Same-sex marriage on the agenda

Between The Lines
Two men on top of Wedding cake
Same-sex couples are no longer a source of wonderment.

Same but different

With the majority of Irish people now in favour of equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, Trevor Quinn takes a closer look at the issue

Trevor Quinn

A recent Red C poll revealed that Irish people believe same-sex marriage should be allowed in the Constitution. A massive 73 per cent of those polled are in favour of giving same-sex couples equal marriage rights.
The poll results were released during the last week of February, the same week in which over 50 same-sex couples attended Ireland’s first ever gay wedding/civil partnership fair at the Absolute Hotel in Limerick.  A week later,  motions to recognise same-sex marriage and allow gay couples to adopt were passed at the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis.
It is hard to believe that homosexuality was illegal in Ireland as recently as 1993. Since then, a greater deal of understanding, acceptance and education has changed the views of Irish society in a truly remarkable fashion.
The Civil Partnership Bill was passed in the Dáil in July 2010. The landmark legislation gave financial and legal protection to same-sex couples. While it was seen as a major breakthrough for equal rights, many think it has not gone far enough.
The Government is expected to soon issue draft proposals for the formulation of the Constitutional Convention, which was pledged in last year’s Programme for Government. One of the most eye-catching considerations will be the provision of marriage equality for same-sex couples.
Three weeks ago Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said he believed it was ‘inevitable’ that the Constitutional Convention would look at the question of same-sex marriage. He reiterated however that he believed the more primary question about “the definition of marriage and the definition of family,” would also be discussed.
Speaking after a Spring General Meeting of the Irish Bishops in Maynooth Archbishop Martin warned that marriage is not a social mechanism that each generation can change as it wishes, and he said that he believed the Irish Constitution has served marriage exceptionally well.
Senator David Norris welcomed the Civil Partnership Bill when it was introduced in 2010, however, he stated at the time that he was concerned about certain aspects of the legislation. He stated that the “legislations failure to deal adequately with the rights of children in same-sex unions concerned him deeply.” He added, “Gay people can still only adopt singly and, if that person dies, the child is left in a limbo situation.”
Kaycee Clifford is secretary of the Sligo Mayo Initiative of LGBT Youth (SMILY) which provides support and offers a safe, friendly and fun social outlet for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender young people between the ages of 14 and 23. LGBT group meetings are now being held in Ballina and Sligo.
Speaking to The Mayo News about the results of the Red C poll, Mr Clifford said, “It is becoming more and more acceptable that same-sex couples can have a happy and normal marriage. I’d like to think [the Government] would be willing to give people that opportunity and choice.”

The issue of children

So why do those in favour of equal marriage rights believe the Civil Partnership Bill does not go far enough? The bill’s main stumbling block, in their eyes, is its failure to grant family status to a couple, and the consequent lack of legal support for and recognition of children being parented by same-sex couples.
Firstly, in contrast to married couples, civil partners are not legally entitled to jointly adopt a child. There is no way in which a non-biological or adoptive parent’s civil partner can attain these rights unless there is specific request in a deceased partners’ will.
Secondly, if the same-sex parents of a child legally end their civil partnership, the child has no right to claim maintenance from the parent who is neither a biological nor adoptive guardian. The same applies when the death occurs of said parent; the child subsequently has no claim on the will or estate of the deceased.
Mr Clifford of SMILY says while great strides have been made in recent years, this issue is one that still resonates strongly with same-sex couples. “It is of the utmost importance. The main concern of same-sex couples is what would happen to the child if something unexpected happened to the biological parent.”
However, Mr Clifford is optimistic that (bar some notable exceptions, such as the Campaign for Concience) Irish society is evolving in a manner that promotes equal rights. He is heartened by the massive support revealed in the Red C poll, and he remains hopeful that equal marriage rights will be given to same-sex couples very soon. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed,” he said.

Mayo dissent
In December, a Mayo-based campaign group, Campaign for Conscience, initiated a Supreme Court Challenge against Ireland’s Civil Partnership Bill in which they claimed that some sections of the act is unconstitutional.
The organisation had submitted similar action almost a year earlier. However, it was struck out by the State in July 2011 after it was deemed that there were no reasonable grounds for the challenge.
Castlebar man Enoch Burke of Campaign for Conscience believes the group has a strong case. “We believe there was no real thought put into this bill. It was guillotined in the Séanad and then there was no vote taken in the Dáil.”
The group has referred primarily to Article 6.1 of the Constitution which says that all governmental power of the Oireachtas and the courts ‘derive under God, from the people,’ and they have claimed that the bill points to a breach of the Constitution.
“We are objecting on religious grounds,” said Mr Burke. “Any legislation that is telling you to override your conscience in favour of the State telling you what to do is highly unusual. I believe it’s the first time it’s happened in the history of the State.”

Councillors favour change
Castlebar-based Labour representative Cllr Harry Barrett also believes that same-sex couples should be given equal marriage rights.
“We castigated the Chinese leader and our own Government for not highlighting the issue of human rights when in actual fact we have our own human rights issues to deal with. It’s amazing that the issue [of same-sex marriage] is still generating heated debate, and we’re still dragging our feet in relation to it,” said Cllr Barrett.
Speaking to The Mayo News, Mayo County Councillor Peter Flynn (FG) echoed Cllr Barrett’s sentiment. He also believes it is time that Irish law is brought up to date to reflect our society’s attitude change and evolution. “Everyone to their own. We live in an open society and people should be able to make their own decisions and live their own lives … It was a different world 20, 30 and 40 years ago and there would have been difficulties, but things have changed since then.
“In years gone by [being gay] would have been hidden in a lot of ways, but now it is accepted. The law and tax regulation should reflect the reality of this. We are now having a referendum in relation to the European Treaty so it could be an ideal time to ask the Irish electorate to give their opinion on whether same-sex marriage should be allowed in the Constitution.”