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Dublin: 14 °C Friday 22 August, 2014

Column: Enda Kenny’s silence on same-sex marriage is a rebuff to gay people

The move to civil marriage is not a massive leap – but it is a hugely important symbol, writes Kieran Rose.

Kieran Rose

THE MOMENTUM FOR civil marriage for same-sex couples is rapidly gathering pace.

“I believe in gay marriage” stated the Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore on 1 July. Recognising this as an issue whose ‘time had come’ and that our laws are out of step with rapidly evolving public opinion, the Tánaiste noted that this was why the issue “is included for consideration by the Constitutional Convention”.

Since then, several Ministers and politicians across all parties have spoken in favour of civil marriage, including Ruairi Quinn, Alan Shatter, Leo Varadaker and Brian Hayes. Yesterday Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin reiterated in the Dáil his party’s support for civil marriage. Cork City Council voted unanimously on Monday night in favour of same-sex marriage.

Alongside all this strong movement towards civil marriage, the media has been questioning the Taoiseach on his personal views. The Taoiseach has expressed no view and has replied that it is a matter for the Constitutional Convention.

As leader of the opposition he was very supportive of the marriage-like Civil Partnership Bill and indeed, attended GLEN briefings to the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party. Now, as leader of this Government, he has overseen the significant expansion of the Civil Partnership Act and the introduction of tax and citizenship legislation that provides for equality between married couples and civil partners.

Speaking on behalf of GLEN to the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party’s justice and equality group on 20 June I said:

We believe it would be a wonderful commitment to even further progress if the Taoiseach were to give national leadership and say that he was supporting civil marriage for lesbian and gay couples.

So now, with the exception of parenting, civil partnership and civil marriage are almost equal in legal rights and responsibilities. The move to civil marriage now is not a massive legislative leap – but it is a hugely important symbol and an affirmation that we are full and equal citizens under our Constitution.

“I think same-sex couples should be able to get married” –  when President Obama spoke these ten simple words he sent out a very strong signal of inclusion, of value, and of support to lesbian and gay people everywhere, and in particular to young gay people.

Enda Kenny is known for being a ‘people’s person’, for his empathy. On this issue he does not seem to understand the emotive power of civil marriage: it is to do with a sense of belonging, of being valued as equal citizens. Whether he realises it or not, his silence is taken as a rebuff, even if that is unintended. As our elected leader he should have a position on this critical issue of human rights.

The great success of civil partnership, the way it has been adopted so enthusiastically by lesbian and gay people and supported by the general population, is driving this rapidly developing momentum for civil marriage.

Since April 2011 more than 700 couples all over Ireland have entered into civil partnerships. These are then followed by joyful wedding celebrations where family, friends, and neighbours affirm the couples’ love for and legal commitment to one another.

The popular acclaim for marriage-like civil partnerships is basically saying to our legislators: “Let’s take the next small step to civil marriage now”.

It is that small step we are asking the Taoiseach to support.

Kieran Rose is the Chair of GLEN, the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network.

Taoiseach’s stance on gay marriage is ‘nonsense’ says Micheál Martin >

Taoiseach won’t be ‘pressurised into box-ticking exercise’ on gay marriage stance >

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