ON APRIL 13-14th of this year the Constitutional Convention met to consider the issue of marriage equality. The Convention voted by a decisive majority in favour of changing the Constitution to allow for civil marriage for same-sex couples.
This strong endorsement of equal marriage rights marks an historic step in the campaign for marriage equality in Ireland and builds on the civil partnership legislation introduced in January 2011 under the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010. The then Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern spoke about the Act being “one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation to be enacted since independence”.
The endorsement of the Constitutional Convention illustrates that the public now want politicians to further build on the progress of civil partnership by holding a referendum on marriage equality. The Government announced today that a referendum on same sex marriage will be held by mid-2015. It is now the responsibility of the Government parties to lead a vigorous, successful campaign for marriage equality.
Aren’t Civil Partnerships the same thing?
One of the central tenants of the anti-marriage equality argument is that civil partnership is essentially the same as civil marriage and therefore there is no need to have marriage equality. This is simply not true. Research by Marriage Equality has illustrated how there are at least 160 differences between civil marriage and civil partnership. These differences range from immigration issues, to legal issues, to important protections for same-sex couples and their children.
One significant difference under the Civil Partnership Act is that a child only has a legal relationship with his or her biological parent. Essentially the Act is saying that a non-biological parent centrally involved in the life of the child is a stranger in the eyes of the law. This two-tier system is unfair and shows that civil partnership does not even remotely equate to the same thing as civil marriage.
‘Undermining the sanctity of marriage’
The religious argument against gay marriage has long centred on the sanctity of the union between a man and a woman. They argue that allowing two men or two women to marry would undermine the sanctity of marriage. This argument does not take into consideration that a thriving marriage does not succeed or fail because of the sex of those in the marriage but because of the love two people share for one another.
Indeed Marriage Equality echoed this in their submission to the Constitutional Convention explaining how “we use the term ‘marriage equality’ rather than ‘gay marriage’ or ‘same-sex marriage’ because we are not looking for any special or separate kind of marriage. We don’t want to change marriage, which is about love, commitment, caring for and protecting loved ones. We want to open it up so same-sex couples can get married too. We are calling for equality”.
As practising Catholic, I refuse to accept that I am more equal or loved more in the eyes of my God because I happen to be in love with a woman and not a man. It is not about religion, or even marriage, but equality.
Broad political support
The position of the majority of political parties in relation to this issue has evolved significantly over the last ten years. In Ireland we have gone from having only two parties supporting civil partnership in the run up to the 2002 general election to Fianna Fáil, Labour, Sinn Féin and the Green Party all supporting marriage equality.
Politically, the most interesting aspect of any future referendum will be how Fine Gael approaches it. Many in the party fear that campaigning for marriage equality risks alienating large swathes of its traditionally conservative rural base at a crucial time. Fine Gael, however, also needs to consider that recent polling shows three quarters of the population support marriage equality. The Taoiseach should urge his party to support marriage equality and campaign strongly for it.
Following the economic crash there is a huge desire from the public to see politicians working together in the public interest. Indeed, in this decade of commemorations there would be no more fitting tribute to the revolutionary generation of 1916 than to have all of Ireland’s mainstream parties working together to help fulfil the proclamations promise to guarantee “equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation”.
The death of the Celtic Tiger and the evaporation of economic prosperity badly bruised our Republic but the devastating economic crash has provided us with the opportunity to build a new Republic. The passage of a referendum on marriage equality would be a significant step towards a more inclusive Ireland.
Mark is a Public Relations Consultant and Fianna Fáil activist. He specialises in political communication and media relations. Follow him on Twitter at @poliireland.