Seanad debates

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

4:00 pm

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I move:

That Seanad Éireann, acting upon the principles enunciated on behalf of the then Fíanna Fail/Labour Coalition Government in 1993 during the debate surrounding the decriminalisation of male homosexuality, in which the then Minister for Justice indicated that clear factual and cogent arguments rather than prejudice would be required to support discrimination in law against any Irish citizen, and in the light of the reports of various think tanks and Commissions but most particularly the Colley Report, urges the Government at last to introduce full equality under the law for gay citizens of Ireland including access to civil marriage.

I welcome the Minister, although I do not welcome his rather flabby amendment. Private Members' time is one of the most important times in our parliamentary calendar. We all take it very seriously, despite the fact due to the lateness of the day, very often it is not covered at all, and we try to raise serious issues. I wanted to raise a number of issues, including cystic fibrosis, which was taken by Senator de Búrca. She received a surprisingly comprehensive reply and I felt it would be wrong to expand on that. I then wanted to raise the questions of extraordinary rendition and the Civil Partnership Bill 2004, which I had tabled. However, I withdrew it on 13 February to show my revulsion at the attitude of the Government parties and the fact that they had so clearly dragged their heels on this important issue. My Bill was before the House for approximately four years and nothing was done. Had the Government acted at the time it would have been generous. There might have been a streak of the prophetic and the visionary but all that has drained away. We are getting reform by dribs and dribs in a mean spirited, mean minded, legalistic, cheese paring way and it is not good enough. I will not tolerate the stuff we got from former Senator Mansergh in the past, attempting to dilute recognition of gay people's relationships to remove from them any sense of celebration, public endorsement and respect. I will not take that any more and I will not be a second class citizen in this country in a manner which I am clearly defined. I will not accept such dilution.

The motion was tabled with great seriousness in light of the principles enunciated by Maire Geoghegan-Quinn in 1993 when, in a marvellous moment, she said clearly that, as a Minister, she would require clear, cogent and practical reasons to discriminate against an Irish citizen and in light of the Taoiseach's statement in 2006 that:

Our sexual orientation is not an incidental attribute. It is an essential part of who and what we are. All citizens, regardless of sexual orientation, stand equal in the eyes of the law. Sexual orientation cannot and must not be the basis of a second class citizenship. Our laws have changed and will continue to change to reflect this principle.

Would that his words were true but they were not and we are not equal. We are being given, at best, second-class citizenship. Those who oppose this say they are defending marriage but they are not. They are, in a mean spirited way, defending what they see as their entitlement to superiority and they are doing it in precisely the same way those arrogant members of the former Protestant ascendancy in this country defended their privilege against Daniel O'Connell who made the effective point that human liberty is not a finite resource that is diminished by being extended to other people but, instead, is enriched, enhanced and increased by being extended.

The Government parties compliment themselves in their amendment on the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993. I had something to do with that when I had to drag the Government to Europe to get it. It took four years before anything was done. I recall the then Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, a decent man, being questioned about it and replying it was not a priority. What was held to be a serious violation of fundamental human rights is not a priority when it affects gay people. The amendment refers to the Unfair Dismissals Acts and dismissal being unfair on the ground of sexual orientation. That is my sexual orientation clause, which was also inserted in the Refugee Act 1996. The Government can claim credit only for parachuting in on the work that was done. Astonishingly, reference is made to the Employment Equality Acts, 1998 to 2007, and the Equal Status Act 2000. I cannot believe I am reading this. These are the Acts from which gay people in a profession to which many of them are drawn are specifically excluded, despite the overwhelming evidence of the Ferns report. We also know that because of the exemptions sought by and given to the churches, they have the right to dismiss people from their jobs as teachers on the ground of their sexual orientation. For that reason, young people are subjected to homophobic bullying in the area of education. In 80% of bullying cases a homophobic element is involved and in 80% teachers do nothing about it because this Act makes them afraid. It is curious, therefore, to see it in the amendment.

The Health Insurance Act is the first score for the Government and well done on that. The European Convention on Human Rights is incorporated, including the issue of incompatibility certificates — Lydia Foy received the first of these the other day — but the Government was required to incorporate it. Well done too on the Parental Leave Act, which represents a small step. The Government amendment then notes that legislation to conform must be fully consistent with the relevant provisions of the Constitution. However, the Constitution does not define marriage as between a man and a woman.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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The High Court settled that.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Declan Costello pointed out in 1967 that the Constitution is an organic and developing document. The United Nations defines "family" in a variety of ways that are not confined to this group. With regard to the Constitution, the Law Reform Commission sought and obtained opinion to the effect that the only way constitutionality could be challenged would be through legislation which purported to give greater rights to the new institution than to marriage. I am aware the Attorney General gave a different view but Attorneys General by their very nature have to be cautious in their advice. It would be easy to address this situation and I invite the Minister to do so. A simple tweak to the Civil Registration Act would introduce civil marriage.

The tenth report of the Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution was splendid. The Colley report recommended civil marriage as the best option because it advised that the status of gay people would otherwise be further eroded. The report of the former North Eastern Health Board showed the significant damage done to health and well-being by the lack of status for gay people, including increases in suicides and psychiatric illnesses. The report stated these effects did not come from their sexuality but from the kind of attitudes expressed in opposing the measures we are discussing today.

A lot of nonsense is spoken about the history of marriage as if it was a permanent institution, unlike the Constitution which is organic and developing. It was not until 1754 that marriage was regulated in this country. Until then, marriage was recognised on the basis of an exchange of vows. By the 1920s, according to Conscience — the News Journal of Catholic Opinion, the definition of marriage in America was narrowed to forbid interracial marriages. During the same period, the drawbacks to not being married increased.

The number of cohabiting couples in the 2006 census was 121,000, or double the number of four years earlier. This figure included more than 2,000 gay couples but that is a serious underestimate because gay people tend not to report this arrangement.

I emphasise that I am not seeking religious marriage. This is strictly a civil marriage issue. However, the work of an internationally renowned historian and social commentator, the late Professor John Boswell, reveals that the early Christian church enacted rituals for the blessing of same sex unions. That has been neatly obliterated from the history of western Christianity.

In regard to the attitudes of Irish people, at least 41% are strongly in favour and a survey carried in the Irish Examiner of 21 February 2006 revealed that 51% of the population favoured gay marriage or unions.

Same sex marriage was introduced in the Netherlands under that country's marriage act of 2001, while in Belgium it was introduced in 2003. Same sex marriage became legal in Canada on 20 July 2005. That is interesting to Ireland because of the Zappone and Gilligan case. In holy Catholic Spain, same sex marriage was introduced on 3 July 2005. The High Court of Israel issued a ruling recognising same sex marriage on the basis of an action taken by people who had been married in Canada. That is an interesting precedent for this country. In the United States of America, Massachusetts has allowed full marriage equality since 18 November 2003. One of the original sponsors of an amendment to ban gay marriage and legalised civil unions, Brian Lees, stated, "gay marriage has begun and life has not changed for the citizens of the commonwealth". It is therefore not the disaster people pretended it would be. In Northern Ireland, civil partnership is allowed with ceremonies performed by marriage registrars. As I noted earlier, there is more freedom for people like me in Paisley's Belfast then in Bertie's Dublin. That is a significant reproach.

People suffer from a range of disadvantages at present, including in the area of immigration. People who in previous years had to leave this country formed relationships abroad, some of which were recognised, and they have now returned. The last time I discussed this issue, I brought into the House five folders containing these agonising stories. My secretary had to help me carry them. At the conclusion of this debate I will put the human face on this material.

A letter from a psychiatrist to yesterday's The Irish Times suggested some kind of negative impact on children. The American Academy of Pedriatics states there is no data to suggest that children who have gay or lesbian parents are different in any aspect of psychological, social or sexual development to children in heterosexual families. The American Psychological Association states:

. . . there is no evidence to suggest that lesbian women or gay men are unfit to be parents or that psychosocial development among children of lesbian women or gay men is compromised relative to that among offspring of heterosexual parents . . . Not a single study has found children of lesbian or gay parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents.

Studies by the Australian Psychological Society comparing groups of children raised by homosexual and heterosexual parents found no developmental difference between the groups. The Canadian Psychological Association states:

There is a popular misconception that gay and lesbian parents, because of their sexual orientation, compromise the psychological and sexual development of their children . . . Psychosocial research into lesbian and gay parenting indicates that there is no basis in the scientific literature for this perception.

I will list other organisations and return to them in my concluding speech: The Royal College of Psychiatrists; the National Association of Social Workers; and the American Psychiatric Association. That should put that canard to rest, notwithstanding the discrimination that exists against gay people.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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I welcome this opportunity to second the important motion proposed by my colleague, Senator Norris, with his customary eloquence. I pay tribute to the work he has done in bringing about much of the legal change to which the Government amendment refers.

Before addressing the substance of the motion, I declare a professional interest in the matter. In my capacity as a practising barrister I represent the plaintiffs in the case currently before the courts seeking legal recognition for a marriage contracted in Canada and a declaration of the plaintiffs' right to marry in Ireland. The case has been heard in the High Court and an appeal is pending in the Supreme Court. I am, therefore, ethically restricted as to what I can say directly related to the case.

I am here to support the principle of equality before the law for same sex couples and in particular to support the principle that same sex couples, like opposite sex couples, have the right to marry. Not only is this clear from the growing number of jurisdictions that provide legal recognition for same sex marriages, notably Spain, but a consensus has also emerged in Ireland on the need for some form of legal recognition for same sex couples. This is evidenced by the November 2006 report of the Colley group, the tenth report of the Oireachtas All-Party Committee on the Constitution, the report of the Law Reform Commission on cohabitees and in the Government legislative programme in which a commitment is given to prepare a scheme of a civil partnership Bill. A consensus has emerged on the need to provide recognition for same-sex relationships in law.

The Labour Party introduced a Private Members' Bill in December 2006 — the Civil Unions Bill — which was reintroduced in the Dáil by Deputy Howlin in October-November of last year. The Government made a shameful U-turn in its response to the Labour Party Bill and gave a tokenistic reiteration of the commitment in An Agreed Programme for Government to legislate for civil partnership at the earliest possible date in the lifetime of the Government. This is the same formula of words used in the amendment to this motion.

Some of the comments made by Government party Deputies in November-December last betrayed a deep resistance to the principle of equality and parity of esteem for same-sex couples. The comments of some Deputies might have been unsurprising but it was particularly disappointing to hear the Minister say that the Labour Party Bill risked impugning the constitutionally protected family.

The attitude change of Green Party Deputies was also particularly disappointing. From being a party which apparently had supported the principle of gay marriage, it had retreated behind a vague Government commitment to bring forward the heads of a Bill by the end of March of this year. In fact, neither the Government amendment to this motion nor the Fine Gael amendment refer to March or to any deadline for the introduction of heads of a Bill or, indeed, of legislation. In other words, the commitment to the introduction of civil partnership legislation expressed in the amendments is an empty one which does nothing to advance the principle of recognition for gay and lesbian couples let alone the principle of equality.

This is especially disappointing given the commitment in the Good Friday Agreement to parity of protection of human rights North and South of the Border and the fact gay couples from Belfast to Bangor to Derry can enter civil unions in a society which is, in many ways, more socially conservative than our own.

The only conclusion one can draw from the Government approach to this issue is that it is hoping it will simply go away. However, we can tell them — Senator Norris has already made it clear — that it will not go away and that the consequences of continued non-recognition for thousands of men, women and especially children of same sex couples are too serious for this simply to disappear from the political agenda.

A good deal has been said about the rights of children in this debate, particularly by those who oppose the principle of recognition for same-sex couples. None of them has addressed the central truth that there are already many children in Ireland being raised by same sex parents and whose rights are unprotected in our law. Many of those children have spoken out in recent days in the newspapers and on radio and television and none of the opponents of recognition has been able to give solid reasons that the recognition of marriage would encroach in any way on the rights of the children of gay relationships.

As Senator Norris said, all the available unbiased, scientific and peer-reviewed research shows that children brought up by same sex parents do as well as those brought by opposite sex parents. Indeed, all parents, male or female or gay or straight can relate to their children in ways which might be described as masculine or feminine. What matters is not the sexuality or gender of the parents but rather the quality of the parenting and the relationship the parents have with the children. We all know this in reality both as parents and as children of parents.

Apart from the issues of children, child custody and adoption, gay people are currently discriminated against in a range of ways as couples, including taxation, social welfare, succession rights, next-of-kin rights, immigration matters and so on, as illustrated in research and reports produced by GLEN, the Equality Authority and others. This is by virtue of the lack of recognition for intimate and committed relationships. It is important to state that a loving relationship between two persons, whether of different sexes or the same sex, is not the same as, or comparable with, the relationship between two siblings or two flatmates and yet those on the other side of the debate have frequently made that comparison.

The group, MarriagEquality, which launched last week has made clear it seeks recognition in the law for civil marriage. It is looking for equality in law and I support its aims which are reflected in the wording of this important motion but which can be summarised in one word, that is, "equality". Even if a specific time commitment were given by the Government for the introduction of legislation allowing for civil partnership, it is not the same as marriage and does not amount to equality in law for gay people. In the spirit of equality, I urge other Members of this House to support this motion and reject the amendments.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after ''That'' and substitute the following:

"Seanad Éireann notes the following legislative developments since 1992:

the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993 which decriminalised sexual relationships between men;

the Unfair Dismissals (Amendment) Act 1993 which deemed as unfair dismissal on the ground of sexual orientation;

the Refugee Act 1995 which included a well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of sexual orientation within its ambit;

the Employment Equality Acts 1998 to 2007 and the Equal Status Acts 2000 to 2004, prohibiting discrimination on 9 grounds including that of sexual orientation;

provisions in the Health Insurance (Amendment) Act 2001, prohibiting the varying, on grounds including that of sexual orientation, of amounts payable by insurers in respect of the treatment and care of insured persons;

the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003, which obliges organs of the State to perform their functions in a manner compatible with their obligations under the Convention. The Convention provides for non-discrimination on grounds such as sexual orientation in the enjoyment of rights and freedoms set forth in the Convention;

provisions in the Parental Leave (Amendment) Act 2006, regarding force majeure leave for persons, including same-sex couples, in relationships of domestic dependency;

and further notes:

that legislative reform must be fully consistent with the relevant provisions of the Constitution;

the options identified by the Colley group, including in particular for same-sex couples;

the tenth report of the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, on the Family, which recommended that civil partnership legislation should be provided for same-sex couples;

the report of the Law Reform Commission on the rights and duties of cohabitants, which recommended provision of a redress mechanism for vulnerable dependent cohabitants at the termination of a relationship; and

the Government's decision reflected in the Government legislative programme published on 27 September 2007 to prepare a scheme of a Bill;

and supports the commitment in the agreed programme for Government to legislate for civil partnership at the earliest possible date in the lifetime of the Government, so as to establish supportive legal framework for same-sex couples in committed relationships."

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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As the motion from the Independent Senators points out, it was my distinguished predecessor, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, who in 1993 introduced the ground-breaking legislation to decriminalise homosexuality in this country. Senator Norris played a signal part in the evolution of the law in this area but she deserves credit for introducing the legislation.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Absolutely.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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Since that time, there has been much positive change for lesbians and gay men. A broad range of equality legislation and the associated equality infrastructure has been put in place. The Government's amendment to the motion before the House this evening quite properly records that progress and shows that in the particular area of protection against discrimination, Ireland has been to the forefront internationally. The various legislative enactments set out in the Government amendment are a response to the expressed terms in the motion, as proposed, which referred to the statements of the then Minister for Justice in 1993.

The Government proposes to go a step further. In An Agreed Programme for Government we have committed ourselves to legislating for civil partnerships. This commitment is given concrete expression in the Government legislative programme which includes a civil partnership Bill providing for a system of civil registration of same-sex partnerships and for certain legal protections for them and other cohabitants. The Government has asked me to bring forward a scheme of a Bill by the end of March and I intend to do so. While that may not be in the Government amendment, I am happy to put that on the record.

The scheme of a Bill currently being prepared in my Department will be extensive with provisions ranging across diverse areas of the law, including civil registration, maintenance, property rights and succession, pensions, taxation and many other matters. I note Fine Gael has tabled an amendment to which I do not take any great exception.

The Government's approach, which was approved by the Dáil last November, is to provide a statutory scheme from which same-sex couples who choose to register their partnerships will derive extensive rights and protections. This scheme will build on the Colley options paper and the Law Reform Commission report on cohabitants.

It will provide for a redress scheme open to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. The redress scheme is proposed specifically to protect vulnerable dependent cohabitants at the end of a relationship where the couple have neither married nor entered a civil partnership.

The Government has decided that civil partnership legislation is the appropriate way to proceed having regard to the boundaries set by the Constitution. The Independent Senators' motion calls for access to civil marriage for gay couples. This call has been echoed by some outside the House in recent days and I have listened very carefully to their arguments. I accept that those who put them forward do so out of the highest and sincerely held motives.

However, as the Minister responsible for law reform, I must bring in a law that is consistent with our Constitution. The advice of successive Attorneys General is that same-sex marriage would not be constitutional. Within the Constitution, marriage has a very specific judicial meaning and that meaning does not encompass same-sex marriage. This was confirmed most recently in the proceedings referred to by Senator Bacik, the Zappone and Gilligan case, in which she correctly pointed out that she had an interest. The High Court found that there is no right for same-sex couples to marry under our Constitution. In evidence in that case, it was also clear that the consensus internationally does not support a move towards same-sex marriage. There has been limited support for the concept of same-sex marriage in Canada, Massachusetts and South Africa together with three European jurisdictions, namely, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Some jurisdictions have given recognition of some kind to same-sex and opposite-sex couples with or without a registration scheme. Ten of the European Union states are without a registration scheme. The observation of the court was that there is no discernible pattern apparent from the approaches taken in the different jurisdictions. I have taken note of the court's comment and I quote from the judgment of the learned High Court judge who stated:

[U]ndoubtedly people in the position of the Plaintiffs in the case be they same-sex couples or heterosexual couples can suffer difficulty or hardship in the event of the death or serious illness of their partner . . . It is hoped that the legislative changes to ameliorate these difficulties will not be long in coming. Ultimately it is for the legislature to determine the extent to which such changes should be made.

The civil partnership Bill will address these issues. The Zappone case is being appealed to the Supreme Court. I had a choice and I could have awaited the outcome of that appeal. However, the Government believes we should make progress on this matter at an early date.

We should proceed now to introduce a law that will give recognition and protection to same sex couples who are involved in committed, stable relationships. It is the responsibility of the State to provide a supportive legal framework for such relationships. That is the view of the Government and that is why the agreed programme for Government has committed us to making progress on this matter as quickly as possible.

Senator O'Donovan, who moved amendment No. 1 to the motion, chaired the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, which in its tenth report, entitled "The Family" and published in January 2006, supports the approach by the Government in respect of this matter. In that report, the committee concluded that a proposal to amend the Constitution to extend the definition of the family would be deeply divisive and would not necessarily be passed. I share this conclusion. Presenting this issue to the people in a constitutional referendum would be deeply divisive and unsuccessful and would jeopardise the progress we have made in the past 15 years. We need to remind ourselves that considerable progress has been made. When homosexuality was decriminalised in 1993, who would have thought that just 15 years later we would be discussing the legal recognition by the State of same sex partnerships?

The Oireachtas committee took the view that the principal development for same sex couples should come at legislative level and this is precisely the course of action the Government has decided to take. I look forward to bringing about change by presenting the proposals for a civil partnership Bill to Government in the coming weeks. Those proposals will put in place a comprehensive and supportive legal framework for same sex couples. I urge the House to back the Government's measured approach by supporting amendment No. 1.

Photo of Eugene ReganEugene Regan (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister for his brief contribution and for his commitment in respect of the date on which the Bill will be introduced.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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I referred to the date on which the heads of the Bill will be published.

Photo of Eugene ReganEugene Regan (Fine Gael)
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Similar commitments were made on previous occasions.

I understand the motivation behind Senator Norris's original motion. I share the sentiments expressed. The Senator's action is born out of frustration at the lack of action on the part of the Government in respect of progressing this matter. I am somewhat concerned, therefore, regarding when the civil partnership Bill will be introduced.

In 2004, Fine Gael was the first party to publish a civil partnership plan. This was designed to confer rights on same sex and opposite sex cohabiting couples by way of registration and related to pension, tax, property, inheritance, social welfare, next of kin and workplace entitlements. In the same year, the Law Reform Commission issued a report highlighting this issue. Fine Gael's plan was comprehensive and was put forward at a time when consensus in respect of this matter did not exist. Fine Gael introduced new ideas and pushed for a resolution in respect of those unfortunate people who had no legal protection and who were not treated equally before the law in the areas of residency, tax, pension entitlements and property rights.

One of the proposals put forward by Fine Gael was to extend the provisions of the Family Home Protection Act to include registered couples. We also suggested that registered partners should be entitled to compassionate leave from their employment in the event of serious illness or the death of their partners. Many of the issues outlined in Fine Gael's 2004 plan are covered by and reflected the Colley report, which was published in 2006 and which outlined a series of options regarding how we should proceed in this area.

The Minister referred to some of the legalities and constitutional principles that apply. These are extremely important. When legislating in respect of this area, we must ensure we get it right. The position of the family is protected under Article 41 of the Constitution, although there is no definition as to what constitutes a family. There has been a series of cases and the Minister referred to some of these. For example, there was the State (Nicolaou) v. An Bord Uchtála case and the G v. An Bord Uchtála case, in which is was stated that Article 41 "refers exclusively to the family founded and based on the institution of marriage". It follows from these cases that a cohabiting couple and their children, if any, are not to be regarded as a family under Irish law. It is here that problems arise.

There also have been the Hyde v. Hyde, Griffith v. Griffith, R v. R and Zappone and Gilligan v. Revenue Commissioners and Others cases. In the latter case, which is the most recent, the High Court refused to redefine marriage on the basis that "the definition of marriage has always been understood as same sex marriage". It also refused to accept that some kind of changing consensus exists.

I am of the view, however, that a political consensus is emerging. This is based on the concept of civil partnership and arises out of Fine Gael's 2004 plan. There is growing public support for legal recognition for gay and lesbian couples. A poll conducted for The Sunday Tribune in 2006 found that 64% of those surveyed believed that same sex couples should have the same legal and financial rights as married couples. In November of the same year, a survey carried out by Lansdowne Market Research for the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, GLEN, found that 84% of those questioned were in favour of marriage or civil partnership for gay couples.

In international terms, the position has changed. The first civil union was introduced in Denmark in 1989. In the interim, civil unions, civil partnerships and domestic partnerships have become recognised in law in 15 other states. A number of these countries are members of the European Union.

There is a political consensus in both Houses in respect of moving forward with a civil partnership Bill, with specific entitlements — based on the principle of equality — for gay and lesbian and cohabiting couples of the same sex. The debate in this regard will continue. However, it is important that we move forward with the legislation and deal with the situation as it currently exists. We must arrive at an accord across the political spectrum.

The political consensus to which I refer should be reflected in the legislation. That is the basis of the amendment tabled by Fine Gael. There was a specific commitment to publish the Bill by 31 March. However, amendment No. 1 makes no reference to this date. It is important that the commitment regarding the date be adhered to. I am not confident this will happen and, for that reason alone, I cannot support amendment No. 1.

Senator Norris has, on a number of previous occasions, referred to the importance of and the urgency attaching to this issue. I fully understand his motivation and the importance of legislation in this area. The Fine Gael position is the civil partnership policy approach and it has a twin benefit not only of dealing with the lack of equality for same-sex couples but also providing protection for heterosexual cohabiting couples who do not wish to marry. There is a lacuna in the law in that area as well. If we could deal with this in appropriate legislation in 2008, the Oireachtas will have done some good work. I will oppose the Government amendment.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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I have already proposed the amendment to the motion and I will say a few brief words in the time allowed. As the Minister indicated, I chaired the last Oireachtas All-Party Committee on the Constitution and in January 2006 we produced a report known as the Tenth Progress Report: The Family.

For the record it should be noted the Taoiseach wrote to the then Chairman of that committee, now Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, asking him to look at the area of the family, children's rights, etc. As a result of the impending general election in 2002 and ongoing work carried out by the committee at that stage, it fell to me to deal with this matter.

We advertised for submissions because we were very open and transparent in dealing with the matter. More than 16,000 petitions were sent and there were 8,000 submissions, the majority being individuals. There were 103 groups from various parts of the community, from bishops to groups expressing their views on the family. This report deals with many issues.

With regard to the motion before the House, it is important to note the committee came to a decision, although there was not unanimity. There were two dissenters, I believe, but the majority of opinion, being cognisant of senior counsel in the eminent person of Dr. Gerard Hogan and others, was that to change the law to allow for same-sex marriages would first require a constitutional amendment. That was the first hurdle and that view is accepted by the Government.

We also came to the conclusion that there was nothing preventing this or any Government from bringing in legislation that would effect legislative change to allow for civil partnership, as was originally mooted in Senator Norris's Bill which he recently withdrew. In that regard, the committee was very clear that it was quite prepared to make a recommendation which I am grateful to see has been taken on board by the Government. It advocated that legislation be put in place to allow for issues such as succession rights, rights on taxation and inheritance tax in particular, income tax and other matters. This would provide cohabiting couples and same-sex couples with basic rights in taxation, a significant step forward.

In the 1996 census, the figure for gay and lesbian couples was approximately 150, although I am unsure if this was accurate. In 2002 that had risen to approximately 1,350 and the most recent census figures puts it in excess of 2,000. We are seeing a substantial increase on the previous decade in same-sex unions or relationships. I may be incorrect in this private view but I believe less than 20 years ago, couples in a relationship would suffer a stigma and they were afraid, in the privacy of a census, to declare they were in such a relationship. Thankfully that stigma is diminishing and there is more openness in that regard.

In this regard it is very difficult to introduce legislation and I welcome the Minister's commitment that the heads of a Bill are being prepared and the legislation will probably be introduced into the Dáil in the next term. I look forward to it being dealt with in the Seanad. It is important to welcome this because we cannot deal with the motion, as proposed by Senator Norris, without including the many thousands of cohabiting couples, who currently number well over 100,000 in Ireland. They are in a limbo.

I have come across many sad cases in my legal life. Going back ten or 20 years ago there was a famous couple in west Cork to whom Senator Norris has referred, although I will not go into names. These two gay men were at retirement age and had some property. One of the men was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, unfortunately, and his life partner wanted to look after him. Unfortunately, the better of the two had a heart attack and died suddenly, so the other man was deprived of his entitlements and property rights.

Such cases exist and we should bring regularity to them. As a former Chairman of the committee, I hold the view that the provision regarding same-sex marriages, as now seems to be demanded, is a step too far. The bar has been raised by Senator Norris with this motion. Despite the predictions and polls by various papers, the Government must consider whether we should run the risk in this instance of having a referendum to change the playing pitch.

That might be the ultimate Utopian desire of Senator Norris in his proposal but if that referendum were lost, and it probably would be, we would defer the civil partnership legislation, as proposed by the Government and soon to be recommended, for ten or 20 years. In many ways the purpose would be defeated. The method the Government is choosing is sensible, balanced and the European norm. I welcome it and commend the amendment to the House.

Photo of Dominic HanniganDominic Hannigan (Labour)
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I wish to share time with Senator Prendergast. Perhaps the Acting Chairman will indicate when five minutes have elapsed.

I commend the Independent Senators on tabling this motion and they have done very well to use their Private Members' time to up the ante on this issue. We must move forward with this.

This month marks the one-year anniversary of my party's introduction of the Civil Unions Bill, comprehensive legislation that would have given legal recognition to civil unions for couples. It was backed by Ireland's gay community but was rejected by the Government at the time, just before the most recent general election. On the second time around for the Bill last autumn, the Government decided to reject it, saying it would introduce the heads of a Bill concerning civil partnership.

I heard the Minister state earlier that he expects to bring in the heads of a Bill in a matter of weeks. My concern is that we will never actually see a real Bill from the Government. Although we might see the heads of what a Bill might look like, an actual Bill will not see the light of day and there will be an outline with no consequence. The reason for this is the Government is pandering to the mean-minded conservatives within its constituent parties, although they are probably a minority. As a result, it is not allowing a Bill to be brought forward. Consequently, we will not accept the Government's amendment.

We believe the Government is trying to appease some members of the conservative wing and appeal to some of the more progressive people in the Government, such as some of those in the Acting Chairman's party. They say they have taken note of the options presented in the Colley report, the Oireachtas Commission on the Constitution, and the Law Reform Commission and are keen to point out how good they have been in moving other forms of legislation such as employment law. The Employment Equality Act 1998 is intended to protect the gay community against discrimination in areas such as employment, vocational training and the provision of goods. Section 37, however, allows discrimination to exist by permitting medical, educational and religious institutions to refuse to hire gay people on the grounds of their sexuality. That is not what equality means to me.

The Government's amendment to the motion, stating that it wants to introduce heads of a Bill makes me worry that we will never see one. This is no longer a reasonable, acceptable or sufficient approach to the issue. Dr. Martin Luther King said that the freedom of the American white community was linked to that of the black community. The lack of equality in civil unions here demeans all the citizens of the nation.

Two members of a group founded a few weeks ago, MarriageEquality, published an article in The Irish Times this week about their experience of bringing up their son. They wrote that civil marriage "would mean that we would be recognised as a family unit, no ands, ifs or buts. We are not looking for a church marriage or blessing. We are not challenging individual church beliefs and understandings on marriage in any way. We are simply looking to be treated fairly in law for our son". They focus on a loving family, no matter what form it takes. This family needs to be protected.

The Government cannot cast the State's youngest citizens aside and treat their parents as second class citizens. Children should not have to suffer at the hands of a weak-willed Government which is pandering to a hard core conservative minority within its own ranks, rather than protecting citizens. I commend the motion as proposed by Senator Norris and the Independent Senators and encourage the House to support it and vote down the Government and Fine Gael amendments.

Photo of Phil PrendergastPhil Prendergast (Labour)
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I agree that there have been many improvements and positive changes for lesbians and gay men but I have problems with the Fine Gael amendment because it does not deal with the families of same sex couples. There is no reference to adoption or to the potential equality of any kind of family unit. We in the Labour Party are committed to full equality for gay and lesbian couples.

Many studies have been carried out to show that children brought up by same sex couples do just as well as children in conventional families because parenting is what matters.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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The High Court took a different view on that issue. It heard all that evidence as well.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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That is not over yet.

Photo of Phil PrendergastPhil Prendergast (Labour)
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That will always be an issue. There are legal terms and defined parameters for considering such couples.

Speakers from all sides of the House on our civil union Bill in the Dáil had open reservations about adoption by same sex couples. I know of cases in which one partner in a same sex union was taken seriously ill but there was no recognition of the status of the other partner, which is very sad.

Economic factors were not the only ones that drove people to leave these shores years ago. Many left because their sexual orientation could not be expressed. I acknowledge that we have come some way towards accepting that certain people need a formal legal interpretation of their status. I oppose the amendment.

6:00 pm

Photo of Jim WalshJim Walsh (Fianna Fail)
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Marriage between a man and woman is an institution fundamental to the propagation of the human race. It is also fundamental to the care, nurture and rearing of children to become good and valuable citizens of the future. That is best achieved through children being raised by their biological parents, father and mother in a loving, stable, married relationship. I am not saying that there are not many children who are well reared in other family units but the family unit of mother, father and children is the ideal for society. As such, it deserves unique recognition and support by the State.

It will be obvious that I do not support marriage for same sex couples. That is not to say that certain entitlements should not be granted to gay couples who share their lives but they should not simply replicate each and every marriage entitlement. Instead, there should be a focused and specific targeting of matters that impinge on gay couples, recognition of rights of next of kin, entitlement to nominate successors to pensions, domestic violence provisions, which have already been extended, and certain social welfare supports. The amendments made to property succession rights some years ago should also apply to those living together in a gay relationship.

We do not know what entitlements will be prescribed in the civil partnership Bill. If married allowances and inheritance tax provisions available to married couples are extended to civil partnerships for gay couples we are moving in the direction of conferring practically all marriage entitlements on gay couples. That is marriage by another name.

A recent survey in the United States showed that married women spend an average of 11 years out of the workforce, in most cases rearing their children. That is 25% of a woman's working life which has obvious financial consequences for them and their families. It is therefore understandable that if we fully support marriage, tax benefits apply. If all the marital entitlements are transferred to gay marriage then civil partnership is analogous to marriage between a man and a woman, which may be seen as disingenuous or as a ruse to overcome the constitutional impediment to such marriage.

It disenfranchises the public from adjudicating on the issue and marriage is covered in, and protected by, the Constitution. More importantly, it would abrogate Members' responsibility to uphold the Constitution. It would be seen as circumventing it and this would be a highly retrograde step to take. If this right is pursued, I suggest the question should be put to the people by way of referendum.

I refer to the intrusion of the European Union into such matters. These are matters of social importance that often are reflected in the culture and ethos of each member state. There have been two recent developments to which I would not subscribe or support. Civil partnership has been introduced in Germany and in recent weeks, an EU Commissioner has written to Germany stating the model it has adopted does not go far enough for gays and that it must be equal to marriage. The Christian Democratic Union is fighting back on this issue. Moreover, a recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights found in favour of a French couple in the area of adoption and overturned a number of French court decisions in that regard.

I do not believe the State can adopt a position of indifference on the rights of the child. Despite people's assertions, there are well-established and recognised reports that show the best prospect for children, their protection and development, is to be reared by their biological mothers and fathers. This is the ideal and should be supported by Members. One cannot have a position of indifference on the right of a child to be raised by his or her mother and father. The State cannot be neutral if biological parenting is being downgraded. As for the rights of the individual, I recognise there are certain issues which must be addressed in the interests of enhancing the lives who commit to each other in a gay relationship. However, there are balancing rights in respect of the overall well-being of society and fundamental to that well-being, I propose that the family unit is a key component and cornerstone that must be protected at all costs.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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I understand that Senator O'Toole, who is not present, may wish to share time. If he appears, I will happily conclude. If this is the case, perhaps the Leas-Chathaoirleach will inform me when I am halfway through.

I wish to preface my remarks by stating this is an issue of tremendous importance and enormous sensitivity and there are deeply-held feelings on all sides on this issue. It goes to the heart of the self-identity of many people who are proponents of same sex partnerships, gay marriage or whatever term of description one cares to use. Equally, people on the other side of the argument have sincere and legitimate concerns about the importance of family life and how the common good is to be served. In this respect I welcome the quotation of the comment by the former Minister for Justice, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, to the effect that there must be clear, factual and cogent arguments.

This is what I seek to present and much as I esteem my colleague, Senator Norris, I wish to express my disquiet at the characterisation of arguments against same sex marriage, let alone civil unions, as being somehow nasty. My colleague, Senator Hannigan, spoke of mean-minded conservatives. Others have invoked the Church as though to suggest the only arguments one might make against civil partnerships or same sex marriage are those that somehow are grounded exclusively in theology. Any arguments I wish to make this evening are intended to appeal to people regardless of whether they have my faith, another faith or none. One must go forward on the basis of rational argument. One must seek the common good, seek to do justice as one's desire for justice must trump any ideological motivation. This is my starting point and I hope it is shared by all Members.

The majority of speakers in the House this evening have tended towards the view that there ought to be civil partnerships or same sex marriage. However, a majority of people in Ireland, certainly a majority of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael members and probably a significant minority of Labour Party members, have a deep disquiet about civil partnerships. This is not because they are hostile towards people with same sex attractions or because they believe such people have fewer rights as citizens or less dignity, but because they believe the common good requires the State to prefer marriage, because of the complementarity of the sexes in the context of bringing up children. Moreover they believe there are other ways of seeking to do justice in those scenarios in which people in mutually dependent circumstances, who deserve every credit for making sacrifices for each other, should be allowed to confer benefits on each other and should be allowed to avail of certain benefits at the expense of the State. This is my view and we must move towards addressing those benefits and subsequently, as a separate issue, deal with the question of the State's interest or otherwise in recognising relationships other than marital relationships as we know them.

While Members will hear much on this issue in the media, it is disingenuous to take individual cases in which justice must be done, regardless of whether they pertain to inheritance in scenarios in which people who are mutually dependent find themselves in difficulties or to children who are not getting their rights. These issues must be considered in the context of the provisions that must be made in such cases. However, the argument that one somehow must create same sex partnerships to so do is both illogical and does a grave injustice to the many other scenarios in which people are not necessarily romantically involved but are engaged in the care and upbringing of children. One must keep clear the issues, which was my point in respect of Members' concern for justice and rational and evidence-based argument that must trump ideology.

The approaches taken by other countries in this regard do not matter as Members should examine it in the light of Irish constitutional traditions, which correctly speak of the centrality of marriage, as does the Constitution, in which the State pledges to "guard with special care the institution of marriage, on which the family is founded". The State does this because it recognises that marriage is a unique institution in respect of children's needs. I disagree again with——

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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I remind Senator Mullen that Senator O'Toole is present and that he is halfway through his allocated time.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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Tá dhá noiméad nó mar sin agam.

I dissent from Senator Norris's comments on the letter in The Irish Times from the esteemed psychiatrist, Professor Patricia Casey. She asked why, if children being raised by same-sex couples should be given the protections of marriage, such protections should not be given to children being raised in other non-marital family unions. This is a perfectly rational argument and should not be characterised as being nasty or mean-spirited. Does the fact that children are found in unions other than in traditional marriage mean one should automatically create new State recognition for relationships akin to marriage? This is disingenuous because one can confer the benefits on the children. However, the State still has an interest in seeking to promote that relationship which the evidence increasingly shows works to the good of children, in terms of the complementarity of the sexes and the stable upbringing of children in society. This is a time when marriage as we know it is under much pressure.

One must avoid the flawed arguments. I note in particular that the High Court was unconvinced in the Zappone and Gilligan case about arguments that children raised in same sex relationships do equally well as children raised in marital relationships. The point is that almost none of the studies that have been cited in the House has been longitudinal. They do not measure the welfare of children of same sex couples over the long term. Those that do measure such outcomes use such small sample sizes as to be unreliable. This is the reason that in her High Court ruling on the recent case, Miss Justice Elizabeth Dunne stated the State should proceed cautiously in respect of this research.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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She is not the first judge to make a mistake.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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That is true.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I know that.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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We must have regard to the fact that statistics are easily quoted, but we should note that the burden of proof is on those who advocate radical social change. If we are sincere about providing the best possible environment for the upbringing of children in society, we will do nothing to put that at risk. We certainly will not do it on the basis of half-baked research. We must wait. I am not saying it is impossible to provide rights for persons who may be in same sex unions or in other mutually dependent situations, for example, siblings, carers and their dependants and relations of other kinds. As a means of seeking to end discrimination on the basis of a hollow notion of equality, would it not be inappropriate to bring in another form of unjust discrimination? The reality is that the preference the State gives to marriage exists purely and simply because of what married couples can do for society in terms of the upbringing of children. That does not mean we denigrate the situation of people where children are found elsewhere; it simply means we promote what is good while cherishing all the children of the nation equally at the same time.

The State must not be tempted to give same sex couples, given that they are vocal — that is no disrespect to them — and small in number, what they want because it would cost the taxpayer less. That would not constitute good social policy. It is certainly not appropriate to allow some classes of couples to jump the queue so to speak and to enjoy, along with married couples as we know them, rights to which other couples may equally lay claim.

These are the kinds of issues the Minister must consider carefully. I would be unhappy if, as a tactic, we saw opponents of same sex unions on one side — who I stress are not opposed to rights for people, that may come at a cost to the State, rights that they confer on each other privately — and advocates of same sex marriage, on the other side. It is not an acceptable compromise to create a same sex partnership situation, if that entails rights to which other couples, who are not necessary sexually or romantically involved, may equally lay claim.

It was Deputy Martin Mansergh who eloquently suggested that the State was long enough getting out of the bedroom and that it should not rush back in.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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Let us have a rational debate that is focused on the common good and the needs of people, particularly of those most vulnerable sections in our society. The Government needs to be careful before even introducing a form of civil partnership, which seeks to elevate some classes of relationship over and above other classes which are equally deserving, equally mutually dependent and, in many cases, also happen to care for children.

Photo of Déirdre de BúrcaDéirdre de Búrca (Green Party)
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I welcome the Minister to the House. I also welcome this opportunity to speak on this Private Members' motion tabled by the Independent Senators not only because this issue deserves a good airing and debate but for the purposes of clarification.

The Green Party supports the principle of equality through giving legal recognition to same sex unions. Our party's policy is that same sex couples should be allowed to enjoy the full rights and responsibilities of marriage. The previous Government had proposed awaiting the outcome of the Supreme Court decision in the Zappone case, but as part of the Green Party's negotiations on the formation of the Government with Fianna Fáil, it was agreed that legislation should be introduced as quickly as possible.

Our party has been actively pursuing equality legislation for same sex couples. In 2006, the Green Party passed a marriage and partnerships rights policy. This policy stated our belief that full access to civil marriage for same sex couples was the only way to achieve full equality. This continues to be the Green Party policy. Full equality will be achieved only when same sex couples are allowed civil marriage.

In early 2007 we supported the Labour Party's Civil Unions Bill. During the debate on it our spokesperson, Deputy Cuffe, made the point that while we were supportive of the Bill, we did not see the Labour Party proposals on civil unions going far enough and we supported full access to same sex marriage. After the general election we entered negotiations with Fianna Fáil. Our team, led by the then Deputy Gormley, requested that the programme for Government include a commitment to legislating for same sex marriage. However, we could not bring about this alone without the support of all Government parties. We, as a party, had to decide how to proceed. We decided that as both the main political parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, oppose full civil marriage for same sex couples, and as the Zappone case had been rejected in the Supreme Court, the best way to proceed was to achieve some protection for same sex couples currently in relationships in this five-year period of Government, while continuing to push for full access to civil marriage for same sex couples in the future. In light of this, the programme for Government includes a commitment to legislate for civil partnerships. It states, "Taking account of the Options Paper prepared by the Colley Group and the pending Supreme Court Case, we will legislate for Civil Partnerships at the earliest possible date in the lifetime of the Government." Like Katherine Zappone and Ann Louise Gilligan, the Green Party believes that true equality will come only when same sex couples are given full access to civil marriage. We accept that the Bill being proposed by the Government will not do this. However, given that neither of the main parties is prepared to accept civil marriage at this stage, we believe the civil partnerships this Bill will introduce will allow for protection of important aspects of same sex relationships while we continue to fight for complete equality.

As part of the programme for Government, the Green Party will deliver legislation on civil partnerships which will allow same sex couples to enter into a legal union, with rights and obligations recognised by the State. The heads of the Bill giving effect to this is to be published next month. it is a move in the right direction to take the first legal steps to allow for legal recognition of partnerships that were previously ignored by official Ireland. The former Minister, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, started the process by decriminalising homosexuality in 1994 and now we are talking about legal recognition of same sex partners.

The new Bill extends to cohabiting gay couples, who register their relationship with a new agency, some of the same rights under the law as heterosexual couples. The Government approved the drafting of a report of a scheme of a civil partnerships Bill in October 2007 and the draft scheme is based on the Colley option paper and the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission in its report on the rights and duties of cohabitants. The scheme aims to establish a statutory mechanism for the registration of same sex partnerships to set out duties and responsibilities of registered partners and the consequences of a separation or termination of such partnerships. It also provides a legal safety net and protection to a dependent party at the end of a relationship or through bereavement by establishing a scheme of redress for unregistered or unmarried cohabitants.

The Green Party considers this a significant further step in equality, but we will push for more rights and protections in the family law area in respect of same sex couples. However, as my colleague, Deputy Cuffe, pointed out last October, there is a difference between proposing while in opposition and enacting while in government. There is a range of legal, taxation, social welfare and pension issues that must be fully thought out and delivered in this Bill if it is to protect the rights of those in same sex partnerships. This legislation must stand up to scrutiny in the Irish courts and respect international best practice in this field of law. It must ensure the rights of those in same sex relationships are protected. It must cover all taxation, social welfare and pension rights issues and protect and deliver on issues such as succession, shared home ownership and power of attorney when partners are ill.

The Green Party has been in consultation with our Government partners, in particular the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, to push for those and other measures. We favour the application of full marriage rights — as accorded to heterosexual married couples under the Constitution — to same sex couples. We believe, however, that in the interim it is most important in our discussions with our Government partners to secure protection for those already in existing relationships while at the same time continuing to press for full civil marriage rights.

The Green Party supports civil marriage for same sex couples, as it offers more protections and rights, particularly in regard to the protection of the family units of same sex partnerships. However, we believe, with the civil partnership Bill being proposed, the first legal steps are being taken to accord legal recognition to thousands of people previously ignored by official Ireland.

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Fine Gael)
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I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate. One of the most courageous political acts I have witnessed in this House was when the then Minister, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, introduced her Bill. It was not a very popular Bill with Fianna Fáil at the time but she went ahead and introduced it. One of the events that motivated her to introduce it was a meeting she had with the parents of young gay people. She was very moved by their experiences and the trauma and life experiences which their children had been through because of the situation as it existed at the time. I hope the current Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will do what he says he will do, which is to introduce civil partnership legislation. I hope Senator Hannigan is mistaken when he says he does not believe it will happen. I hope he is proved wrong on this occasion and that the Minister will introduce the legislation and will have the courage to do so.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate yet disappointed this debate is so necessary owing to the continued legal and social discrimination of same-sex couples in this country. I commend both Senator David Norris and Senator Ivana Bacik on bringing this issue to the fore and providing the opportunity to have this debate by using their Private Members' time to debate and discuss this important social issue.

Some very interesting contributions have been made from all sides of the House. Senator Mullen said we must serve justice and this is true. I will explain how I believe justice can be served in this context. I also wish to commend my party colleague, the former Senator, Sheila Terry, for her work as our party's equality spokesperson in the previous Seanad during which time she produced a comprehensive and progressive policy paper on civil partnership. Fine Gael was the first political party to produce such a paper.

It should be noted that in the general election manifestos last year, all political parties gave a commitment to support legal recognition of same-sex couples. The Oireachtas introduced legislation ten years ago in the form of the Employment Equality Act which afforded legal protection for gay and lesbian people in employment. As a nation and in the intervening period, however, we have failed to act to advance the rights of gay and lesbian people in terms of property rights, succession rights, pension, tax, social welfare, inheritance rights and next-of-kin status. The legal framework continues to discriminate against people involved in same-sex relationships. It discriminates in a way which is unacceptable and repulsive in the modern, progressive society to which we aspire and in which we claim to live and work.

If one were to see two babies lying side by side in neighbouring cradles in any maternity hospital in the country today, would one really have the heart to look at one baby and say it can grow up, its behaviour will be viewed as the norm, its interests in developing a romantic relationship will be encouraged by society and seen as the done thing, and whenever it enters into a serious relationship, the State will recognise its love and provide a legitimacy to its relationship, and say to the other that it will grow up in a society where it will be viewed with distaste by the State, its relationship with another individual will never be recognised and, by implication, will be almost frowned upon, its love for its partner will always be viewed as illegitimate and the State will afford it no recognition? This is the current situation. It is a mixture of prejudice and misconception which has created a situation where from the moment of birth, a child is destined effectively to be ignored for life by this State because of his or her sexuality, something which is outside his or her control.

Many homophobic attitudes still remain in this country and they often emerge during a debate such as this. To some degree this is a generational issue but not entirely. I refer to the serious national phenomenon of homophobic bullying in schools. We all have heard the stories and the problem is very common. The phenomenon of male suicide is affected by the homophobia that continues to be present in society. Many men, surprisingly young, still feel so ignored, discriminated against and afraid to speak about their sexuality that they become very depressed and, unfortunately, take their own lives. This is a frequent occurrence. It is beginning to be spoken about and to be identified in the research in this area. Huge pain is caused in society by the prejudicial attitudes which still remain. This House has work to do. We can lead the way in many ways and improve the quality of life and the human rights of our citizens.

I thank the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, GLEN, for the comprehensive briefing it provided to Oireachtas Members today. It was most helpful in moving the debate forward and in enabling the House to conduct the debate based on fact rather than on myth. More information is required. GLEN provided information on a question raised by Senator Norris about children with same-sex parents. More research is required in this area so that we can understand the issues.

When I read the information supplied by GLEN, I came across a real-life story which may help to personalise and understand the very human side to the current discriminatory legislative situation. With the indulgence of the House I wish to quote from the information. Many Members may have seen this case highlighted on the recent "Prime Time" programme and will have seen Mrs. Margaret Gill speak about her family experience. Senator Mullen said it was invidious to talk about individual cases but nothing better illustrates the reality of life than such individual cases, whether that be cystic fibrosis or mental health. The individual cases bring home to us the reality of people's lives.

Barbara and Ruth were in a committed relationship for 12 years and lived in Kilkenny. Like many couples they decided to have a family together. Ruth became pregnant and the couple made the decision that she would stay at home to raise their child. Stephen was born in February 2007. Knowing that their family had no standing in law, they moved quickly to have their wills changed to reflect their new family status. Tragically, before they were able to sign the wills, Barbara was killed when she was struck by a truck while cycling to work. Stephen was just eight weeks old. Barbara's existing will named her parents as sole beneficiaries. However, her parents want to honour Barbara's wishes and give the proceeds of her estate to Ruth and Stephen whom they recognise as their grandchild. In gifting the estate to Ruth, large amounts of tax will have to be paid to the State. This is the issue of non-recognition which Mrs. Margaret Gill spoke very movingly about on "Prime Time".

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Fine Gael)
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This is an example of a situation. Pension rights could not be passed on to the surviving partner.

On 25 June 2003, Fine Gael published its policy paper on civil partnership. Fianna Fáil has made a number of promises. It is five years since the Fine Gael policy paper was published and Fianna Fáil has not yet introduced legislation. Every time the issue is raised, we are told: "Not today but tomorrow." I hope the commitment given tonight to publish the heads of the Bill by the end of March will be met.

Our amendment to this motion expresses Fine Gael's commitment to civil partnership legislation to deal with the significant inequalities and discriminatory practices currently in place with respect to same-sex couples. Unfortunately, due to the procedures of the House, we are unable to move this amendment today which is to be regretted.

I congratulate Senator Norris, not just on this debate tonight but on his lifetime commitment to this issue and the overall issues surrounding equality and gay rights. Jane Addams, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, remarked that: "The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life." We must now incorporate equality based on sexual orientation into our common life and law. This is the challenge for this House and this Oireachtas. Fine Gael will be pursuing the Government to ensure civil partnership legislation is introduced in 2008.

Photo of Labhrás Ó MurchúLabhrás Ó Murchú (Fianna Fail)
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I second the Government amendment. I do so having listened to an exceptionally measured contribution from the Minister. If that same speech were given 12 months or two years ago, I believe we would all feel relatively happy with it. However, the goalposts have obviously now changed, which is why the debate has taken a different turn. I was encouraged by the Taoiseach's statement in 2006 at the launch of the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution report on the family when he said:

It is clear that the Committee has worked hard to get this delicate balance right. It has taken a pragmatic and compassionate approach, rather than a legalistic or ideological one. It is no surprise that there was not a full consensus on the Committee as regards some of its conclusions.

It has laid out a strategy that does not require wholesale constitutional change. It avoids divisive battles on issues over which people hold very strong opinions. In particular, I find the Committee's reasoning on the definition of the family — and why that definition should not be changed at this time — convincing. The reality is that the traditional family based on marriage has presented great benefits to our society. It has given social stability and, in general, it has provided a most favourable context in which to rear children. Many believe that to dilute the protection given to the family based on marriage would be to jeopardise the common good.

Senator Norris made a very powerful and telling speech — I would not expect anything less from such an eminent Senator. In a way it reminded us of the deep emotions involved in this issue. It is very easy to approach this in a clinical manner. It is perhaps even easy to approach it in a theological manner. However, at the end of the day human emotions are involved and they are exceptionally deep-seated emotions. It is only when one comes across people or is a friend of people with a different sexual orientation from one's own that one realises they do not have two heads, that one is able to interact with them and that much of the stigma which existed is no longer there as a barrier or obstruction.

For that reason I was exceptionally impressed by the whole tone of the discussion we have had so far this evening. In other circumstances, as I am sure Senator Norris would agree, such as on the Order of Business this morning and yesterday when we discussed issues that I will not mention, there would be considerable interaction and heckling in a nice sense. However, that is not the case in this debate because we realise this is a very serious and important matter — a point Senator Norris, himself, made. It is fundamental and will obviously have an impact one way or another not just on society but also in a biological way on the very existence of the human race. That might sound a little bit exaggerated and far-fetched. However, we know that as the parameters are moved, new elements are brought to bear.

Somebody has said it is not a child issue — I do not accept that. Our policy needs to be child-centred in this regard. While I accept that we have the exceptions of single parents and so on, the ideal environment in which to rear children is the traditional family with the biological parents. I do not fully accept the findings put forward by Senator Norris. I heard a very good discussion on radio last Sunday evening with which I was very impressed. However, the bona fides of that finding was questioned very much. It was seen more as a report rather than research that had been carried out in a scientific way. I do not want to score points on that or to lower it to this point. However, when children come into the equation we must consider what has now happened in Spain. A birth certificate in Spain can no longer carry the names of parents by law. One should try to tell the traditional family that in the future it is possible, given what has happened in other jurisdictions, that the parents' names might not be permitted to appear on a birth certificate. There is a certain degree of taking away one's identity. It also takes away the continuity of the family and raises exceptionally important questions regarding succession rights, which needs to be considered. That does not help the cause of those in same sex unions.

We need to pull back somewhat from where the debate has arrived and review from whence we have come and the progress that has been made in that time. There are many legal issues that need to be considered. I take to heart the experience of Senator Prendergast in a hospital where a gay couple with a child could not be regarded as the guardians or whatever. That is of concern and we need to consider such issues. The same is true of property rights. It is not possible to say it is genuinely right if two people have lived together for 20 or 30 years, probably have pooled their savings and worked together to build up whatever property they have that in some way the remaining partner does not have rights in those cases. I would probably even go a step further which may contradict a point made earlier. I would not totally rule out the same rights being given to siblings of a certain age. I am glad to see Senator Norris nodding his head.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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It is a different issue, but I agree with the Senator.

Photo of Labhrás Ó MurchúLabhrás Ó Murchú (Fianna Fail)
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In a way that diminishes the argument we are trying to make on behalf of same sex couples. It is not an issue of knowing what is happening in the bedroom. It is an issue of affection and of sharing lives together. If we are to go down that road, the issue of siblings needs to be brought to bear. I do not know at what age that should start or whatever the case might be. However, we must have a discussion on the matter.

I am glad the Government's amendment is not the usual type. It is a chronological list of what has been done to date, which was appropriate to do. Senator Norris would rightly get credit for some of those developments. It is important to provide the background from whence we have come to where we are, which the amendment does. Having listened to what the Minister said, as I understand it, we are talking about civil partnerships. The issues and headings he outlined are comprehensive and all embracing. Ultimately one wonders why it is necessary even to take on the bastion of the traditional family status in this case because it will create division and a negative reaction, which nobody wants in this case.

I compliment Senator Norris on having tabled the motion. There is too much talk in the back rooms and corridors. Let us come in and express our views and let us not be insulting to anyone in this. Let us learn from each other, as that is what debate should be about. There is a considerable amount in the amendment when it is taken in light of the Minister's measured contribution and the Taoiseach's statement in 2006. We have much there on which to build.

Photo of Joe O'TooleJoe O'Toole (Independent)
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I wish to share time with Senator Doherty.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Joe O'TooleJoe O'Toole (Independent)
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Tá an díospóireacht atá ar siúl againn anocht thar a bheith tábhachtach. Caithfidh mé a rá go raibh an méid a dúirt an Seanadóir Ó Murchú as thoughtful as ever.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Joe O'TooleJoe O'Toole (Independent)
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I acknowledge the important points he has made. B'fhéidir nach n-aontaím le gach rud atá ráite aige, ach tuigim an tábhacht a bhaineann le mór-chuid dá bhfocail. Tá sé thar a bheith tábhachtach go bhfuil sé sin ráite againn anocht. I welcome the Minister of State to the House. These issues are important. When I first came to Dublin I did not understand the issues of equality and homophobia because rightly or wrongly I was reared in a society in Dingle where neither of them existed. There may have been the odd schoolboy jokes about it. I thought men and women were equal, because they were definitely equal where I was reared in Dingle-Daingean Uí Chúis, An Daingean. If people were gay and seen to be slightly different that was an accepted thing in society, no more than people with difficulties who might be different for other reasons were also accepted. That was the kind of community in which I grew up. When I was elected to this House initially, for the first five years I shared my office with the only acknowledged gay parliamentarian in the country. I saw the pain he went through in terms of hate mail and other nastiness. I made a certain commitment to myself then, which was not a difficult thing to do, that I would always support any gay rights issues that he put forward and I think I have done that.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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The Senator certainly has.

Photo of Joe O'TooleJoe O'Toole (Independent)
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I do not always agree with everything he says and I have taken issue with some of the matters he has tabled tonight but that is not the point because I believe these issues should be discussed. I always think of these debates in terms of how the loyal, perhaps Christian, honest, gay citizen of Ireland hears this debate. Do people feel we are representing that person here? Senator Ó Murchú said this debate should be child-centred and I agree with him. In retrospect, we can agree on one document — the Proclamation of the Republic — whose fourth paragraph refers to cherishing all the children of the nation equally. Those who wrote the Proclamation were not talking about juveniles but about citizens of the State. It was probably the most powerful and fundamental comment ever made in the history of this State, although it has never been allowed into any of our Constitutions. Had it been inserted as a constitutional provision, it would not have been necessary to hold this debate. This is an issue of love, equality, rights and no more than that. Over the years, I have found it so difficult to witness the reluctance with which we share our rights with people who happen to be gay. It is despicable and I have never understood it. I can understand people wishing to protect the institutions of the State and various other institutions and processes by which we live, but I cannot understand the reluctance with which we share our rights in a democracy. It is wrong and I cannot cope with it.

I do not know the difference between civil partnership and civil marriage. I stand for making sure people have equal rights wherever they happen to be. It is as simple and fundamental as that. It is an ethical and moral matter, and may be also a Christian and constitutional matter. It is fundamentally an issue of humanity, which is where it must remain rooted. Senator Frances Fitzgerald referred to the woman from middle Ireland who spoke with absolute articulation on "Prime Time", for the first time ever in the public eye, to say she wanted her deceased daughter's child to be raised legally and properly by her daughter's partner. I cannot see why that should create a difficulty for anybody in an honest and fair society. I am talking about the right of a gay person to sit in the front pew at the funeral mass of a deceased gay partner. That is not unreasonable. I would echo Senator Ó Murchú's point about the right of a person to continue to live in the family home after the death of a gay partner who was the legal owner of the property. Who can argue with these matters and why are we waiting so long to deal with them?

It is easy for people to tell Senator Norris that he has gone too far but have we not learned the phrase "Too little, too late"? If this matter had been dealt with when it was promised and if we had grasped the nettle, we would not be at this stage but it always seems to happen this way. There is a clear understanding that honest and fair commitments were given which do not go beyond what any reasonable person would want. Let us not make a big issue of this, or some sort of deal-breaker in the citizenship we all share. Let us look at this matter in an honest, fair and balanced way. If we root our decision in humanity, fairness and equity it will become very easy indeed. I ask Senators to support the proposal by Senator Norris.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Sinn Fein)
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Sinn Féin fully supports the right of same-sex couples to marry and found a family, including by adoption. We also support the right of unmarried and same-sex couples to enter into civil partnerships, to which the motion refers.

Sinn Féin was the first party to try to enshrine this right in legislation, when former Deputy Seán Crowe tabled an amendment to the Civil Registration Bill 2003 to provide for equal recognition of same-sex marriage. In 2004, Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh tabled an amendment to the Equality Bill to allow for a more inclusive definition of the term "marital status" to recognise same-sex partnerships. In 2005, our submission to the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution called for the definition of "family" to be extended to include same-sex couples. In our manifesto for last year's general election we stated that Sinn Féin in Government would "introduce legislation to permit and recognise same-sex marriage, provide full and equal recognition of all civil partnerships in law, and recognise the right of same-sex couples to adopt children in the same manner as heterosexual couples". Our record on this issue is clear and unambiguous and that is why I support the motion proposed by Senator Norris.

I wish to focus on two issues, one of which concerns our responsibilities under the Good Friday Agreement. The Government has an obligation to introduce equality protections for this community under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement's equivalence provisions. In Britain, the Transsexual Act 2004 and Civil Partnerships Act 2005 provide that lesbian and gay couples in the Six Counties now have broadly equivalent rights to those enjoyed by married couples. Both the Equality Authority and NESF have called for this State to level-up its equality legislation by introducing similar provisions. The report endorsed by the Six County Equality Authority and the Equality Commission, entitled "Equivalence in Promoting Equality" and published in December 2005, states:

[that the reforms] need not precisely replicate UK legislation. However, legislation is required to protect and give effect to equal treatment of transsexual people and lesbian and gay couples under the equivalence requirement [of the Good Friday Agreement].

There is, therefore, a responsibility on the Government to do this. International instruments and court challenges can all prompt the Government to act but it should not drag its heels and wait for either to occur. It should legislate proactively for the progression of human rights in a modern and changing society.

Another step that needs to be taken urgently is one highlighted last October by the Equality Authority, namely, the need to amend the equality laws to provide protection for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered persons employed in religious-run schools.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Sinn Fein)
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The current law contains an exemption which allows such institutions to discriminate on the basis of a person's sexual orientation or family status. This is unacceptable particularly in publicly-funded schools in the 21st century. The exemption means that even if the Government introduces a civil partnership Bill, it would be useless for many gay and lesbian teachers who would be afraid to enter into a civil partnership because it might mean losing their jobs. If the Government wants to demonstrate a genuine commitment to equality it cannot continue to tolerate a situation where gay and lesbian teachers can be effectively barred from employment in more than 90% of the State's schools, or forced to lead a double life, under so-called equality legislation.

While Sinn Féin supports the right to civil partnership, it should not be seen as a substitute for the right to marry. Full equality for gays and lesbians will be achieved only when same-sex couples can enter into either civil partnerships or marriages, according to their own choice. I urge the Government parties to stop dithering and making up excuses. They should support the motion to introduce legislation immediately in the interest of basic equality and human rights for the gay and lesbian community.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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The programme for Government states that the Government is "committed to full equality for all in society". It goes on to state, "Taking account of the options paper prepared by the Colley group, we will legislate for civil partnerships at the earliest possible date in the lifetime of the Government." I welcome this commitment to "full equality" and to legislate for civil partnerships. The two commitments go hand in hand and complement each other. They represent the working out of the principle of equality, as enshrined in the Constitution, EU treaties and international human rights conventions, which has led to considerable changes for the better in the legislative rights and institutional protections for gay and lesbian members of our society in the past 15 years.

The passing of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993 was a momentous achievement which brought to an end a long history of criminalisation of homosexual practices. It reflected the perseverance over many years of a Member of this House, Senator Norris, in campaigning for such a change. The commitment of the former Fianna Fáil Minister, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, to persuading the wider public of the fairness, equity and appropriateness of the change was also a crucial factor. Bringing the wider public along with the wisdom of supporting changes in acceptable sexual mores or the nature of the family unit is as desirable now as it was in the case of the decriminalisation of homosexual practices in 1993.

The equality legislation enacted in subsequent years marked the continued progression of the achievement of equity for gay and lesbian citizens. The Employment Equality Act 1998 outlaws discrimination in accessing employment and conditions of employment and the Equal Status Act 2000 prohibits discrimination in the supply of goods and services to anyone because of their sexualorientation. The Equality Authority is active in promoting compliance with these legislative rights.

Another legislative milestone in the progression of rights and protections for gay and lesbian persons will shortly come before us, namely, the legislation for civil partnerships. This is a difficult and emotional issue for many people in our society who will see it as a further erosion of what they consider the core of our society, namely, the traditional heterosexual family unit. That perspective is enshrined in our Constitution, at Article 41.3.1, which states, "the State pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of marriage, on which the family is founded" and to protect it against attack .

It is incumbent on us as legislators to respect and recognise the fears and apprehensions of many of our fellow citizens that civil partnership legislation may represent a further weakening of the traditional family unit. It is further incumbent on us to do our best to respond to these genuinely held fears of new legislation, as Máire Geoghegan-Quinn did so well in 1993, by explaining with our own conviction that civil partnership legislation provides rights and protections in law to same sex couples that any decent society would seek to provide.

I fully support the protections the civil partnership legislation will provide. It is a further mark of our maturity as a society and the sense of decency and fairness we would like to see embedded in our laws to provide these protections. There are many, including those proposing this motion, who regard the civil partnership legislation as insufficient. I contend that it marks a substantial step forward. As Senator Ó Murchú observed, what we are doing now would have been seen as progressive only a year ago. There is a clear urgency on the part of the Government in putting in place the rights and protections of civil partnerships for thousands of our fellow citizens. We look forward to same sex couples availing of the right to civil partnerships at the earliest possible date and enabling them to celebrate their new status. The discussion of the differences between civil partnerships and traditional marriage is one for another day, taking account of the constitutional and social issues involved.

Photo of Alex WhiteAlex White (Labour)
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I support Senator Norris's motion and oppose the amendments put forward. Having been detained in a committee meeting for the past two hours, I have not had an opportunity to hear any of my colleagues' contributions, so I am somewhat constrained in responding to the debate. We all know that the married family, if I can call it that, is at the heart of our Constitution. The Supreme Court has repeatedly made clear that the family, as characterised by the union of two persons in marriage, enjoys inalienable and imprescriptable rights. So much of our jurisprudence in regard to the family and children has flown from this fundamental and repeatedly sanctioned principle.

The rights of persons in a family characterised by marriage are immeasurably greater than those enjoyed by others. Senator Norris makes an unanswerable argument when he states that for as long as we have an exclusion on the rights of gay people to get married, there will remain at the heart of our constitutional system and our society a fundamental inequality. "Marriage trumps everything" was a phrase used by one of the lawyers in the discussion we had earlier on the proposed children's rights referendum. Marriage is at the core of everything. With respect to my colleagues on the other side of the House, it is not enough for the Minister or others to present a list of all the positive developments that have taken place in this area as if they were gifts to gay people, as if employment and equality legislation and other developments are somehow to be regarded as enough. The attitude is, "You have these concessions, be happy."

I wholeheartedly support Senator Norris's position that it is not enough to say these developments, important and fundamental as they are, have been achieved. To establish true equality, we must extend the right to marry to gay persons. It is a question of political courage. The Minister said in his speech that if a proposal of this type were put to the people, it would be deeply divisive and would not necessarily be passed. Deeply divisive proposals have been put to the electorate before. More than that, many of the proposals put to the people were inherently divisive. Nobody looks for division or seeks to be divisive but these difficult issues must be addressed. It is not enough to state that we should shy away from them because of the likelihood of a potentially divisive and difficult public debate. That is not how legislators should behave. This is a time for courage.

7:00 pm

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Having listened to this civilised and important debate, I am glad I put down this motion. There seems to be a type of zeitgeist at play, with the Gilligan-Zappone case and the work done by the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, GLEN. I honour the work done by all these people. It was pure fluke that the briefing to which I referred took place today. It was interesting that only two Senators spoke in favour of discrimination and against equality, neither of whom materialised at that briefing. Their absence was regrettable because we all have much to learn from each other.

I agree completely with what Senator Alex White said. It is time to have courage. I do not want to smuggle something in under the carpet without discussion with the people. Let us have that discussion; I will be delighted to campaign for change. We must have the courage to put the proposal to the people. I guarantee we will win.

Senators Ó Murchú and Mary White are absolutely right that if this change had been initiated four years ago, when I first put forward the Bill, I would have welcomed it as prophetic and visionary. Now, however, change is coming in dribs and drabs, parsimoniously, and there is no vision. The problem is that what is proposed does not represent equality. With the greatest respect, equality is not what Senator Mullen thinks it is when he proposes to share time equally, as he said, with Senator O'Toole but proceeds to speak for the full eight minutes, thus denying Senator O'Toole the opportunity to speak. If that is his notion of equality, I am not surprised he took the view he did. He dismissed every major international and reputable authority and report. I will not list them all again but if they do not convince him, it is a case of what might be described in theological terms as invincible ignorance. I cannot help him.

I know what equality is. Equality is 2+3=5 and not just in those cases where "2" is a man and "3" is a woman. If both are men or both are women, it is still five, not four and a half or four and three quarters. That is not equality. Even I know enough arithmetic to know that is the case. It is a cause for concern. That is why I am glad that we got through today. There will be a vote. The members of the Government parties will vote not in favour of my proposal but clearly in favour of civil partnership. That is an advance. We have done that, at least, by raising the bar. I would like the Minister of State to bring back to his Cabinet colleagues a request for us to be given details of the timing of this move.

I am glad that Margaret Gill, who gave a remarkable performance on "Prime Time", was mentioned. Mrs. Gill is from Edenderry, County Offaly, which is the heart of Ireland. I am proud to say that my family also comes from the bogs of Ireland, which is the real Ireland. The woman in question expressed her concern for her grandchild. There is clear evidence that the love of a parent for his or her child — the parent's capacity to give love to the child to help him or her to grow — is central to good parenting. It was interesting that neither of the Senators who spoke against equality mentioned the word "love", which is what we want. As gay people, we are entitled to celebrate our sexuality. We do not want it to be neutered.

I agree with Senator Ó Murchú's point that siblings must be looked after. However, we should not neuter the relationships between gay people. They should be entitled to celebrate joyfully their sexual union, express their pleasure and show their commitment to each other. It astonishes me that those very voices who used to complain about promiscuity in the gay community are now belly-aching because gay people are emphasising the importance of commitment. Such logic confuses me. Gay people were committed to each other during those evil days when homosexuality was a major criminal offence. I have been to 20th, 25th and 30th anniversary celebrations in the past year. The 25th anniversary celebration honoured my successor in the National Gay Federation, Eamonn, and his companion, Tomás. I was at a wedding in the Unitarian Church of a couple who have been known to me for many years. They lived together for five years before they were able to get married. I honour the clergyman who performed the ceremony. I do not see any reason priests should not give blessings. I have seen priests of various denominations blessing war planes, bombs, ploughs and goldfish. I do not know how the priest who blessed the goldfish knew they were not lesbian — with goldfish, it is extremely difficult to tell. We need to look beyond these things.

I urge all Members of the House to read the briefing prepared by the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, which lists the technical disadvantages faced by gay couples in areas like tax, inheritance and the giving of evidence. I honour the representatives of MarriagEquality. I have thrown myself behind what they have to say. Having mentioned Margaret Gill, I would like to mention some other wonderful people. I encourage Senators to read the article written by Terry Prone in the Irish Examiner of Monday, 18 February last. Ms Prone wrote about a wonderful, talented and committed person with whom she worked. It is only at the end of the article that one realises it is about a woman who is in a relationship with another woman. The final lines of the article read:

I still hope to attend a wedding in the not too distant future. Of my gay friend. The girl who designed a calendar in memory of her mother.

It is a tribute to love, as is a marvellous article by Róisín Ingle in The Irish Times about Orla Howard, her partner Gráinne and Gráinne's daughters. The article states:

Seventeen-year-old Clare O'Connell knew exactly the message she wanted to get across to her local TDs when she and her family met them to discuss the issue of same-sex marriage in Leinster House earlier this week. We go to school and play basketball and listen to music. We eat pasta and do our homework. It's not radical, we don't live in a hippy commune and the only difference is that we have two women as parents. I just want to know whether the politicians think it's right that my Mum and her partner are not allowed to get married. I just want them to see that our family is normal, almost boring, really.

The photograph that accompanied the article shows us that the two girls are lovely. It is clearly a happy, joyful, good and wholesome family. The final lines of the article read:

"I think people are afraid of the unknown", says Clare, while Daire says that living with two women as parents has made her and her sister very open-minded. "There are people around the country who might never have even met a gay person and so they might have concerns about us having gay parents, but look at me and Daire, we are not that bad are we?" Not bad at all.

Those who think they have never met a gay person can take it from me that they have. Every Member of this House has a gay member of his or her family. A Member of the other House who used to regularly rail against gay people approached me in the car park of Leinster House approximately two years ago to tell me that his son had told him he was gay. When I asked the Deputy what he had said to his son, he told me he had said, "I love you. You are my son and you will always be my son. You will always have my love". I think that was the right thing to say. Is it not extraordinary how things can come home to roost in such a manner?

It is important that I refer to the American Psychiatric Association's statement which states:

No research has shown that the children raised by lesbians and gay men are less well adjusted than those reared within heterosexual relationships. As the population ages, the denial of legal recognition of civil marriage has consequences for increasing numbers of older adults in same-sex relationships who face age-related health and financial concerns. Excluding these adults from civil marriage protections of survivorship and inheritance rights, financial benefits, and legal recognition as a couple in health care settings increases the psychological burden associated with aging. The American Psychiatric Association has historically supported equity, parity, and non-discrimination in matters that have an impact on mental health. APA has also supported same-sex civil unions and the right of same-sex couples to adopt and co-parent children.

I accept that I may have been slightly shrill and emotional earlier in this debate. I said that some people are mean-minded and I do not take a word of it back. The contribution made by my friend, Senator Walsh, was a classic example of what I am talking about. Is it not mean-minded to say we cannot give tax equality to homosexuals because it would cost money? Darling, I pay taxes too. If fairies were exempt from paying tax, I would forget about marriage. If the Government gets rid of income tax for gay people, I will accept Senator Walsh's position on this issue. With respect, I will not take any guff from him until he does that.

Senators:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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On a brief point of order, I was absent from the Chamber when Senator Norris drew attention to the fact that I had taken some of Senator O'Toole's time. Any suggestion that I did so deliberately is slightly mean-minded. I would have thought that as a junior Senator, I might be immune from cheap shots. I would like to put it on the record that I misunderstood the Chair's briefing on the time slots. I have already apologised to Senator O'Toole several times. I hope that will satisfy Senator Norris.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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I take Senator Mullen's point.

Amendment put.

The Dail Divided:

For the motion: 26 (Dan Boyle, Martin Brady, Larry Butler, Ivor Callely, Ciarán Cannon, Donie Cassidy, Maria Corrigan, Mark Daly, Déirdre de Búrca, John Ellis, Geraldine Feeney, Camillus Glynn, Cecilia Keaveney, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Lisa McDonald, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Francis O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Fiona O'Malley, Ned O'Sullivan, Ann Ormonde, Kieran Phelan, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)

Against the motion: 22 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Maurice Cummins, Pearse Doherty, Paschal Donohoe, Frances Fitzgerald, Dominic Hannigan, Fidelma Healy Eames, Michael McCarthy, Nicky McFadden, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Joe O'Toole, John Paul Phelan, Phil Prendergast, Eugene Regan, Liam Twomey, Alex White)

Tellers: Tá, Senators Déirdre de Búrca and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Phil Prendergast and Alex White.

Amendment declared carried.

Photo of Pat MoylanPat Moylan (Fianna Fail)
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As the amendment has been carried, amendment No. 2 cannot be moved.

Question, "That the motion, as amended, be agreed to", put and declared carried.

Photo of Pat MoylanPat Moylan (Fianna Fail)
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When is it proposed to sit again?

Photo of Donie CassidyDonie Cassidy (Fianna Fail)
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At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow morning.