, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, along with the former Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, who has fought for equality all his political life. We also saw leadership from Members of the House involved with the LGBT Fine Gael group, including Deputy Jerry Buttimer, as well as Deputies John Lyons and Dominic Hannigan from the Labour Party and others. They played a real leadership role.
I am struck by the fact that people have spoken about courage today. It is easy to forget at this point that courage had to be shown by people, and it took courage to tell the personal stories. We were talking about very personal and intimate details of people's lives, and the courage of parents and grandparents who went out with individuals was really remarkable and had an impact on the campaign and its result. That courage and dedication tells us something very important, the esteem and honour in which our LGBT family, friends and citizens hold the institution of marriage. They were not alone in that, as I have already said, as family, friends and communities supported them in their wishes from all parts of society. It was really remarkable to see the great support in the country, as reflected in the vote.
I repeat what I stated earlier. There is no threat to marriage from people who passionately want to marry and who want to be able to make that lifelong commitment to another person. Marriage is gaining from being open to a new group of people which takes it so seriously.
I said that from the very beginning and it is absolutely true. What a compliment to marriage that people want to be part of that institution. Just a few years ago people would not have expected the kind of debate we have had here today. Several Deputies have, quite rightly, pointed out that this Bill is not the endgame for equality. LGBT people are still discriminated against by some or suffer social marginalisation or exclusion. Likewise, many other groups are disadvantaged and still cannot play a full part in society. While today is a good day, perhaps we as a society can reflect on how we can mobilise that energy, enthusiasm and passion to address all those other forms of inequality and discrimination which remain to be addressed.
A number of points have been raised on section 37. We are committed to reforming this and my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, has already done work in the Seanad on reforming section 37 of the Employment Equality Acts. The Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2013, which reforms section 37, has already passed through Seanad Éireann and will now come to the Dáil for discussion.
A number of Deputies raised the question of the HSE and registrars and marriage. This is a matter for the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, together with the HSE, but I will have further discussions on that. We want to ensure there will not be undue delays. That issue will be taken up.
On the particular point Deputy McNamara raised on civil partnership, this was constitutionally permissible specifically because same sex couples could not marry. Our constitutional context has now changed and civil partnership is no longer constitutionally defensible in that context. That is the legal advice I have. As I said earlier, all the advice available to me makes it clear that making a marriage-like relationship available would violate the constitutional pledge to "guard with special care the institution of Marriage, on which the Family is founded, and to protect it against attack". That is the advice I have from a constitutional point of view, but no doubt it will continue to be debated, as it has been in other countries. Of course, they are in a different constitutional position to us.
I conclude by saying that marriage equality has become a reality in Ireland through a uniquely democratic process. The Government's decision to hold a referendum on the issue flowed directly from the recommendations of the Convention on the Constitution, which was itself the product of careful deliberations by citizens drawn from all walks of life. The referendum process provided an opportunity for the people of Ireland to discuss the issue, often passionately, before arriving at their decision. On 22 May, voter engagement was shown at its very best and we were all extremely moved, as everybody has said today, by the enthusiasm shown by so many people. The efforts made by people who had never voted before, people who returned from abroad, young and old, to get to polling stations to vote on the issue were illustrated by many Deputies here today. It showed how much this vote mattered to them.
Our parliamentary process today represents the final steps on an intensely democratic journey to marriage equality in this country. On that journey, mindsets have altered and attitudes have changed. We have now chosen as a people to signal to ourselves, as well as to the world, that our LGBT family members and friends form a fundamental part of who we are. We are managing to change as a society while remaining true to what is best in us. That is our commitment to family and to marriage. As a result of the Bill, LGBT couples will now join the many couples throughout this country who pledge themselves to one another in marriage and we wish the very best for those who will get to marry as a result of this Bill. They have waited a long time for that to happen. We will look back, as a number of Deputies have said, years from now and, as Deputy Durkan said, see this referendum as a watershed. This Bill is a key moment in which we, as a society, set ourselves on a journey towards a brighter, more inclusive future in this country and to a country that is more respectful of an increasingly diverse society.