Home > Fine Gael, Gay issues, Irish politics > Charlie Flanagan on the Civil Partnership Bill

Charlie Flanagan on the Civil Partnership Bill

Last night, I went to gallery of the Dáil to listen to the opening stages of the Civil Partnership Bill. I heard speeches from Dermot Ahern, Charlie Flanagan, Brendan Howlin, Ciaran Cuffe, Paul Gogarty and Catherine Byrne. Though my own partisanship must in some way blur my judgement, of those I was most impressed with the speech of Charlie Flanagan, Fine Gael Spokesman on Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

He brought the personal impact of this bill through much more than others in his speech. He spoke of the change in Irish society that this bill represents, and how it will improve the lives of many gay couples. He also highlighted the recent report by GLEN, the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, on the prejudice still felt by gay and lesbian people. He claimed that the desire of gay couples to marry was an indication of the strength of the institution. He also highlighted a particular failing of the Bill in not making provision for the children of gay couples. His speech showed that this must be only the first step towards resolving the question of equality for gay couples and their families. I was proud to be a member of the party as I listened to his speech, key pieces of which I’ve extracted below.

On behalf of the Fine Gael party, I am proud to welcome this Bill this evening. … In the Ireland of the past, homosexuality was not tolerated to such an extent that it was a criminal offence to engage in homosexual activity. … It is to the credit of Members of the Oireachtas, particularly Senator David Norris and others, that they played a key role in having that law removed from the Statute Book. The Ireland of the past was undoubtedly an extraordinarily difficult place for gay and lesbian citizens. There was virtually no understanding of difference. The way the churches treated homosexuality as a “sin” and a “choice” must have led to painful turmoil for gay people in this country. Thankfully, we have made great strides as a nation and we now live in a more tolerant era, characterised more by reason and science than by bigotry, superstition and fear. This Bill will help us move to a place where tolerance, diversity and inclusivity are more than mere buzz-words, but are characteristics that define our corpus of family law. …

The Fine Gael Party has long had a proud tradition of promoting social justice. My party’s seminal equality and social justice policy, The Just Society, which was launched in the 1960s, has guided our social policies in the years since then. I am proud that it was a Fine Gael-led Government that in the 1980s introduced significant legislation to improve the legal position of women as well as introducing remedies for abuses such as domestic violence. It was a Fine Gael-led Government that introduced divorce. In doing so, we were not seeking to undermine marriage but to give a legal remedy to those whose marriages had broken down and who were left stranded in a legal limbo. …

We also had the opportunity to examine systems in other countries. Civil partnership for same sex couples is now available in a number of European countries, including Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Germany, Switzerland, the UK and Slovenia. Many countries have gone further and legislated for same sex marriage, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Sweden, Canada, Norway and South Africa. Ireland is part of a growing trend towards a more rights-driven world that permits and celebrates difference. I am pleased Ireland is moving in that direction. …

I am very concerned about the glaring omission of children from the civil partnership provisions. Such an omission fails to recognise the de facto situation in which an estimated one third of the approximately 2,000 same sex cohabiting couples registered in the 2006 census have children. Failing to take children into account fails these children in an unacceptable way. This was brought home to me just two years ago when a former constituent, Barbara Gill, was knocked down and killed, leaving behind a devastated partner and child. Barbara and her partner comprised a same sex couple, and they had a baby son to whom Barbara’s partner had given birth. Barbara did not have a biological link to her son, yet he was her son and she was his parent. When Barbara was killed, her partner and her son were left in a legal quagmire with no relief. … She was a good person and a good parent. We owe it to people like Barbara Gill, her partner and her son to address the vulnerable legal position of children of same sex couples and their non-biological parents. …

“Secular” is not a dirty word, as some have tried to assert. Secular, democratic measures have given women equal rights and blown the lid off decades of sexual abuse by religious congregations by conducting important investigations, the most recent of which was the Murphy report of this week. We do not inhabit a flat Earth. We exist in a diverse society where minorities make vital, welcome contributions. As Prime Minister Zapatero, speaking in the Spanish Parliament, stated before the final vote introducing gay marriage in 2005, “…a decent society is one which does not humiliate its members”. I agree with those sentiments and I believe they are appropriate to this Bill. I welcome the legislation and look forward to dealing with its technical, detailed aspects on Committee Stage, perhaps in the new year.

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