Tuesday, 20 October 2015
Marriage Bill 2015: Second Stage
It gives me huge pleasure to introduce the Marriage Bill 2015 into the Seanad. The Bill gives effect to the constitutional amendment, approved by the people on 22 May 2015, that, "Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex." Eleanor Roosevelt famously wrote that a person's philosophy is best expressed by the choices he or she makes. The decisive vote by the people of Ireland for marriage equality has confirmed that our society's philosophy is one of inclusiveness. We recognise the truth of Desmond Tutu's statement that our universe is characterised by diversity. We have chosen as a people to ensure that marriage, one of our most cherished institutions, now responds to the diversity of our society.
The process of societal change which has made this Bill possible has involved many people. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people across this country have worked tirelessly to make marriage equality a reality. Many parents, siblings, friends and neighbours have supported them on their quest for change. The tapestry of change has been woven by many hands. I salute them all. However, I would like to pay particular tribute to two members of the Seanad who have been pivotal in this process. First among them is, of course, Senator David Norris. His courage and persistence in challenging the State led ultimately to decriminalisation back in 1993. It is fitting that he is here today, an esteemed Member of this House, to see the introduction of the Marriage Bill. He has played a truly vital part over the years in ensuring that the State treats its citizens fairly and equally, regardless of sexual orientation.
Another special mention should go to Senator Katherine Zappone who, with her wife Ann Louise, began the process of seeking rights for same-sex couples wishing to have their marriages recognised here. Their action helped to spark a movement and to change the nature of our discussion about marriage. They inspired lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to see access to marriage as an achievable goal. Many other Members of this House have been passionate advocates of equality generally and, in the course of the marriage referendum campaign and before, of equal access to marriage. I do not intend to name each of those Senators, for fear of missing someone out. I will say that Senators have made a significant contribution, inside this Chamber and on the doorsteps, to making this Bill possible today.
Most of all, though, I wish to acknowledge the enormous contribution made by the many who played a critical role in the run-up to the referendum, namely, the NGOs which worked together under the "Yes Equality" umbrella and the thousands of people who canvassed and campaigned for marriage equality.
I have already addressed a particular matter in the other House but I think it bears repeating here. The referendum campaign was hard fought, with passionate viewpoints expressed on both sides. It is a triumph of our democratic process that people across the country participated sincerely and enthusiastically. Ultimately, the decision of the people was clear and decisive. However, it is important to recognise the sincerity of the divergent viewpoints which were articulated in the course of the referendum campaign. Those who voted against the referendum feared that marriage would be fundamentally changed, even feared that society itself would change. They were motivated by the desire to defend an institution that is so dear to us. They have also played an important part in the democratic process. I would say to them now that there is nothing to fear by the outcome of the referendum. Marriage has been strengthened by the debate and by the outcome of the referendum. Its value has been reaffirmed by people who want so wholeheartedly to make that very special and ideally lifelong commitment. The desire of same-sex couples for access to marriage and our response to it has changed our society in the best way possible. The "Yes" vote says something important about our society. It says that as a society, we value marriage and we recognise its importance in both practical and symbolic terms. As of 23 May, the referendum result day, our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens can see that they are rightly recognised by their fellow citizens as fully part of our society and entitled to be part of one of its most cherished institutions. This is why, on 23 May, there was such jubilation in the upper yard of Dublin Castle, on the streets and in people's homes. It was because when the people of Ireland were asked to vote on the rights of a minority, they decided that the minority should have the same rights as the majority.The Marriage Bill 2015 is designed to open marriage to same-sex couples. The constitutional amendment alone does not do that. As it stands, the law does not yet allow two persons of the same sex to marry in accordance with law. This Bill will make the necessary changes to the law to enable same-sex couples to marry. It will clarify the position of religious bodies and guarantee their freedom of religion. It will also discontinue the statutory scheme of civil partnership. Finally, it will make a range of other legislative amendments to ensure married same-sex couples are treated in the same way under law as any other married couple.
Some will regret the removal of the civil partnership option. It has already been discussed in some detail in the other House. However, the advice I received on the matter is clear. Civil partnership was not made available to opposite-sex couples at the outset precisely because they had the option of marrying. In similar fashion, it can no longer be available for same-sex couples, as they will now have the option of marrying. The Government's advice is that to continue to allow access to civil partnership would raise equality issues if it were available only to same-sex couples. At the same time, it might be constitutionally vulnerable if available to all couples in parallel with marriage. This is because of the constitutional pledge to "guard with special care the institution of Marriage, on which the Family is founded, and to protect it against attack." That places a particular responsibility on the State not to allow an institution to operate which might carry any risk of being regarded as a competitor to marriage. The Bill proposes, therefore, an orderly wind-down of access to civil partnership for new entrants, while preserving the rights, obligations and entitlements of couples already in a civil partnership or a relationship which is treated as a civil partnership under Irish law.
The Bill sets out several measures to make access to marriage easier for current civil partners. This recognises the fact many people who registered their civil partnerships in Ireland would have preferred to marry had they been able to do so. For this reason, the Government has sought to make the administrative processes for civil partners wishing to marry as easy as possible. To achieve this, we are amending the Civil Registration Act 2004 to provide that it is not an impediment to a marriage if the couple concerned are already in a civil partnership with each other. The Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection will also provide for a reduced fee, namely, €50 instead of the usual €200, where a couple who registered a civil partnership in Ireland now wish to marry here. This reflects the fact the civil registration service will have a file on the couple concerned establishing their identities and will not have to duplicate this work.
In addition, on Report Stage in the Dáil, I introduced an amendment which will reduce the notice period to marry where a couple is already in an Irish civil partnership. This acknowledges that such couples will previously have given notice of their intention to register in a civil partnership. For those who have already given notification of their intention to enter a civil partnership during the transition period, they will be offered the option of marrying instead if they wish. There will be no fees for any necessary administrative changes.
This is a short Bill, given the profound effects it will have. It consists of just 24 sections set out in six Parts. Its main effects will see the removal of the statutory impediment in the Civil Registration Act 2004 preventing parties of the same sex from marrying. Couples already in civil partnerships will be able to marry one another without having to dissolve their civil partnership. Couples who have given notice of their intention to enter a civil partnership will be able to convert this into notice of their intention to marry. Civil partnership will be closed to new couples after a six-month transition period. Provision is made for religious bodies and religious solemnisers. Foreign marriages between same-sex couples will be recognised under Irish law as marriages.
Part 1, sections 1 to 3, inclusive, contains standard provisions. The Bill, once passed, will be known as the Marriage Act 2015. It will be commenced by a ministerial order which I will make after consulting with my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection. Our intention is that the Act will be commenced as soon as is reasonably possible. The General Register Office is already preparing for its implementation. I estimate it should be possible to commence the Act within approximately a fortnight of its enactment. This brief period is necessary to enable the registrar to carry out certain systems testing, as well as to contact couples who have already set dates for their civil partnership ceremonies to determine whether they wish to proceed with a civil partnership or, instead, to marry.
Part 2 is an important substantive Part which changes the current impediments to marriage. Section 4(a) removes the impediment that “both parties are of the same sex" from section 2(2) of the Civil Registration Act 2004. This is the Bill's single most important provision because it is this change that will, in the near future, allow many loving, committed same-sex couples to marry. Section 4(b) further amends the impediments to marriage. Since commencement of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010, the impediments to marriage have included that "one of the parties to the marriage is, or both are, already party to a subsisting civil partnership". If this provision was not amended, the 2,000 or so couples who are already in civil partnerships would not be able to marry each other, unless they first dissolved their civil partnerships. The Bill modifies that impediment by making a special exception for civil partners who wish to marry one another. The precise exception is then set out in a new section 2B of the Civil Registration Act 2004, inserted by section 6. That new section specifies, "There is not an impediment to a marriage by virtue of both of the parties to the intended marriage being parties to a subsisting civil partnership with each other." It is simple, limited and ensures a civil-partnered couple wishing now to marry each other are not put through an onerous and futile requirement to have to dissolve their civil partnership. Of course, being in a civil partnership will continue to be an impediment to marrying anyone except one's own civil partner.
Section 4(c) sets out the impediments that will apply to marriage. At present, the impediments to marriage are set out in marriage law older than the State. The Marriage Act 1835 specifies marriages within the prohibited degrees of consanguinity or affinity are absolutely null and void. Consanguinity is a blood relationship, meaning the relationship of people who descend from the same ancestor. Affinity refers to a relationship based on marriage. For example, a person may not marry his or her stepmother, even when she is divorced or widowed. The law at present has specific limitations in place as regards the degree of consanguinity or affinity which may exist between parties to a proposed marriage. Section 4(c), together with a new section 2A of the Civil Registration Act 2004, inserted by section 5, sets out that prohibitions on the grounds of consanguinity or affinity shall apply to couples of the same sex as they do to couples of the opposite sex. This is subject, of course, to any necessary modifications to those prohibited degrees relating to the sex of the parties.
These provisions are in line with our overall policy that this implementation Bill should interfere as little as possible with existing provisions of marriage law, as well as making only the changes necessary to deliver on the decision of the people in the referendum. Essentially, the same conditions, with appropriate modifications for the sex of the couples, will apply for all couples wishing to marry.
Part 3 consists of a single section setting out the position for religious bodies and religious solemnisers. A religious solemniser is a person such as a priest who is registered with the General Register Office as a solemniser of the church or religious denomination of which he or she is a member. The Government has been clear that equal marriage as a right refers to the civil aspect of marriage, not to any religious or sacramental aspect of it. Historically, many religious bodies have carried out the civil aspects of marriage simultaneously with the religious aspects and this will continue to be the case. It has always been the case that religious bodies have substantial discretion in choosing which marriages to solemnise in accordance with the tenets of their beliefs. This will remain the case.
Nonetheless, it was considered important to make it absolutely explicit in the Marriage Bill that religious bodies will not be compelled to solemnise particular marriages as a consequence of the amendment or of statutory provisions. This special provision is limited to the specifically religious activities of religious bodies and solemnisers. It does not affect or restrict the operation of equality legislation more generally. Accordingly, section 7 specifies that neither this Bill nor any other enactment shall require a religious body to recognise a particular form of ceremony. "Form of ceremony" is defined as including that form in so far as it relates to the sex of the parties to the ceremony. The effect of this provision is to ensure no religious body will be required to authorise new marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples. The section goes on to specify that no religious solemniser shall be obliged to solemnise a marriage in accordance with a form of ceremony not recognised by the religious body of which he or she is a member.It is very detailed in terms of these definitions; therefore, it is a double lock guarantee. Neither a religious body nor an individual cleric will be compelled to solemnise marriages which do not comply with the marriage criteria of the relevant religious body. In short, section 7 demonstrates that the guarantee contained in Article 44 of the Constitution that each religious denomination shall have the right to manage its own affairs is not undermined by this most recent constitutional change. I repeat that this legislation will not compel religious bodies in any way to solemnise marriages. They will have the choice to decide whether to solemnise same-sex marriages. I am aware that some religious denominations may decide or may already have decided to enable same-sex couples to marry in their ceremonies. There is nothing in the Bill or the Civil Registration Act which will restrict them in carrying out the civil as well as the religious aspects of these marriages. It will be up to them to decide.
Part 4 of the Bill sets out the arrangements being made for civil partnership. As I have mentioned, the policy based on the new constitutional context is that civil partnership registration will cease after a reasonably short transitional period. Section 8 repeals a large proportion of Part 7A of the Civil Registration Act 2004 which had set out the basis for the registration of civil partnerships. Some provisions are retained to ensure proper maintenance of the civil partnership register for the protection of couples who are currently civil partners.
I must stress that the status of current civil partners will be completely unchanged. There is no question of removing any of the rights and obligations of civil partnered couples or changing their status in respect of each other. They will be free to marry each other if they so choose, but they are under no obligation to do so. If they choose, they can remain as civil partners for the rest of their lives. To achieve this, the repeals in the Bill are carefully targeted in order that they will remove access to civil partnership registration but leave the status of existing civil partners unaffected. They will also preserve the registrar's powers and responsibilities relating to corrections to and maintenance of the civil partnership register.
Section 9 is a new section to which I referred that was inserted on Report Stage in the Dáil. I referred to it in my opening remarks. It is the provision which sets out that civil partners who registered their civil partnership in Ireland will not have to give three-month notice to the registrar of their intention to marry. This is because, as I have said, they will already have complied with this requirement when registering their civil partnership.
Section 10 inserts a new Part 7C in the Civil Registration Act 2004 to make certain transitional provisions. The inserted section 59K is a technical provision which allows the registrar on the marriage of a couple who are civil partners to record in the civil partnership register that the civil partnership was dissolved on their marriage to each other. One section leads to the other. It is really a housekeeping provision whereby the couple have registered their civil partnership in Ireland and subsequently marry here. These facts will be fully recorded in the registers.
The new section 59L of the Civil Registration Act 2004 contains important transitional provisions relating to the wind-down of civil partnership registration. For couples who have already notified the registrar of their intention to register in a civil partnership, it provides that they may request the notification to be converted into a notification of marriage. The notification period does not reset the clock. A couple who have notified the registrar of their intention to register in a civil partnership on 1 December will be able to convert that notification into a notification of their intention to marry on the same date. I had indicated that this change was coming. The registrar will contact couples directly in the coming weeks to advise them of the differences between the impediments to civil partnership and those relating to marriage. This is to ensure that in the unlikely event of a couple being prohibited from marrying by the impediments relating specifically to marriage, they will still be able to proceed to civil partnership instead.
The section also provides that where a couple have completed a civil partnership registration form before the commencement date, it will remain valid. The couple will be able to proceed to register their civil partnership within the six-month period for which the form remains valid.
Another exception is made for circumstances where an objection to a civil partnership registration is made. This issue needs to be dealt with in the legislation. If a couple are unable to register their civil partnership owing to an objection which, on investigation, is found to be without merit, they will still be able to proceed to register their civil partnership, even if the finding that the objection is unfounded comes after the Bill has commenced.
Despite the repeals set out in section 8, the repealed provisions will continue to apply in their entirety to the exceptional cases I have outlined. Some of the circumstances for which the exceptions are set out are quite unusual and may not arise, but, clearly, we must deal with the issue in the legislation. If they were to arise, the consequences for a couple who found themselves in these situations could be very serious. They would no longer be able to assume legal rights and responsibilities to each other or to receive legal protection for their relationships. The exceptions we are making are careful and very limited. They are designed to ensure couples who already have commenced the formal legal processes involved in registering their civil partnership can do so.
Section 11 inserts a new section in the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010. Although the general rule is that a civil partnered couple may not dissolve their relationship, unless they have been separated for two out of the previous three years, this new section specifies that where a civil partnered couple marry each other, their civil partnership is effectively dissolved from the date of the marriage. This is to ensure the status of the couple in respect of each other is completely clear and that they are not considered to be married and civil partners at the same time. It is essential to deal with this issue in the legislation also.
Part 5 of the Bill deals with the recognition of certain foreign relationships. Section 12, essentially, provides that marriages lawfully contracted abroad by same-sex couples will be recognised as marriages here. Under current law, a marriage is not recognised in Ireland if, under the law of their habitual residence, the parties did not have the capacity to marry at the time they married. If we did not include specific provisions on recognising foreign relationships, this could have serious consequences for Irish couples who married in other jurisdictions before the commencement of the Bill. Subsection (1), therefore, specifies that the sex of the parties to a marriage does not preclude its recognition in Ireland. Of course, if there were another impediment such as one of them being already married or under age, the marriage would not be recognised. Senators will be aware that lots of questions have been asked about all of these technicalities; therefore, it is important to go into detail on them while I am dealing with Second Stage of the Bill.
Subsection (2) specifies that the recognition of a marriage between a same-sex couple will take effect from the date of the marriage or the date on which the section comes into force, whichever is the later. This is required because of the general principle that legislation is not retrospective.
Subsection (3) provides that a marriage recognised under a section 5 order is not precluded from being recognised as a marriage. Section 5 orders are the orders under the Civil Partnership Act that recognised certain registered foreign relationships as being entitled and obliged to be treated as civil partnerships under Irish law. These orders, essentially, recognised marriages contracted abroad as civil partnerships here. These provisions are now being removed. These marriages contracted abroad will, therefore, be fully recognised as marriages without any need for further action on the part of the couple.
Subsection (4) provides for an exception to the recognition rule in a case where a couple has married in another jurisdiction and has since dissolved that relationship, whether under the provisions of the Civil Partnership Act or otherwise. Their marriage will not be recognised, despite the general provisions of this section. This is because it would be very unfair to subject a couple in these circumstances to having to divorce for, as they would see it, a second time.
Subsection (5) is another transitional provision relating to relationship breakdown. The constitutional provisions on divorce require that the couple concerned must be separated for four out of the previous five years in order to divorce. This provision takes account of the fact that some couples may have married in another jurisdiction but that the relationship may have broken down and they may currently be separated for some time. Recognition of their marriage should not reset the clock on that separation; therefore, a period of separation prior to commencement of the Bill will be taken into account for the purposes of the Family Law (Divorce) Act. There is other legislation where periods of separation are similarly relevant, including access to certain State benefits. Any pre-commencement separation period will be recognised for these purposes, too. I realise these are all very technical provisions and may arise in varying circumstances, but I wish to ensure the House is aware that they are being dealt with in the legislation.
Subsections (6) to (10), inclusive, repeal each reference in every section 5 order to marriages made in the specified jurisdictions. This ensures marriages will be recognised exclusively as marriages. There will be no risk of them being treated as marriages in some situations and as civil partnerships in others.Section 13 sets out a restriction on the recognition of other types of foreign registered relationships recognised by section 5 orders. Some of the policy considerations have already been laid out; that civil partnership registration is to close to new couples and that the last day on which a civil partnership may be registered in Ireland will be six months after the Bill commences. For consistency with this policy, section 5 orders will not recognise new civil partnerships recognised in other jurisdictions more than six months after the Bill commences. Couples whose relationships are currently recognised will be completely unaffected by this change. Couples whose relationships are registered after the cut-off date will not be recognised as civil partners in Ireland. However, the option to marry here in Ireland will be open to them.
Part 6 of the Bill amends a range of legislation. Some of the amendments are simply to ensure that a married person has the same rights and obligations, whether the person is married to someone of the same sex or the opposite sex. I outline only the very substantive amendments here. Section 16 for example amends the Guardianship of Infants Act, which is an important provision, to ensure that where a child is jointly adopted by same-sex spouses, both will be the guardians of the child jointly. If either spouse dies the other will be the child’s guardian alone, as with any testamentary guardian or court appointed guardian.
We also amend section 6(b) of the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964, with an insert from the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015, where the spouse - whether husband or wife - of a donor conceived child’s birth mother is also a parent of the child, within the meaning of the 2015 Act, then the spouse is also automatically a guardian of the child. We can see how the recent changes in legislation now come into this legislation.
Section 17 amends the Succession Act 1965, the detail of which I will not go into here, but there is consistency in this as in the other sections. Section 21 amends the statutory provisions setting out the declarations to be made by the parties to a marriage within the ceremony. Each of the parties can, as appropriate, accept the other as a husband, as a wife or as a spouse. This ensures that there is a no question of a same-sex couple only being able to accept each other as spouses. This will not require any change to any form of currently approved ceremony. Opposite-sex couples remain free to accept each other as husband and wife, however they may also be able to accept each other as spouses if they prefer. This will be an option in civil ceremonies. Religious and secular bodies may decide whether or not to allow this in their ceremonies but will not be obliged to allow it.
Section 24 makes a very symbolically important amendment to the Gender Recognition Act 2015 in that it removes the single status requirement for an applicant for a gender recognition certificate. On commencement of that Act, those provisions were not commenced because the marriage amendment had already taken effect. This was a source of great relief for people who feared they would be in the invidious position of choosing between their relationships and their preferred gender. I am very happy to have this early opportunity to remove these provisions entirely.
On 22 May 2015 the people of Ireland showed the scale of their ambition for our society. There were many quiet revolutionaries who determined that they wanted Ireland to be a land of welcome for all its children. The effect was astounding. As the late, lamented Seamus Heaney put it so well, “The dazzle of the impossible suddenly, Blazed across the threshold." Ireland became the first sovereign country to choose marriage equality by popular vote. The referendum confirmed that Irish people want a society that embraces diversity while valuing the family and marriage. The Marriage Bill 2015 which I introduce on Second Stage here today will implement the will of the people. It will enable couples to marry without distinction as to their sex. Its enactment is a matter of urgency. We owe it to those who have waited so patiently to make their dreams a reality. I commend this Bill to the House.
I welcome the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, to the Seanad on this very important and historic day for Seanad Éireann. I thank the Minister for her detailed contribution in outlining the Bill. On behalf of my own party, it is personally a great honour and a pleasure for me to formally support this Bill on Second Stage in the Seanad.
The referendum was an example of how civic society and the country outside of politics - but with politics involved - could come together. I believe on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the Rising, when we look at the fundamental principles of equality and fairness of many of the men and women of that time, one would be that all our children would be treated equally, regardless of gender. It is fitting, coming into that important centenary next year, that Ireland will have joined 19 other countries across the world by being the first by popular vote to acclaim everyone in this country, regardless of gender, and that someone should not be excluded from entering into marriage on the basis of gender.
I am a married man. I have been married for eight years. While it took my wife a long time to convince me to get up the aisle, or maybe it was the other way around, I have friends who have been precluded from getting married. In a modern society the fairness of the Irish people shone through during the campaign and referendum and now people will be able to make their choice should they wish to be married or not.
On a day like today I pay particular tribute to Senator David Norris, my colleague and great friend. When I was in school and coming up through the ranks in political life, David was a colourful figure but also an important figure here in the Oireachtas. He stood out in the Oireachtas in fighting for equality for people who are lesbian and gay. Through his hard work and endeavour he also fought for many others who were marginalised in society. In many ways I am sure he felt he was on his own, but Senator Norris really shone a light for the rest of us at a time when it was not popular to do so. Today, after such a long battle, I thank him for all that he has done. I understand he is a shy and retiring individual-----
-----at least on this occasion he is. As Father of the House, it is fantastic that he is here in such good health, hale and hearty, on a day like today. Senator Zappone has also fought a long battle on this issue, greatly assisted by Senator Bacik. Senator Bacik will testify that over four and a half years we have not agreed on many things, but the odd time we do. The Senators have performed a crucial and important role.
I acknowledge the work of the civil groups in the referendum campaign. I am referring to the work of people like Moninne Griffith at Yes Equality and GLEN, directed by a very good friend of mine, Tiernan Brady, and all the different groups that came together in showing what is possible. There were people who had concerns and those who had different views, but I believe that by passing this Bill into legislation, and when an Uachtarán na hÉireann signs the Bill into law, it will strengthen the institution of marriage. It may give the institution of marriage a shot in the arm. During the debate which ensued over the weeks and months in the lead up to the famous referendum day in May 2015, society said "We accept difference, everyone is equal and everyone should, if they love each other and if they want to make a public statement, be able to marry each other. All of the rights that go with that should be given to all of our citizens equally." I believe that the fairness of the Irish people shone through. People of all ages and all backgrounds were vocal. Those who had never campaigned in previous referendums came out, knocked on doors, spoke to their friends and discussed the issues within families. When one looks back, homosexuality was decriminalised in this country only in 1992. We have come a long way in a relatively short period of time with the Equal Status Act 2000 and the Civil Partnership Act 2010.
It is a great pleasure for me to support this Bill all the way through. I believe the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, is due credit for the way she has spear-headed this legislation. I acknowledge also the former Tánaiste, Eamon Gilmore, who played a very important role in devising this legislation.Certainly colleagues in my party and our party leader, Deputy Martin, fervently believed in marriage equality. He played his part on behalf of the party in this campaign. More important, outside politics, ordinary men and women across the State played their part and voted for marriage equality. I would like to see our colleagues and fellow citizens in Northern Ireland bring marriage equality into law there also. Those who fear that the institution of marriage is in any way undermined by same-sex marriage will learn from the example of the Republic of Ireland that nothing could be further from the truth and if anything, it will strengthen the institution. I hope that in a very short space of time both jurisdictions on the island of Ireland will affirm same-sex marriage by law. This is a fantastic day in the Seanad. I once again commend all those who were so heavily involved in the campaign, lobbying and educating others and all the politicians of all parties and all civic groups, in particular, my good friend and colleague, Senator Norris.
It is great to coalesce on important and significant issues like this. There is no doubt that 22 May last was a truly unique day in Irish society. It was incredible the following day to see front pages of every newspaper in the world proclaiming the history that had been made by the Irish people. Ordinary men and women of this country, through secret ballots, expressed their view in their hundreds of thousands that they believed in the fundamental right of equality so that gay and lesbian people would have exactly the same rights as every other citizen. I commend the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, who played a leading role in the campaign, along with many others, not just in the political sphere but also in the "Yes Equality" campaign and so forth. It is important, however, to identify the political leadership shown by people such as the Minister, Deputy Martin and Senator Norris, in particular. I could not but agree with everything Senator Darragh O’Brien has said about the father of the House. I remember when I was growing up in west Clare following Senator Norris's colourful career, and a colourful character he is. It is fantastic to see him here when Seanad Éireann is passing this extremely important legislation. Fine Gael salutes everything Senator Norris has achieved. In the 1980s it was not popular, it was a criminal act. People such as Senator Norris initiated the journey that has brought us to where we are today.
This is complex legislation that must cover all sorts of anomalies and ensure there are no lacunae or loopholes. That takes serious and careful consideration. I commend the Minister, her officials, the Attorney General and all the other people who played such a vital role in getting this legislation over the line in four months. For some other referenda, it has taken years to enact the legislation. Senator Norris might correct when I say there was a referendum about the university Senators in 1979 and it has not been enacted.
That was an example of the people having their say and clearly stating what they wanted but it has not been enacted. The Department of Justice and Equality, the phenomenal Minister and her officials deserve huge credit for getting this over the line.
I followed the debate on this legislation and civil partnerships in the other House. I understand people's point of view on that issue but the Minister has made it clear that, unfortunately, the legal advice available to her made it impossible to facilitate a dual process in that regard because in essence, it did not formalise equality.
This Government will be remembered for several things, apart from the economy, which comes and goes. However, in terms of doing the right thing by our citizens, the referendum on 22 May will be its crowning achievement. The Taoiseach’s apology to the victims of child and institutional abuse was also significant in terms of doing the right thing by the citizens. Other matters, such as the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, are issues for debate. It is a testament to the political leadership across the political divide in this country that all the leading parties were behind this Bill and put resources into campaigning for it, knocking on doors with enthusiasm because it was the right thing to do. A new generation has been politicised, people who never knocked on a door before knocked on doors and made a huge impact on getting a "Yes" vote.
The people who told their own stories publicly had a profound effect on the campaign - people such as Ursula Halligan; Tom Curran, Fine Gael general secretary, a controversial figure within Fine Gael but the party was proud of what he achieved by telling his story; and Justin and Mary McAleese; who put aside their privacy. Ursula Halligan is an exceptionally private person but put aside her privacy to get the message out that this meant a lot to hundreds of thousands of people. I salute all of those people and the people in communities who are not national figures but who went on local radio and shared their stories. A chap in County Clare wrote a letter to his neighbours appealing to them to vote and telling his story in the letter. That type of action was powerful. It changed a perhaps unintended mind set in a lot of people to get them to do the right thing. I look forward to the Bill's passage through this House. It will be completed by Thursday, with the co-operation of all parties. I commend it to the House and look forward to the remaining Stages going through very quickly.
I remind the House and Senators making contributions on this Bill that, while it is inevitable they would refer to individuals inside and outside the House, it is not the practice of the House or Members contributing to name individuals. The Senator was talking about colleagues but no references should be made to those outside the House. That is the normal practice.
I welcome the Minister and her officials. She has been resolute, diligent and swift in drafting the legislative provisions to implement the will of the Irish people who said "Yes" to marriage equality on 22 May 2015. She is leading its passage through the Houses of the Oireachtas at a welcome pace, one that suits the scale and emotional depth of the people’s vote. I thank her.I welcome our marriage equality champions to the Seanad public Gallery and the AV room, and those who are watching online. I welcome my beloved life partner of 33 years - my spouse and wife of 12 years - Dr. Ann Louise Gilligan. I welcome the leaders of marriage equality, GLEN, ICCL, the USI, NXF, LGBT Noise, Belong To, TENI, Amnesty, and to the national family of Yes Equality. I think some are here from Mayo. Together we have made this freedom law possible.
I will begin by paraphrasing a line from William Butler Yeats because this is how I feel today - change comes dropping slow. When Ann Louise and I first imagined this change that we speak of today over 13 years ago - a change for ourselves, for other LGBT people and for Ireland - we never thought it would take this long. Our work now is almost completed and we have learned so many things in this length of time and the dropping slow of change. I am not the first to mention philosophy, the Minister has also mentioned it. Philosophically speaking, change is the essence of reality. It is the politics of change that throws up the contestations, conflicts, resistance and the prison of prejudice that must be overcome to unleash freedom for an oppressed minority. It is the politics of change, driven successfully by so many equality champions over the past decade, that laid the fertile soil for the people to take up our cause, stand with us, tell their stories, open their hearts, listen to our stories and open their minds to a new way of being human in Ireland. Before the vote, I often said that it is the Irish people who will have the power to banish inequality between a majority and a minority and that such an opportunity does not come often in a lifetime.
How did the people rise up for this? The politics of change became personal, especially for the young. The personal is political, as the elders know. The building of the national family of Yes Equality reaching out to every constituency in our republic and sparking the extraordinary phenomenon of #HomeToVote travellers crossed the generational, cultural and class divides to create an experience of solidarity, the likes of which many have never felt or witnessed before. It is this solidarity that created such pure joy on 23 May 2015 and it is this solidarity and joy that became visible throughout the globe. I pay tribute, not unlike my other colleagues, to every person who knocked on doors, every person who told their story, every person who went on the local and national airwaves, all who gathered for the fundraisers and those who wrote the cheques. I pay tribute to the politicians, our great colleagues in the Dáil, those of us here, especially Senator Norris and Senator Bacik, the political parties, the Independents, the Taoiseach and our Ministers, the mothers and fathers and children of LGBT people, the trans people, young and old, who said "You must include us too", the queen of Ireland, the artists for yes, the mayors for yes, the unions for yes, the children's organisations for yes, the lawyers for yes, the women's organisations for yes, the businesses for yes and all the other folks for yes who engaged in a political revolution 21st century style.
I pay special tribute to the Dublin South-West Yes Equality team that I led with Darragh Genockey. I thank them for every night they went out, every door they knocked on, every conversation they had, especially the difficult ones, and every time they bore witness to the cause of freedom of LGBT people. After the count in Citywest and after we opened all the boxes, we witnessed our results together - 71.3% of Dublin South-West said "Yes". Tallies demonstrated that some areas of Dublin South-West showed massive support for marriage equality, with some parts of Jobstown and Killanarden voting 85% "Yes", areas in Fettercairn voting 88% "Yes", parts of Ballyroan voting 82% "Yes" and estates of Rathfarnham voting 80% "Yes". These results and those throughout the country happened because of the generosity of the Irish people, because of the steadfastness of all of those who participated in this revolution and also because of the intelligence of the Yes Equality strategy, strategies to engage our citizens in the political process, all of whom know now that with citizen engagement deep and fundamental change is possible.
Another prime legacy of the marriage equality referendum is the experience of our people, especially our young people. If they care about a cause and see things that should change and that they want to change, they will know that change is possible. This can only be a good thing for our Republic especially as we approach the year of 2016. Senator O'Brien has already referred to that.
We have before us now the Bill that will enact equality and freedom for LGBT people and it puts in place the legislative provisions to enable couples to marry without distinction as to their sex. I look forward to teasing out the detail of the implications of these provisions on Committee and Report Stages of our Seanad deliberations. We have a Bill before us that when placed on the Irish Statute Book will carry the memory that citizens collaborating together can bring about fundamental change and can enable a cultural seismic shift for the good. May the memory that this law embodies provide an ongoing touchstone for our citizens to imagine other change that is necessary to bring about a republic of equals for all.
To conclude, I believe that the days of 22 and 23 May 2015 will go down in history as some of the greatest demonstrations for freedom in the history of our nation. When the Seanad passes this Bill, when President Michael D. Higgins signs it, and our two women Ministers, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, and the Tánaiste, Deputy Joan Burton, agree when it will be commenced, we will be able to say:
Free at last. Free at last. Thank God, we are free at last.
It will be difficult to follow that. I hoped that I would not speak after Senator Zappone. It gives me enormous pleasure to welcome the Minister to the House as a Minister who has led so strongly on this issue and on the process that has led us to this stage. It gives me enormous pleasure to lead for the Labour Party on Second Stage of the Marriage Bill 2015, a Bill made possible, as we know, by the resounding "Yes" vote in the May referendum on marriage equality. Like other speakers, I welcome very warmly to the public Gallery so many who made that resounding "Yes" vote possible - the leaders of the Yes Equality campaign, the marriage equality group, the GLEN organisation, the ICCL, and so many other groups that have campaigned for so long on LGBT rights, women's rights, groups such as USI that campaigned with the student body and made sure so many young people were registered, and campaigns such as that from the trade union movement. There was an enormous coalition of civil society groupings that came together on this, such as children's rights organisations. Groups that perhaps would not have been expected to come to the fore came to the fore and that was one of the enormous strengths of the campaign.
There are too many people to name individually and I am mindful of the Leas-Chathaoirleach's ruling on this. Gráinne Healy and Brian Sheehan are powerful spokespersons for Yes Equality.
They played an enormous role in this. As others have done, I welcome Ann Louise Gilligan to the Gallery. It was a proud moment for me in the High Court on her behalf, along with my good friend and colleague, Senator Zappone, all those years ago, battling for the recognition of the right to marry. At the time, we thought it would come sooner. It has been a long process but it was a wonderful moment to see it happen on 22 May 2015.I also pay tribute to Senator David Norris and recall that he introduced the Civil Partnership Bill, a Bill on which I had worked with him.
At the time I think we said it would be open to gay and straight couples. We were not bound by the same constraints by which the Minister was bound in terms of advice from the Attorney General, but it has been a long process. I welcome to the Visitors Gallery members of the Labour Party, Labour LGBT, Labour Youth and Labour Women who campaigned so strongly on this issue. It is fair to say the Labour Party played an enormous role in putting the referendum to the people. We have a proud history of campaigning for equality and rights in terms of social justice, the social agenda, contraception rights, the introduction of divorce in the 1990s, the X case legislation and, more recently, the gender recognition legislation. The Labour Party has led on all of these issues and it also led on the marriage equality issue. Senator Darragh O'Brien, very generously, paid tribute to the then Tánaise and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, who pushed this issue when it was not popular across the political spectrum to do so. I do not know if anybody has mentioned the Constitutional Convention but the citizen members who gave of their time so generously during a 14 month period voted overwhelmingly in support of putting a referendum to the people. Again, it was part of the process that made marriage equality possible.
When we are talking about the process, I acknowledge a previous Government which put in place the civil partnership legislation which helped to change people's minds and make them see that marriage equality was a real possibility, that it was something that could be put in place and that the sky would not fall in if it were. A range of processes and developments culminated in an overwhelmingly successful campaign that resulted in a "Yes" vote on 22 May. As we said when campaigning for a "Yes" vote, the marriage equality referendum was very straightforward. We were being asked to vote on the issue of equality, to insert 17 words into the Constitution - "Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex". It is those 17 words which have enabled what we hope will be the speedy passage of the Bill, first, through the Dáil and, now, through this House.
During the campaign I set out what I saw as three key reasons to vote "Yes". It is worth revisiting them today. The first key reason was that gay couples would be able to get married. That was the simple and straightforward message of the referendum. The purpose of the legislation, once passed, is to put in place the legislative provisions necessary to enable couples to marry without distinction as to their sex. While the provisions are complex, the Minister has taken us through them comprehensively and there is a very simple purpose to them. It was that simple purpose that brought people to vote "Yes" in May.
The second point I argued was that the rights of children would be strengthened and affirmed. One of many provisions that stand out is section 16 which enables, as the Minister said, equal guardianship rights for gay couples. That is hugely important for children. This argument was made very strongly and was the reason all of the main children's rights organisations endorsed a "Yes" vote.
The final argument we made in campaigning and knocking on doors for a "Yes" vote was that we would have a more equal Ireland. There can be no doubt about this. With the passage of the referendum and the Bill and its speedy enactment and commencement, we will see Ireland join a growing European and international consensus that there is no valid legal basis on which to discriminate against same-sex couples. We considered this was an immensely positive message to send to the world, particularly, as the Minister said, given that Ireland was unique in being the first and, to date, only sovereign country to have affirmed the right to marry for gay couples through popular vote. This message of being equal was hugely important.
I said there were a number of hugely important provisions - all 24 are important - but perhaps I might single out three. I have mentioned section 16 and children's rights, but section 4 is the key provision. As the Minister has pointed out, it is the single most important section in giving effect to the result of the referendum. It amends the dreaded section 2(2) of the Civil Registration Act 2004 which played such an important role in earlier litigation and put in place a statutory block or obstacle for gay couples who wished to marry. In 2013 Labour Party Senators tabled a Private Members' Bill to seek to delete the relevant provision and it is good to see it being deleted in this Government legislation.
Section 7 which the Minister dealt with in some detail is hugely important because it makes it clear that religious solemnisers will not be obliged to solemnise marriages between same-sex couples. An important part of the campaign was that those against the referendum argued that religious bodies might be coerced in some way. It is important to note that section 7 enables religious bodies and secular solemnisers for the Humanist Association to conduct same-sex marriages. In that context, I mention a point Senator Aideen Hayden asked me to raise, that is, the lack of a provision to ensure sufficient numbers of civil registrars and secular solemnisers. There are 5,000 religious solemnisers but only 105 civil registrars and currently 14 accredited Humanist solemnisers. We only have the secular Humanist solemnisers because of legislation I introduced on behalf of the Labour Party, the Civil Registration (Amendment) Act 2014, which the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, took up. We will need to look at this issue in future legislation as there will be increased demand for civil and secular solemnisers to contract legal weddings.
Section 24 removes the so-called forced divorce clause in the Gender Recognition Act. It is welcome that it is being brought forward speedily.
I welcome the Bill in the strongest terms. I also welcome the Minister's announcement that she and the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, will work to ensure it is commenced within two weeks of its enactment. This will enable the speedy processing of applications to marry. Senator Katherine Zappone referred to the pure joy felt - we all felt it - not only by those of us who were privileged to be in Dublin Castle on 23 May but by all those who celebrated the result around Ireland and the world following the overwhelming vote in favour.
I welcome the Minister to a House with which she is very familiar, being a former Leader of the Opposition, and thank her for her gracious acknowledgement of the role I played. I have found the references to myself a little embarrassing, but I accept the accolade quite seriously on behalf of the very many people who during the years, in an unacknowledged way, have played a crucial and important role in this struggle for more than 40 years. When I started off, it was a world of hatred, contempt and silence, in which gay people were regarded as sources of sin, crime and disease. Everything was clouded completely in silence. A wonderful transformation has been happening for many years, but it really flowered in the marriage equality referendum. I have heard so many moving stories of young people all over the island who have been given the courage, for the first time, to face the reality of their sexuality, to come out and declare themselves and live their lives. The impact on young people has been one of the most significant elements of the campaign and this legislation.
I pay tribute not just to the Minister but also to the former Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Eamon Gilmore. He was the person who really put this issue on the agenda, for which I thank him, but, most particularly, I thank the people of Ireland because it was our co-citizens who voted it through in the referendum in overwhelming numbers. The gay community simply could not have done it on their own. I was moved, in particular, by the many young people, both gay and straight, who came home from abroad to vote in support of their co-citizens. I thank them from the bottom of my heart. I also express my gratitude to the Taoiseach, a conservative man from a rural constituency, who was convinced by the arguments and changed his mind. That was remarkable. I pay tribute to the late Noel Browne, my great friend, the first person in either House of the Oireachtas to raise the question of homosexuality but who was laughed out of the Lower House, and to Ivor Browne, a great psychologist.Returning to the Minister's speech, while I thank her for her kind and gracious comments, which leave me slightly embarrassed, I cannot be as gracious as her when it comes to those involved in the "No" campaign. They were awful. I am not a bit diplomatic or political: they were ghastly. Yes, there were people who were conscientious and I respect them but I do not respect the people who treated the independent assessor with contempt, who defied the truth, who told lies, who put up indecent posters everywhere, who blackguarded people and shouted people down in debates. I am not having any of that and I am not changing the record. That is the way they behaved and that is the way I am going to call it in this House and anywhere else. I am sorry I am not gracious, even though I recognise that homosexuality seems to have an extraordinarily calming effect on political parties. There is unanimity in the House today on the question of gay rights.
I was pleased that Senator Bacik spoke on the subject of the Bill and not only the emotion surrounding it. I would like to do likewise. Again, I am not politically correct. I wonder how appropriate consanguinity and affinity are for gay couples. It would not take a feather out of me if two cousins married each other. What is the problem with that? The affinity and consanguinity regulations were introduced as a measure to protect the genetic pool. The genetic pool will remain relatively untroubled by same-sex marriage. Gay marriage is gone. There is no longer "gay marriage" and that is great: there is just marriage. It is all just "marriage" from now on. That is great. While I am a little concerned about the consanguinity and affinity issue I do not propose to table an amendment on the matter. I do not see any reason cousins who wish to marry each other should not be allowed to do so. It would not bother me. I do not think the public good is disturbed in any way by it. As I said, I do not propose to table an amendment on the matter but I expect I will be pilloried by somebody from the grotesque Irish media for my remarks in this regard. However, I tell the truth as I see it.
Section 7(1)(a) deals with religious solemnisers and so on. I agree that churches should not be told what to do but I do not see any reason a priest or minister of religion in good conscience should not marry somebody. Why should they be prevented from doing so? That is interfering in the regulations of the church. I think church and state should be separate. If a priest or a minister wants to marry a couple he or she should be able to do so.
There is a more important point, a practical point, on which I do propose to table an amendment. I hope the Minister will be able to accept it. I hope this is not another of those situations where everything is done and dusted, such that the Lower House will not be bothered to accept it. I genuinely think this Bill should have been introduced in this House because the debate on this issue, in a political sense, was commenced in this House following the introduction here in 2004 by myself and Senator Bacik of the Civil Partnership Bill. I am seeking to have section 81(e) of the Pensions Act 1990 amended to address the following situation. Many people who are now retired were circulated with a memo from the Department of Finance many years prior to their retirement in regard to the inclusion of their spouses in their pension scheme to which gay people, because they did not have wives or husbands, had to respond "No". The Department of Finance is now mean-mindedly using this to deprive people of their financial rights. That is grotesque, wrong and mean-minded. It is penny pinching because the amount involved is quite small. I propose to table an amendment to provide that where a delay by a complainant in referring a case under this section is due to any misrepresentation by the respondents or to a material change in the rules of the pension scheme, subsection (5) shall be construed as if the reference in it to the date of termination of relevant employment were a reference to the date on which the fact of misrepresentation or material change of the rules of the pension scheme came to the complainant's notice. I appeal to the Minister to take this into consideration. I also have concerns about people in America who were involved in a civil partnership and are now married and are having difficulties at customs, which I will elaborate on on Committee Stage.
As I said at the beginning of my contribution, this legislation is long awaited. I recall 30 years ago after a debate in Trinity College the late Mina Bean Uí Chroibín saying to me that what we wanted was not just changes in the criminal law but to push the homosexual agenda, including the introduction of homosexual marriage. My response to her was that that was a wonderful idea and I would make a note of it. I also asked her if she had any more suggestions, which left her rather discomfited.
I will conclude on the following point. I make no apology whatever for having opposed in speeches in this House the Government's Civil Partnership Bill because it was insufficient. There are 169 differences between it and the Marriage Bill, the most outrageous being the former's exclusion of children. To my mind, that was child abuse. I smiled when I read Una Mullally's book, in which I am attacked by Kieran Rose and told that I am not fit to be a Senator because I opposed that legislation. I called it a dog licence, which is exactly what it was. On this happy day of celebration I do not take a word of it back. It was a dog licence. Now that the dog licence has been consigned to the dog litter we have full and proper marriage. I am delighted. I only wish I was 50 years younger and I could go out and find somebody to marry.
How do I follow that? The Minister is welcome, as is her commitment and perseverance with this Bill. It is, if I might say, a marriage of the best of Fine Gael and the best of the Labour Party in terms of our having been able to come together and hold the referendum in the lifetime of this Government and to introduce this Bill in such a speedy manner. It shows that while we can disagree, we can, on the issues most important, agree with one another and work together.
"Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex." These are the 18 words that changed our world, our nation and ourselves. On 22 May, we voted to change Ireland forever. In a country where the Tricolour is cherished as a constant signal of the desire for peace and reconciliation we have now chosen to add the rainbow flag and to fly it with pride for tolerance and equality for all of us. Senators will forgive me for not having a flag to fly today but I did my best.
Little could Gilbert Baker, the man who designed the first rainbow flag for the San Francisco freedom day parade in June 1978, have known that his flag and its values would be embraced with such enthusiasm around the world and, finally, in Ireland with such great joy this year. Gilbert Baker assigned the values of life, healing, sunlight, nature, art and harmony to the colours of the flag. We have now embraced these values in a new tolerance with a new understanding of ourselves.
I am proud that we voted "Yes" in the constitutional referendum. To be able as a nation to recognise that our Constitution needed change, even if it did take as Senator Norris said, 40 years to do so, and to seek that change from a majority of voters was a good day for democracy. It was real people power. We were, of course, all heartened by the number of people who came home from places like Thailand, Sweden, Kenya, the UK and other countries to vote. My daughter came home from the Netherlands to vote. Thousands of people came home to vote. The hashtag #HomeToVote could certainly give the Yeats line "I will arise and go now" a run for its money. The 72,000 tweets in the 24-hour period that crossed those two days was evidence of what people were feeling. It was a sense of responsibility, a sense of enthusiasm and the feeling that people understood that every vote would count, that their effort would count and would make a difference. In short, people felt empowered and they did everything in their power to make the change.
When Colm O'Gorman of Amnesty International said that the most important hashtag was #WeMadeHistory he was not wrong.The Netherlands may have been the first country in the world to enact legislation to allow for marriage equality. It happened in 2001 and its Government deserves recognition for taking that first important step. It was followed in the intervening years by many other countries, including Wales, England, Spain, South Africa and some states in America, but Ireland was the first country to make this decision in a democratic referendum of the people, by the people and for the people. Others, of course, will follow. Marriage equality is here to stay.
Like other colleagues, I take the opportunity to thank all those who came together in such a great spirit of collaboration, many of whom are in the Visitors Gallery, to show that people could work together for what was right, including GLEN, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Lawyers for Equality, trade unions, USI, Women for Equality, the Labour Party, Fine Gael, other political parties, politicians in general and the 1.2 million voters who said "Yes". I also thank my colleagues in the Seanad, Senators Ivana Bacik and Katherine Zappone and, of course, Senator David Norris. So many people have worked hard for so long and I am proud to have been part of that effort. I am proud that we have made this change at this time. In particular, I thank those who listened at the door when I canvassed and asked me to tell them why I thought this should happen. They were people who might have closed the door a year or three years ago, but they stood and asked what was happening because they said they wanted to understand. They gave an ear and contributed to the great vote. The stories people told about going to the polling station and bringing their little children who could not vote themselves to witness it indicated to me how deeply felt this constitutional change was and how significant people believed it to be. This was significant not just for the LGBT community but for all of us, now and in the future.
I hope 22 May might come to be known as Rainbow Day. It could become an annual celebration to remind us that we are better le chéile - together - when we care about and encourage each other. Today we are here to encourage the Marriage Equality Bill all the way through to Thursday when it is hoped it will be passed to legislate for the will of the people. As the Minister for Justice and Equality stated, it is hoped it will bring about the first same-sex marriages before the end of the year. It is fair to say we are not all the same, but we are all equal. This legislation is a the step on the path of equality in order that my daughter, our children, sisters and brothers will all have the same right to marry the person they love in a country that said "Yes" to equality.
I also welcome the legislation and acknowledge how the people voted in the referendum. I compliment Senator David Norris, for which this has been a lifelong campaign of at least 30 years or more and for all those involved with him in what was a long and sometimes lonely struggle. One should also not forget people such as the former Minister, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, who took what were at the time difficult steps in this direction. The former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, wrote to the late Brian Lenihan when he chaired the all-party committee on the Constitution in 1999 or 2000 to ask him to look at the position of the family within the Constitution. His term was nearly up and when I subsequently became Chairman in 2002, I carried on that work. We had all groups in and produced an extensive report. All parties, including the Labour Party and Sinn Féin, and Independents were included. I asked the Taoiseach to expand the numbers on the committee to ensure Sinn Féin which was a small party at the time and the Independent grouping were represented. I understand the Green Party was also brought on board.
We recommended civil partnership. At the time the majority of us felt that if the referendum was to take place in 2004 it might not have passed. I put my hands up and say that is how I felt and I have spoken to Senator David Norris about this fact. However, It might have passed. Nevertheless, the hour came when the referendum was held and the majority of the people spoke. Many of those who voted "No" did so for different reasons. It was not all black and white. I come from rural Ireland and have been listening to people on this issue. I was in County Kerry at a wedding some months ago and an elderly priest told me that he knew several priests in his area - he is not a Kerryman - who had voted "Yes" in the referendum. I know nuns who also voted "Yes" and embraced the campaign. We should not forget them either. It is not the case that it was just young people who voted "Yes".
I have a little story about a woman who rang me last Christmas. She is an 82 year old grandmother and was an old Fianna Fáil member many years ago, although she probably no longer is. As if she was going to confession, she said she had something to talk to me about and I said I would listen to her. She is a lovely lady. She said she recently had been in a city in England where she had gone for a walk with her granddaughter who was 21 years of age. Her granddaughter asked her to sit down as she wanted to talk to her about something. They sat down on a bench in a park and her granddaughter asked her if she loved her. She said that, of course, she did, that she was her granddaughter. The girl went further and asked if she loved her unconditionally. She said, "Yes, my dear girl, of course I do." She was wondering if the girl had committed a crime or was pregnant. As the girl had started to cry, she asked her to tell her what was on her mind. The granddaughter said she had come out as lesbian, had a girlfriend with whom she was in love. This grandmother came back and rang me to say that as an old Fianna Fáil family member, she was encouraging me and my people to vote "Yes". I thought it was a touching story and the woman was crying on the telephone. I went to see her because she had gone through a lot in her life. Her husband died when they had quite a young family, which she reared on her own. People like her and other grandparents should not be forgotten in this campaign.
I was amazed at some of the people who voted "No". I was also amazed at some of the people who voted "Yes". There were many people in different circles. I remember the day. I voted early, at approximately 10.30 a.m., in Schull and could see the wave of young people. One could sense it was an important day. These are the people who normally would not come out to vote but they did. I accept that a huge wave of young people did vote, but there were many others in my age group and older who also came out to voted in favour of the referendum. I give credit to the Labour Party, in particular, which for many years had ploughed a lonely furrow, but my party, in promoting civil partnership in 2004, with, as Senator David Norris said, its shortcomings, provided a huge stepping stone towards the referendum. There were a number of events back as far as Senator David Norris's case in the European Court of Human Rights, including Máire Geoghegan-Quinn's step in decriminalising homosexuality, which at the time - I think in 1992 - was difficult. There were many little hurdles; it was like the Grand National. There were so many fences to be jumped, but it eventually culminated in the referendum in which the people spoke. Ten years ago that resounding victory would not have been possible, but the day came and cometh the day, cometh the hour, cometh the man, cometh whatever it was.
We must accept what has been said and I embrace it. We welcome the legislation which is a huge leap for Irish society. We must acknowledge it and not so grudgingly. We must embrace what the people said. We are in a different era from that of 30 years ago when, if I was here as a Fianna Fáil Senator, I might have had big reservations. I might have been jumping and hopping, but things move on. I have moved on, too. I have children, most of whom who were actively involved in campaigning in support of the referendum. I am the youngest of 11 children and most of my family - not all but eight of the 11 - voted in favour. We respect that fact, but there is a huge story to be told. It crosses different levels of society and religious boundaries. One would have the impression, listening to the Catholic hierarchy, that no Catholic or religious person such as a priest or a nun voted "Yes", but I am convinced many of them did.
The Minister is very welcome. I wholeheartedly welcome the Bill.Many speakers have outlined the different people who were involved. I do not want to fall into the trap, as the Minister said, of naming one or two and not appreciating the efforts made by so many - we can read their names - and by the country as a whole. The power of storytelling came back to life in Ireland throughout the referendum campaign, something that we would have talked about of old. We saw that power working at a local level from people having casual chats and people talking to one another about the issue on the street. They were having those discussions with people they had never met before.
The Minister rightly paid tribute to the work that Senator Norris did. I remember as I was growing up hearing him speak of issues that were foreign to me at the time but that was part of my education. He certainly worked towards us having a more equal Ireland. I am also privileged to have Senator Zappone as a colleague in my group. I always knew we were equal but I am delighted that this Bill will ensure that both of us can have equality in terms of marriage in our relationships.
As legislators we are on the cusp of making history by translating the will of the people, through popular vote on 22 May, into marriage equality legislation. I am proud about this development. My husband is Dutch and, as the Minister will know, the Netherlands was the first country to do this through legislation. I was very proud when I recently went to the Netherlands to receive the greetings from everybody there who were proud that Ireland is the first country to do this by the will of the people.
I have been unequivocal in my support for this outcome. I was delighted to give my voice to the simple yet powerful "Vote With Us" video message campaign, which invited people of all ages and from all walks of life to explain why they would be voting "Yes" in the marriage equality referendum. I was also honoured to give the keynote address at the launch of the BeLonG To "Yes" campaign, which was the largest coalition of children and youth organisations supporting a "Yes" vote in the referendum. It included the ISPCC, Barnardos, Foróige, Youth Work Ireland, the Migrant Rights Centre, Headstrong, Yes Equality, the Children's Rights Alliance, Pavee Point, EPIC and the National Youth Council of Ireland, as well as BeLonG To, the national organisations for LGBT young people.
On a separate but related note it strikes me, as I reference the support from Pavee Point, that our national organisation is striving to promote and protect the human rights of Irish Travellers. Given some of the issues that have arisen in the wake of the tragedy in the Carrickmines, we have a long way to go before we secure equality for all in Ireland. I hope that the same generosity of spirt that the Irish people have displayed here will be emulated across all social justice issues.
As the Minister will be aware, I will be tabling an amendment to the Bill for discussion on Committee Stage on Thursday. It concerns the marriage age and removing the court ordered exemption to the ordinary minimum age of 18 years. She will be familiar with my concerns in this area, following the motion I tabled with my colleague, Senator Ivana Bacik, and the Labour Party back in June 2014. I am using this Bill to raise the marriage age issue only because we are heading towards a general election in the new year and I can see no other appropriate Bill coming down the line. This is a concern I have across our arrangements for marriage generally and to protect childhood and it in no way relates to the extension of equal marriage right to same-sex couples. I look forward to elaborating my concerns on Thursday.
As I look at the faces of the people in the Visitors Gallery it brings back to me the hopes and the dreams we saw in so many people. I see that each individual here could fill us with their stories. It transports me to the upper courtyard in Dublin Castle on the day of the count. There was an older gentleman who was crying and we had a good chat. He was crying with joy and with sadness because he was grieving for a life he could never live or have but he was so happy that the young people would have a life that he could never experience. It was a touching, poignant moment for me to realise the burden that we have placed on so many people. Let us all remember and capture that positive power of equality and how good it feels to share equality. This Bill does not affect me personally but does it affect me emotionally because it means I live in a more equal Ireland. Let us remember that power when we are looking at all social justice issues.
Ach oiread leis na daoine a labhair romham, cuirim an-fháilte go deo roimh an mBille seo agus roimh an Aire agus gabhaim mo chomhghairdeas le gach duine san Áiléar Poiblí.
Parties can claim some small credit for this Bill coming through but this was the citizens' victory and congratulations to all who were involved in it. Sinn Féin welcomes this Bill to the House with open arms. It is a momentous occasion, where we as a people come together to end a two-tier system of marriage inequality. Marriage is about one thing: love and a lasting commitment to honour love. Nobody should ever be denied that opportunity.
It is difficult to sum up the magnitude of the decision taken by the people earlier this year. It is hard to put into words the effects that this will have in terms of the happiness for thousands of citizens and their families and the foundation it has laid to build on this equality and expand it in terms of socio-economic rights to others at the margins of society. This great occasion called for something different. It needed to hear a voice representing those who it affects the most.
The following is an extract from a letter sent to my colleague, Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn:
As a gay man who in his formative years was terrified by my own identity, when I was a teenager I hated myself because I did not fit in. I was an outcast. I thought that being gay was a feeling that would just go away and that someday I'd marry and have my own family. The feeling of being attracted to another man never went away.
In reality, the law told me I was a criminal. The church told me I was an abomination and the mere mention of being gay in the schoolyard was enough to set off alarm bells that stopped me from being the person I wanted to be.
Coming out was one of the most terrifying moments of my life. I had to ask those around me for their approval. I was terrified they'd reject me and I'd become further isolated in my own loneliness. In the end, nobody rejected me. Those around me only wanted me to be happy and to encounter the true feeling of love.
You see - the isolation and marginalisation was embedded in my subconscious since my early teens. It took years for me to see it and to deal with it. From working with groups like Gay Switchboard I knew I wasn't alone and I know there's many more like me.
Four years ago I found that love. It took me 40 years to find him and I'd wait another 40 years to spend just one day in his company, to experience just one moment of the serenity of love. I'd go so far as saying that in a hundred years' time the 23rd of May will been seen as, not Ireland's, but one of humanity's proudest moments because it was a day when equality conquered fear. Perhaps May 23rd should become a bank holiday and [be ]called Equality Day [or Rainbow Day] to remind future generations of the significance of, not just our emancipation, but the equality of every citizen.
I wanted to read Chris's words into the record today because they say much on a day like this. The Bill is, therefore, very welcome.
The events of 22 May 2015 changed lives forever. The result of a referendum in favour of marriage equality was hard-fought by equality champions over many years. Those people faced discrimination and intimidation and were labelled second-class citizens.
As we acknowledge the importance of this historic legislation, let us do so in the realisation that the task of building a truly equal society is far from complete. As we speak, the Travelling community is in mourning and burying its dead. This group, above all others, is subject to most severe forms of institutional racism. Its members are also what may be described as "fair game" for large sections of society as they vent, what can only be described, as an acceptable and overt form of everyday racism. As legislators and public representatives, there is a duty on us to name this for what it is and to make serious efforts to eradicate it. We must end the economic, social and cultural exclusion of Travellers and other minorities. The recent tragic and needless loss of life should be a stark reminder to us that the work of building a truly equal society is far from complete.
The marriage referendum was a victory and a call to equality but also a call to equality for Travellers; equality for asylum seekers and people in direct provision; equality for people with disabilities; equality for rural dwellers; equality for emigrants, many of whom had to travel home to vote; and equality for Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Quakers, believers and non-believers of all kinds from all backgrounds. It is important to say that equality of marriage is not the same as equality of Catholic marriage and I say that as a practising Catholic because Catholics choose to be such and are able to sign up to that ethos. However, citizens have rights, and we cannot force anyone to accept an ethos that they do not choose themselves. The comments on section 7 of the Bill are particularly welcome.
Is lá ceiliúrtha agus comhghairdis atá inniu ann. Molaim an Aire as ucht an Bille seo a thabairt tríd na Tithe. This Bill is very welcome, although in future I might say to the Minister, in terms of other Bills that we are looking forward to passing through the Houses, that she was able to speed up this legislation. However, this is a day for congratulations and celebration for all the citizens, all the activists and all the people who campaigned for so long for this Bill. Molaim é do na Tithe.
I welcome the Minister and the fact this Marriage Bill is before us. Without doubt, this referendum provoked an awful lot of different feelings in Irish people, in myself and in many others. I was in Dublin Castle on the day the result was announced. I was a "No" voter and I felt truly saddened that so many people and citizens did not feel equal before the result of this referendum. I was particularly touched by the emotions expressed by Deputy John Lyons as the result came in. The occasion made me question how we had not felt equal - gay and straight - for so long. A friend of mine's daughter is a young gay woman who is 19 years of age. She said to me, "Fidelma, I don't know how I'll cope if this referendum isn't passed." On hearing that, I thought we have long way to go to understand what equality means if we are all equal citizens of this country. It is not easy for me to speak today because I am perhaps the only person here who was a "No" voter and yet still an advocate for equality. I was an advocate for equality before the referendum and I remain one. I have always believed all of our citizens are equal and equal in our difference. Somehow or other that sentiment was not conveyed, which saddened me. I decided to speak today because I believe that if the "No" side of this campaign is not expressed here, then we will continue to exclude more people. For too long, we have had too much exclusion.
I completely respect the campaign Senator Norris had to undertake to achieve what he did. For too long, gay people did not have constitutional rights. I do not wish to rehash the referendum debate but I supported civil partnership in this House. I have long believed in constitutional rights for gay people but believe that if equality was what was at issue, then it should have come under a different article in the Constitution. That was where my difference was.
The result was convincing. I acknowledge the 60:40 result but I guess it was not unanimous. Rather than take pride in the fact that some people lost and some people won, I would like to state today that we need to respect and tolerate difference. The tolerance of sexual difference is vital but tolerance of opinion and views is also vital.
I received much communication after the referendum from people who felt disenfranchised and it is important to put some of that on the record. I accept that for too long gay people felt disenfranchised. In one communication, a person stated that for the first time in their life, following the referendum result, they felt ashamed to be identified as Irish and asked how many more people on the "No" side felt a similar dejection by the locked out, feeling disenfranchised by the phalanx of political parties that did not seem to realise that there was an Irish identity there that they all helped to kill. They stated further that it had to be concluded that the Taoiseach that facilitated the referendum was lacking in the core sense of Irish and was perhaps too willing to facilitate the wishes of international political heavyweights such as Cameron, Merkel and Obama. I had put that on the record not to rain on anyone's parade or be a killjoy but simply to say that we have to be careful that we do not lock out other people. In every referendum, there are winners and losers. We are trying to be a more inclusive society but people must go on a journey. Irish people had to go on a journey and the result has been convincing. However, we must be careful in cases where political parties and a Government are all on the one side and understand how that is perceived as disenfranchising people.
We will deal with other Stages of the Bill and I will raise other issues, such as the age of marriage which Senator van Turnhout brought up, and impediments to marriage, which the Minister spoke about. I am talking about impediments to all marriages - gay and straight.
It is nice to see Deputy Buttimer. The Seanad still stands, and stands in recognition of an important debate taking place today. I welcome the Minister who should be extraordinarily proud of herself. I have personal and professional admiration for her but today is an extraordinary day. It is a day that I, as a citizen, feel extraordinarily proud of. I am in the shadow, and follow in the footsteps, of Senator David Norris. When I first met him I had skipped into one of his lectures in Trinity in which he gave a great performance by reading about the Oedipus Complex and reading all the different parts. His lecture had a great impact on my understanding of humanity and demonstrated how literature allows us to have a great understanding of humanity. This referendum was a vote for accepting, respecting and tolerating difference. It was all of that. I acknowledge Senator Zappone and Dr. Ann Louise Gilligan, who is in the Visitors Gallery, for their friendship and for showing leadership at times when it was neither profitable nor popular. Senator Bacik is also a person that I admire.
I have very little to say except that, as director of the Abbey Theatre, we had a modest part to play not so much in swaying the vote but in sustaining confidence. One must remember that halfway through the campaign, there was a wobble which I remember very well. It was a wobble of anxiety and I know people were tired. I remember that the blog written by Panti Bliss encouraged people to go out and literally taught us how to engage with people by outlining the A, B and C of canvassing. The wobble occurred at T minus three weeks. I had nothing to do with the campaign for no reason other than I felt there was an extraordinary swarm of young energetic and engaged citizens involved. The artistic community did its part at a point when it was about motivating and mobilising people. We gave people a slap on the back to encourage them to continue to run the last lap and we all felt the anxiety diminished very quickly. It was a time when I learned and understood words like "citizenship". There was active engagement by the "Yes Equality" campaign. There was compassion, love and respect.Ultimately, the authenticity of that and the sense of community and communal support won out and helped to break the barriers and removed any sense of differentiation between the "Yes" and "No" campaigns. I disagree with Senator Healy Eames's sense of disenfranchisement. If anything, we all became locked in to society, not locked out. We were all invited back in to engage, re-engage and reconnect with the various interpretations we might have regarding equality. If nothing else, there was an extraordinary sense of overwhelming positivity connected to the 62% who voted "Yes" on 23 May 2015. I acknowledge that I do not expect any of us to achieve more than that at any point. We have joined the 21 other countries in which same-sex marriage has been made possible. To see that in The New York Timesand to witness that sense of national pride - the LGBT community gave us that national pride as a result of its activism and search for justice and equality - means that we have much for which to be thankful. I felt a tremendous sense of pride. I walked into the RDS count hugging many people I did not even know. It was a very emotional and extraordinary day and something that my daughters will not forget.
My daughters who are in their late teens and early 20s understood fraternal feeling, comradery and collegiality and were quite confused that their elders even had to debate this matter. They were quite confused and irritated that there had to be a vote on it. However, they then understood the campaign and voting. The Rock the Vote and the Home to Vote campaigns were articulated wonderfully in Annie West's cartoon showing thousands of people flooding into Ireland. All boats, planes and trains were booked up by people seeking to come home. We are all political junkies and we monitored the turnout and saw how matters developed. Let us remember that. Let us remember the energy and excitement of that. It was an extraordinary day on which to be an Irish citizen.
I acknowledge the unwavering support and co-operation of Members of the Oireachtas of all parties and none and that of the Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald. I acknowledge everybody in the Visitors Gallery. I know some of them while I do not know others. That is not the point. The point is that they are the ones who made it possible. We were trotting behind them for once. The Oireachtas was trotting way behind them. They led, cajoled and encouraged us. Their graciousness in victory is something we must also acknowledge. It is something I admire and respect.
I will be supporting this Bill and I congratulate the Government on steering the debate on this matter in such an eloquent fashion.
Speaking as one of the relatively few representatives of the 38% who voted "No" to this referendum, most of whom, strangely enough, are not senile or tottering into the grave and include many young people who spoke to me before, during and after the referendum, it is certainly not my intention to engage in any kind of ditherum this afternoon because the people decided the issue about the definition of marriage and I do not want to reopen that debate in the amendments I would propose on Committee Stage because my concerns in respect of this legislation lie elsewhere. There are certain problems with the Bill and they relate to what was not an issue during the campaign, namely, the question of the right of religious bodies and solemnisers to celebrate marriage according to the traditions and beliefs of those bodies and to continue in their civil role as solemnisers of marriages that take place in the context of church weddings.
In respect of the substantive issue of the new definition of marriage in our country, I would like to recall some words I uttered in the RDS as the votes were being counted on 23 May. Our country divided 62% to 38% on the proposal to change the marriage in our society but we were not, I hope, divided with regard to how we feel about gay people. As I have said and believed, every human being has equal dignity and deserves equal respect. We all were and, I hope, remain committed to that. The "No" campaign was concerned about the profound effects of redefining marriage and in particular, about the consequences of some children who would be less likely to experience the love of a father and a mother in their lives in the event of a "Yes" vote. That concern was well explained by us. It was real and it remains justified. While I recognise that a clear majority of Irish people were not swayed by our concerns, that does not mean that "Yes" voters did not share them to any extent. I believe people chose primarily to send a message of affirmation and equal respect to gay people. That was their priority and I respect it. The challenge that opponents of the referendum faced was to try to communicate an important social value against a background of a media campaign of at least five years. While we did well in the current affairs debates, we had neither the financial resources nor the cultural support in the media and the Irish establishment to reach hundreds of thousands of other people for whom this referendum was only ever about how we feel about the gay people that we know and love. I mentioned the fact that the media coverage was entirely one-sided and I am still concerned about the fact that a crazy amount of overseas money from at least one US foundation poured into groups on the "Yes" side in recent years. I still believe that, for the sake of our democracy, we need to have a public reflection on how that happened and its implications for law and policy in Ireland.
We now need to attend to the continuing issue exposed by us during the campaign regarding children's rights in our society, not just the right to life, which is very important, but the right to have a father and mother in one's life whenever possible. My concern in welcoming the Minister today is that I believe the legislation she has put before us is very flawed and poorly drafted. In light of her comments earlier and those she made in the Dáil and prior to the referendum in respect of the role of religious bodies in solemnising civil marriages as part of church weddings, I am surprised to discover that the office of an tArd-Chláraitheoir might have discretion and even be obliged to exclude religious bodies from a role in civil marriage unless they change their current form of ceremony. I have examined this matter very carefully and taken legal advice on it. I understand the Minister has received representations on it as well. I do not know if it is a conspiracy or a cock up but the Bill as it stands is flawed and poorly drafted. It changes the effect of section 51(3)(b) and section 51(4) of the Civil Registration Act 2004. It sets up the possibility that religious solemnisers may be refused registration unless a new form of ceremony that contemplates same-sex unions is submitted by them. Alternatively, it is even possible that marriages people think are valid might later be invalidated if the form of ceremony used by the religious body is at some future point deemed to have been inconsistent with the requirements of the legislation. The problem is that the new Bill requires that in all approved forms of marriage ceremony, there be a declaration to the effect that each party "accepts the other as a husband, a wife or a spouse as the case may be." The term "spouse" is used instead of the terms "husband" and "wife" elsewhere in other sections of the Bill but in the crucial section changing the marriage declaration, the acceptance of a spouse is presented as an alternative situation to that of accepting a husband or wife. Logically, this can only mean that the declaration required in all forms, including those used by religious bodies, must be one that contemplates same-sex unions.
The irony is that the Bill purports - I believe the Minister wishes this to be the case - to provide religious bodies with protection for their forms of ceremony. The Bill provides that a religious solemniser may only use a form approved by his or her religious body. It goes further than the Minister says in her speech but the Bill immediately undermines that protection by requiring that the form to be used by the religious body include and be in no way inconsistent with the new declaration described above. In other words, the Minister is creating a situation where the State will say "you may only use your own form of ceremony but your own form of ceremony may fail to meet the requirements of the State."
This Bill, unless amended, establishes a real possibility that the Ard-Chláraitheoir might in the future exercise a discretion or be found to have an obligation to exclude religious solemnisers unless the bodies involved overhaul the wording of their own ceremonies and that is bizarre and unacceptable. I do not know if it is down to bad drafting or an underhand attempt to force religious bodies down the road of solemnising same-sex unions in the future or maybe even to end the civil solemnisation of marriage by certain religious bodies.
Whatever the case, and I am not a conspiracy theorist, I do not believe this is what people want. I do not believe it is what the Minister wants. I will be bringing forward amendments on Committee Stage. I hope that Committee and Reports Stages will not be run on the same day of the week so that we get time to discuss this in sufficient depth in order to tease out the issues. The Government needs to remedy the situation by providing for different possible declarations to be made in the case of religious solemnisers. At the very least, if the Minister introduces a saving clause providing that nothing in the new Bill shall invalidate forms of ceremony currently in use, we can get out of the problem. However, the problem is certainly there in the Bill as currently drafted.
I know Senator Craughwell is agitated and I apologise, Senator, as I know you have been present for the entire debate. However, I must follow the rota as laid down by the Cathaoirleach and as approved by the CPP. I call on Senator Mooney, who has five minutes.
I know that. The conspiracy was in my family, sometime around May, a few weeks ahead of the referendum. It was a pincer movement by my eldest daughter. There are five wonderful children in our family, thanks be to God. Our eldest, a 27 year old in Perth was conspiring down under, while at the other end of the family spectrum our 19 year old who is a student in Sligo Institute of Technology was conspiring with his friends and fellow students in Sligo and Leitrim, and my wife headed up the pincer movement. I was left with no choice in the matter, it was either the door or vote “Yes”. I love my wife and family and saw a lot of merit in the argument they were putting forward. The reason I relay this piece of nonsense is that it is an indication of the discussion, debate and dialogue going on in many families all over Ireland. I doubt if there are any families or individuals who do not in their immediate or extended family have a member who is gay or who do not know somebody who is. This referendum question had a big impact on the electorate, which was reflected in the overwhelming vote.
I also believe it is important in a democracy to acknowledge that not everybody was in favour of this legislation. Senator Mullen referred to 38%, which in real figures was 750,000 people. More people voted “No” than voted Fine Gael into government in 2011. They did not believe this was a question they could say “Yes” to. In a democracy the people, of course, are sovereign. Senator Mullen took a particular position on the referendum and is gracious enough to accept that. This is not reopening the debate but putting on the record that many of the issues he raised in his contribution, which I am sure the Minister will respond to, reflect the views of those 750,000 people on this legislation, especially those who adhere to strong Christian belief. I do not know the position of all the Christian churches in Ireland but I know from discussions with priests that in the Catholic Church the issues raised by Senator Mullen would be of deep concern and would reflect the view of those who are active members of the church. This is democracy as well. This is not a question of reopening the referendum but it is to make sure that in giving effect to the result of the referendum, the legislation does not step on other toes because that would not be democracy. That would be government by domination.
Fianna Fáil as a party has always believed in the republican ethos that all citizens are equal. It is not a case of empty rhetoric. In this instance it goes back to 1994 when the then Minister for Justice, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn introduced legislation to decriminalise homosexuality. I am old enough to have been in the House for that historic legislation and was very happy to vote for it. That culminated in 2010 and I was very happy and honoured to be here when we passed the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Bill 2010. The Minister was here as leader of the Opposition in the House. That was a night of high emotion such as I had never before experienced.
Anybody who questions my party’s credibility or bona fides in respect of legislation of this nature needs to stop and reflect. We have a very proud record in this area but it is in keeping with our republican ethos. Our members, not just within the parliamentary party during those years but across the country, debated in March 2012 and then voted to pass a resolution supporting equal marriage rights. We have been consistent in our support for this important concept. At the core of the overwhelming “Yes” in early summer, people wanted to profess their belief that all the citizens of this country are equal. This is a measure for equality. Others may have a different view of the rights and wrongs, or the various shapes of marriage and the husband and wife terminology but the majority of people, and I, voted to ensure that we could look our fellow citizens in the eye and say they are no different to us, they are as equal as we are before the law of this democracy and I welcome and embrace that. I am very happy that the people of Ireland did what they did.
I have never been more proud to be Irish than I was on 23 May, when Ireland became the first country in the world to bring in marriage equality by popular vote. Not only did we vote “Yes” but we did so by an incredible margin. Young and old, urban and rural, we united to send a message of love and support to our LGBT friends, family members, colleagues and neighbours. Each and every one of the 1.2 million “Yes” votes made a powerful statement. It told young LGBT people that the road ahead of them is a bright one, paved with the same hopes, dreams and opportunities as everyone else’s. It told older LGBT people we are sorry for all the discrimination, isolation and pain they have had to go through and we are determined to bring it to an end. It told the world that the Irish people are warm, caring and fair.
It is often said that Ireland changed for the better on 22 May. I think it had changed many years before and that voting in the referendum simply gave us an opportunity to voice that change. The “Yes” vote recognised that happy families come in different shapes and sizes. In doing so it rejected discrimination, not just against LGBT families but also against single parents, divorcees, adopted people and many other so-called non-traditional family groups. The “Yes” vote meant as much to many of those groups as it did to our lesbian and gay citizens. The joy and pride the result instilled in so many people gay and straight was phenomenal. None of this would have been possible without the leadership and determination of groups such as Marriage Equality and the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, GLEN, who campaigned for years to get a referendum and to make sure we won it.
I acknowledge the presence in the Visitors Gallery of Gráinne Healy and Moninne Griffith from Marriage Equality, Brian Sheehan from GLEN, who are three of the main leaders of that campaign. I recognise most of the faces in the gallery and could name them all but I would have no time.
Exactly. I would have no time left to say anything else. I am deeply grateful to each and every one of them for the contribution they made to the campaign. They achieved something phenomenal and extraordinary and I very much appreciate that.
The campaign was an exercise in positivity, determination and courage. The courage shown by people such as Ursula Halligan, Pat Carey and Leo Varadkar was extraordinary, as was that of ordinary LGBT people who knocked on doors, night after night, coming out to complete strangers and explaining to them why a “Yes” vote mattered. I strongly believe it was those personal stories that won the campaign. They educated us about how hard it is to be gay in Ireland in 2015.They connected with our sense of fairness and decency and they motivated us to come out in record numbers and vote for change. Many Yes Equality canvassers had never been involved in any political campaign before. When I met them at canvass training a month or two before the referendum, they were absolutely petrified of the notion of knocking on doors, but they did it anyway. In doing so, they took ownership of their own futures and delivered the most positive and energetic political campaign this country has ever seen. I hope many of them will stay involved and help to continue to change our country for the better. Lord knows, we need it. In so many different spheres, we could use that energy and drive for change.
I hope the Government will use the momentum from the "Yes" vote to help address the remaining discrimination against LGBT people. A Bill to amend section 37 of the Employment Equality Act was passed by this House just before the summer recess but has yet to finish its passage through the Dáil. I feel strongly that this must be a priority before the general election. Homophobic bullying is still a major problem in schools and LGBT people still face discrimination in other aspects of their lives. Marriage equality was a huge step forward but we still have more to do to improve the lived experience of our LGBT citizens. I also hope the Government will use its voice to champion LGBT equality at the international level. In light of our record referendum result, Ireland is a beacon of hope for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in countries where they still face major discrimination, and even death, just for being gay. We can and should show leadership in this area.
To conclude, I strongly welcome the Marriage Bill 2015. It is amazing we have come to this point. It has certainly been the highlight of my term here in this House. I look forward to the Bill passing through the Houses as soon as possible and being enacted into law. I commend the Minister and her colleagues on holding the referendum. I look forward to being invited to my first equal marriage, hopefully sometime in the next few months.
I thank the Acting Chairman for extending the time of the debate. I welcome the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, to the House on this joyous occasion. I thank her and her Department for drafting this important legislation and for her proactive stewardship of this Bill and the marriage referendum Act through the Oireachtas. I entered this House as a 62 year old, conservative man who was always able to push aside the things I did not want to deal with, the things I felt other people should deal with. However, as a Member of this House, I was forced to deal with things I never thought I would have to deal with. While there was tremendous leadership outside this House for what we are speaking about today, I have to commend the Minister personally. I think she was phenomenal as she sat here and listened to the debates, and I congratulate her for the hours she put into it. I am deeply impressed.
This Bill is unique as it has the voice of every citizen of voting age behind it. It is unique because the issues now being legislated for have been robustly debated in every home in Ireland for the last year - indeed, in my own home, we had many a robust discussion on these issues. It is unique because it legislates for the minority, but with the full support of the majority and an unequivocal constitutional "Yes" behind it. It is truly the people’s Bill as it has come not only from political will and cross-party support, but from years of dignified and persistent advocacy. Central to the advocacy approach taken by Marriage Equality, GLEN and the wider "Yes Equality" coalition has been the immense power of the personal narrative, the power of each person’s story and the power to inform, to convince, to persuade and, ultimately, to bring about social, constitutional and, finally, legislative change.
This Bill is before us today because thousands of gay and lesbian citizens and their families were courageous enough to tell their story, and it will go down in the history of this State and, indeed, of the world, as one of the greatest stories ever told. From coming out to their TD to coming out on TV, on radio and in the print media, they did it, and I applaud each and every one of those in the Visitors Gallery for sharing it with us. We were humbled and convinced by their words.
The Bill is about choice and about freedom and, rare enough for a Bill in Leinster House, it is about love. It offers everyone the freedom to marry the person of their choice, regardless of their sexual orientation. It offers those who solemnise marriages as part of a religious ceremony the choice to solemnise all marriages, some or none at all. I welcome this explicit distinction between State-recognised marriage provided for by the Constitution and the act of religious solemnisation of a marriage. I firmly believe that the public have been confused about this in the past.
In drafting the Bill, the Minister and her officials have anticipated and provided for every conceivable outcome of the referendum result. The Bill has been careful to acknowledge existing civil partnerships and to facilitate an easy transition from these to marriages for those who wish to do so, while at the same time ensuring that existing civil partnerships remain valid. Having debated the Gender Recognition Act here in the Seanad, I particularly welcome the amendment to that Act which will remove the requirement that a person seeking a gender recognition certificate be single. I also welcome the important provision that same-sex marriages entered into abroad will be recognised in Ireland.
I am proud to be a Member of this House in the company of Senator Zappone and to see her partner, Dr. Ann Louise Gilligan, in the Visitors Gallery this evening. They have pursued legal recognition of their Canadian marriage since 2004, and I can only imagine what a proud and momentous day this is for both Katherine and Ann Louise. I want to also recognise my colleague, Senator David Norris, who was the first person in this country to have the courage of his convictions and to stand forward, which I acknowledge.
The brevity of this Bill, which is mainly technical in nature, belies its potential impact, not only on the hundreds of thousands of gay and lesbian citizens, on their children and on their families, but on each and every citizen of this State now and in the future. I welcome the Bill to the House and thank the Cathaoirleach for the opportunity to speak on it. I recall my cousin telling his parents that he was gay. Deeply religious parents as they were, they fought with their conscience and with their religion, and they accepted him and his partner into the bosom of their family. I want to recognise Pat, their son, and Una and Paddy - the surname is irrelevant at this point in time - for the love they showed their son and the understanding they showed when we lived in a very intolerant Ireland. I want to thank the transgender community in Ireland, who were the first people to come to see me. I am deeply grateful to them for opening my eyes to the difficulties we have as humans in tolerating our differences. I congratulate them all. I thank the Minister very much. I deeply appreciate the opportunity to speak this evening.
I thank all Senators for their contributions, which have been quite extraordinary, very moving and most enjoyable to listen to. I want to thank the Senators for their very generous comments in regard to my own role but, of course, as we have listened to the debate, more and more names have been put on the floor of the House. Of course, there are names we have not yet put on the floor of the House, and we would be here all night if we were really to pay tribute to everyone who has been involved and those who have played such a key role in the move towards marriage equality. It has been a very long journey and it is very important to be reminded of that.
I myself still have to pay tribute to Senator David Norris for that early leadership, because early leadership is very difficult and it requires putting oneself out there. He has done that for so long and I mention that again because I think his role has been so significant. As we have heard from so many Senators, he has influenced so many people in their understanding of these issues.
I would reflect as well on the cross-party nature of the debates and the development from a political perspective, which has been very important. We have seen this with the various individuals in our own parties. I acknowledge Deputy Jerry Buttimer and the Minister of State, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, who was here earlier, and Senator Ivana Bacik spoke about the work in her own party, as have others. It was a very striking feature of this that we were able to work so effectively together.
The Marriage Bill, as I said, is a short, technical Bill. It is an expression of the decision of the people on 22 May and its provisions are focused on enabling two persons to marry in accordance with law, without distinction as to their sex.Though short, it is potentially life changing, as everybody has said. I return to the point about how long it has actually taken. Senator Craughwell spoke about an intolerant Ireland but as we celebrate the passing of the Second Stage of the Marriage Bill 2015, I remember all those people who left this country and suffered in silence because we were not able to be inclusive up to this point. Many people have paid a very heavy price for that. It is good, as everybody said, that we are a new point.
Senators indicated that they will table amendments and I will deal with a number of the points raised. On the shortage of civil solemnisers, I have already raised the issue with the Tánaiste. We are both keen to ensure there are sufficient secular solemnisers and civil registrars to ensure that access to marriage is not unduly delayed. This would clearly have a disproportionate impact on same-sex couples. We intend to address this and I hope it can be done in the near future.
Senator Norris raised the issue of prohibited degrees of relationship. The Department of Justice and Equality and the Department Social Protection are currently considering a review of prohibited degrees of relationship based on affinity and the prohibitions based on familial relationships by marriage. I agree with Senator Norris that some should be reviewed and we will look at that. I would add that the prohibited degrees are not exclusively about genetics but about power disparity or abuse within families. Clearly, a range of issues must be considered when we are looking at the issue.
On the question of wider marriage reform and underage marriage, I would say to Senator van Turnhout that we can discuss that in detail on Committee and Report Stages. Senator Norris also raised pension treatment. My colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, has given extensive consideration to the issue of access to the revised spouses' and children's pension scheme. He has decided not to do so because it would not be possible to limit such access to a specific cohort and the impact on public service pension liabilities would be very significant but I will give him more detail on that when we come to discuss it on Committee Stage.
It impacts on a much wider group but I will go into the detail of that at the next Stage. I am just addressing it in a preliminary way at this point.
The points made by Senator Rónán Mullen are incorrect. Religious solemnisers have only ever been permitted to solemnise in accordance with their own ceremonies and I addressed his points in my speech. What we are doing will not require any change to any form of ceremony currently approved. He is incorrect in his interpretation of the legislation as it is presented.
The decision of the people on 22 May 2015, as everybody said, was momentous. Their decision means that an important right can now be extended to a new group of people. The people's decision has strengthened the institution of marriage by enabling it to respond to the diversity of our society. Through their decision marriage is, and will now remain, the means by which a couple can make the most profound public commitment to one another. The effect is also momentous for those who will now be able to marry. Same-sex couples will have the possibility, like all other couples, of entering an institution that can last a lifetime and that constitutes life's meaning for many. Marriage equality has become, as Senators said, possible through an uniquely democratic process which stimulated, as has been said, passionate engagement and equally passionate debate. The referendum process enabled Irish people to decide what sort of society they want for the future. The people have realised the truth of James Joyce's statement, "I am tomorrow, or some future day, what I establish today." They knew their decision on 22 May would shape the future for same-sex couples for decades to come. They realised that society would be poorer if same-sex couples were excluded from the institution of marriage. The people have reaffirmed that their vision for Irish society now and into the future is one which values our people in all their diversity.
Let us now - I know that Senators will - take the responsibility as Oireachtas Members to pass the legislation so that we can implement that decisive choice of the people in favour of marriage equality. Again, I thank all Senators for their contributions.