Today history was made by the passing in the Seanad of the Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Quality) Bill. I was proud to speak in favour of the Bill and for a YES vote in the May Referendum earlier this week in the Seanad. You can read the full text of my contribution by clicking here
I welcome the Minister and congratulate her on bringing before the House the Bill to put a referendum on marriage equality to the people in May. The legislation has been a long time coming and we might not have been here today but for the courage and conviction of Senator Zappone and her partner Ann Louise Gilligan, who began this campaign with their legal case for equality rights more than a decade ago.
In welcoming the Bill, I acknowledge the role of a small non-profit organisation set up almost eight years ago to campaign on the issue. I congratulate the board and staff of Marriage Equality for the dignified and effective way in which they grew a small grassroots advocacy organisation into what is now a huge national campaign. YES Equality has support from every sector of society - from trade unions to teachers, from lawyers to doctors, and from civil society to sporting personalities and more.
GLEN, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and Amnesty International are all part of this coalition of support for what is essentially a civil, social, political and human right. It is a right that should exist without opposition in any civilised country. Why should there be no opposition? It is because both the "No" and "Yes" sides of this debate are supporting the same thing. They are both supporting marriage. They are both in favour of legally and socially recognising a couple's love and commitment for each other. They both value the contribution that marriage makes to the very foundations of our society, how it stabilises and regulates, and how it provides social and legal structures with rights and responsibilities. There is no ideological difference between the "No" and "Yes" sides in this debate when it comes to marriage. They both value it, they both want it, they want it for themselves and for their families. In supporting the Bill and in voting "Yes" in the referendum we are, in effect, asking for more marriage, not less marriage. That could be a slogan in itself. We are simply extending the right to marry to everyone who wishes to avail of it. For the life of me I cannot understand how anyone would object to this.
We have to remember that nobody owns civil marriage. It is a legal, political and human right which has universal recognition the world over, a right which has been extended to same-sex couples in 19 jurisdictions with more being added every year. The logic for widening the marriage net to include same-sex couples is premised not only on giving the same rights to every taxpayer but withholding the right to marriage stigmatises gay people and worst still, invites discrimination against them. We should no longer tolerate discrimination against any group in society, much less our brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, mothers and fathers. We should no longer discriminate against work colleagues, service providers, service users, fellow Members of this esteemed House, constituents, neighbours and friends who together make up this small minority of Irish society.
Opponents of marriage equality say that extending marriage to same-sex couples changes the definition of marriage. I agree with them. It changes the definition of marriage by widening and extending it. It has been widened and extended for centuries. Marriage is not a static institution. If it had remained the same and had never been redefined, women would still be their husband's property - I have got to be careful about that, I have to go home for my dinner this evening. Inter-faith and inter-race marriages would still be prohibited and women would not have equality that they enjoy today.
Some of us will remember when women had to give up their public sector jobs on marrying. That is how marriage was defined up to the 1970s. Last year, 97 year old Ms Maureen Cronin received a hidden hero award for her defiance of the marriage ban when she carried on teaching in Limerick for a full year without pay in the 1970s but it was not easy. She said, "Every inspector ignored me and passed my room while the parents merely tolerated me." To us, today, this is hardly credible but it serves to show one of the ways in which marriage has been redefined for the better.
We all know that the right to marry is one which many couples no longer choose to avail of. The traditional family, with or without children, has been undergoing dramatic change and today many long-term couples do what would have been unthinkable 50 years ago, they simply live together, raise children together and participate in society as unmarried couples. Even 30 years ago unmarried couples were still considered to be living in sin. Now we have a small minority who actually want to get married. The same people who support marriage seek to oppose this. There is an inherent flaw in their argument - to be in favour of marriage, to be rightly tolerant of those who do not choose to marry but to be against those of the same sex who wish to marry.
There appears to be a groundless fear that extending marriage to same-sex couples will somehow affect opposite-sex couples and their marriages. Professor Lee Baggett , director of the centre for public policy research in the University of Massachusetts, has conducted extensive research in this area. She concludes that no harm will come to marriage by extending it to same-sex couples. There is nothing in this Bill or the passing of the referendum for anybody to be afraid of.
I give the final words of my contribution to Gráinne Healy, the chair of Marriage Equality who puts the case so convincingly when she said:
- Attempts have been made to frame this debate as if it is about people with family values versus the rest of us but nothing could be further from the truth. We want a yes in the referendum to gain the freedom to marry because we are family and we value marriage and the security and constitutional protection as uniquely held in Ireland. We are the family values campaign. We value love, we value commitment, we value family security and we are fiercely protective of our children and grandchildren.
These are the family values of the campaign for civil marriage and these are the family values that I am proud to uphold and protect.
There is some talk about opt-out clauses or conscience clauses. I have never heard such tommyrot in all my life. An opt-out clause of any sort is to impose another inequality, another form of discrimination, therefore I urge the Minister to close her ears to such calls and stick with the wonderful Bill she has brought forward and the referendum. I thank the Minister for having the courage to bring this Bill forward. I will do everything I can to support the referendum and canvass for a "Yes" vote.