This evening I am very happy to support this legislation.
Today is a new dawn for a modern Ireland, a nation that cherishes all our citizens equally. Today’s bill heralds a coming of age for our young republic. This bill is as FG TD Charlie Flanagan said in the Dáil “a tangible testament to how far Irish society has come”.
There are many tributes to be paid to many people who have campaigned tirelessly and indefatigably for this recognition and safe guarding of civil rights. Among these are:
- FG has always played a leading role and would like to praise former Senator Shelia Terry for her work in preparing a FG bill in 2004
- Senator David Norris
- GLEN for their Trojan work
- Gay Men and Women
This evening is one of celebration and achievement to paraphrase Kieran Rose of Glen.
In real terms who is this Bill for and what does it hope to achieve? This Bill is for us all; me, every senator here, our brothers, our sisters, sons, daughters, nephews, nieces, grandchildren, neighbours and the citizens of this state. Social research has consistently found that while at a societal level prejudices might exist those prejudices vanish when we make reference to people we know.
This Bill is not just for strangers but for people we all know and love. Our sexuality is a gift , its one we have been given, it’s given to us at birth.
This bill is not an attack on the institution of the Catholic Church or on the sacrament of marriage. This bill is not about sexuality, it is about rights. It is incumbent on each member of Oireachtas Éireann to legislate for all of our citizens. Civil rights are based on personal freedoms; freedoms to which we are born, to which we all have a birth right.
The issue of conscientious objectors to the enactment of this bill must be dealt with maturely. Intolerance, for whatever reason, of one section of our society, must always be, in a fair and free nation, intolerable to us, the legislators. This country in her awful history has seen citizens, or subjects as they were then been disenfranchised because of their religion.
If our history of occupation has taught us anything it is that when a state seeks to disenfranchise some group of its people, that state is failing the very people its seeks to govern and protect.
Discrimination of anybody covered in the nine grounds of equality should be anathema to any modern government. There can be no excuses, no opt out clause. To quote de Valera, “we are either all free or not free at all”. Some people have suggested that the liberal agenda has come too far but I would suggest that gay and co-habiting couples have lived too long under the strain and pressure of no legal recognition and no legal protection. State discrimination against these groups in society has gone on for too long and it is time that we all addressed that.
How ironic then that some descendants of the same disenfranchised people should seek to disenfranchise another sector of their own people. Where we could never in this modern state contemplate an objection to the union of two people from diverse religious or racial backgrounds, equally so we should never contemplate or indeed tolerate any objection to the union of two people in a loving relationship from a same sex background Equality for all embodies the true spirit of republicanism as brought down to us from the ideals of Wolf Tone.
Tonight we face a choice, Is the state to further perpetrate a stigma/bias/prejudice or will it take up the gauntlet and proudly enter the 21st, realizing the ideals of those proposed at the start of the 20th century- will the state finally realise those lofty ideals of the republic proclaimed on the steps of the GPO and finally, once and for all cherish ALL her children equally.
Tonight we remove the ignominious stigma of being gay to one of acceptance. We remove from gay people the legal barriers re property and inheritance rights to one of acceptance. We now move to rights driven Ireland – an Ireland where love is embraced.
Under the terms of the Bill, marriage-like benefits will be extended to gay and lesbian couples across a range of areas such as property, social welfare, succession, maintenance, pensions and tax. The legislation also provides for the legal recognition of civil partnerships, or their equivalent, obtained in other jurisdictions. In real terms the new bill puts in place a legal safety-net for people living in long-term relationships who might be vulnerable financially at the end of a relationship, whether through break-up or through bereavement.
Equally I believe there must be a separation of church and state in a modern Republic-WHILST all the time cherishing our private spirituality we must cherish the principals of equality legislatively. As a practising catholic I respect the right of the church to its teachings. That said however, as a public representative in a modern republic I also hold dearly the egalitarian ideals of a republic and endorse fully the separation of church and state. Where the state does not interfere in the spiritual matters of church nor can the state be lead by or influenced by the spiritual stance of a church. We are a pluralist state, not a theocracy and as such, the state must operate a system of laws that is wholly inclusive of all of it’s people.
In a democracy we must safeguard the rights of all our citizens- fortunately braver men and women before us strove to accomplish a republican democracy. The truest model of a republic is not one which is driven by the ideals of a particular set of church teachings but rather those which are based on the rights of all to live in a free and just society, one which withholds the privileges of one group over another, one which ensures the rights of all people.
To day is a stepping stone, a bridge builder. I hope following on from today that we will have a gentler, more caring, inclusive tolerant Irish society.
The State has a duty of care for all her citizens- She has a duty to break down the walls of prejudice which have oppressed a largely silent minority for all too long. The Stigma of homosexuality is undue and in some cases which brought unbearable pressure on young men. I am reminded of the words of President Mary McAleeese when she said sexual identity is a discovery, not a decision.
“Homosexuality is a discovery, not a decision and for many it is a discovery which is made against a backdrop where, within their immediate circle of family and friends as well as the wider society, they have long encountered anti-gay attitudes which will do little to help them deal openly and healthily with their own sexuality,”
As I mentioned in the outset of my contribution this Bill is not perfect but it is a start and a good start. I note the comments of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) who suggest that “The bill is silent on the issue of parenting by same-sex couples where one partner is the biological mother or father and that is something we would like to see addressed.” “Currently, only married couples can jointly adopt a child but a single person can adopt regardless of their sexual orientation. We believe that same-sex couples should be considered as adoptive parents, subject to same rigours assessment as anyone else.”
I commend this bill to the house.