Most of the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis meant little to me. There was nothing in Micheál Martin’s speech that made me feel that the party was on the cusp of a recovery or that they were going to offer a particularly distinctive voice. I acknowledge Martin’s apology on behalf of his party, but he could have made it stronger by referring directly to his time in cabinet. Philip O’Connor draws attention to his equivocations in this piece in The Journal. I found the whole speech, with all the time devoted to bins in Dublin, a little underwhelming. But of course I’d think that, wouldn’t I?
But I did notice that the Ard Fheis passed motions supporting marriage equality and for same-sex couples to be considered for that. They are to be commended for this, as is Martin for making his personal support clear on The Week in Politics last night. I noticed a lot of commentary on Facebook which was quite cynical in relation to this. But I don’t think it reflects any cynical attempt to gain votes which they weren’t interested in while they were in power, rather the very rapid social change on this matter. This is a growing norm, and as we look to what exists in other countries and in US states, very little has been offered on the other side.
I see no substantial reason that we would not see Fine Gael move in the same way. We might have a reputation because some of prominent members as being conservative and there is a Christian democratic tradition, but doesn’t necessarily mean an opposition to progress on this front. I’ve pointed on a number of occasions to the speech Charlie Flanagan made during the civil partnership debate. Others too from Fine Gael spoke during that same debate who stated explicitly or indirectly that civil partnership would only be a step towards equality, such as Dr James Reilly, Deirdre Clune and Simon Coveney, who gave a very honest speech on how he changed his own mind to support marriage. Of the 2011 intake, Seán Kyne urged Young Fine Gael members to vote for equal marriage at our summer school last July, and he as well as Simon Harris put questions recently to Alan Shatter, Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, to make provision for children of same-sex couples.
What ultimately matters is that we support this before the referendum, which I expect could be in the second half of this government’s term in office, around 2015, to give time for the Constitution Convention to deliberate on this and its other issues. There will be another Ard Fheis before then, but we should move now, and vote on this at our Ard Fheis at the end of March. We should not let time go as the only party not in support of allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry. We should also give ourselves the chance to include this the party’s submission to the Constitutional Convention.
As this is moving closer to being a reality, we are going to have to start thinking about the specifics of how this change should take place. I had previously followed on the logic of Zappone–Gilligan that this could be achieved legislatively by amending the Civil Registration Act 2004. This view was argued by constitutional lawyers Sen. Ivana Bacik, SC, and Gerard Hogan, now a High Court Justice. But having asked other constitutional lawyers, there is enough doubt on this that I know think it should be put to a referendum. Article 41 as a whole does envisage a heterosexual marriage, as seen in provisions (which should be amended, if not deleted) such as a recognition of the duties of mothers within the home. I have no doubt in my mind that with a good campaign, it can be won.
Considering other provisions in the Constitution prohibiting sex discrimination (Articles 9.1.3° and 16.1.1°–3°), I would propose:
Article 41 of the Constitution is hereby amended as follows:
(a) insert new subsection 2°, “Ní bheidh aon chosc ar phósadh idir bheirt toisc iad bheith fireann nó baineann.”, after section 1° of section 3 of the English text,
(b) insert new subsection 2°, “No two people may be excluded from marriage by reason of their sex.”, after section 1° of section 3 of the English text,
(b) subsections 2° and 3° of section 3 of both texts shall be numbered as subsections 3° and 4°.
This time last year, at the Young Fine Gael Summer School, I proposed the motion, “This Summer School supports allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry”. It was defeated, two votes short of a majority. Yesterday, now as YFG Director of Policy, I proposed the same motion, and it passed overwhelmingly with, I think, two votes against. This is what I said in the two minutes I had to speak,
Those of you at summer school last year, or I’ve talked to since or last night on this, know this is important to me.
For me, this is fundamentally about the hope I might settle down one day into happily married life, hopefully in a lifelong relationship. The same reasons anyone wants to marry.
Studies on this, and just plain common sense, will tell you those who are married in committed relationships live longer, healthier and happier lives. Of course having a constant, loving companion can be such a comfort in life, there for each other, for better for worse, in sickness and in health.
In voting in favour, you simply acknowledge the care and love a couple show each other should be recognised in a way they believe best reflects their commitment.
We’re now ten years since gay couples in a growing number of places around the world first had the opportunity to marry. How could allowing more people commit to each other send anything but a positive message about the value of marriage?
As to children, don’t forget there are currently children in Ireland being raised by gay couples; it would give them too added security and protection if their parents could marry, such as in a situation if anything was to happen to their birth parent, where under current law their other parent would currently be treated as a stranger.
There is civil partnership. But these beneficial effects have so much a firmer backing with the authority and tradition of marriage. Further, justice requires conditions of people’s lives determined by government be provided equally for all.
This has proved successful in other countries; it will enhance the comfort and security of gay couples, it will make gay children and teenagers growing up in Ireland feel more included in society; it will provide Constitutional support as well to children being raised by gay couples, and it will give peace of mind to the parents and wider family of gay people. With all this, I really think there is no social benefit in preventing me and others from marrying.
It was followed by an excellent speech from Maeve Howe, chair of Dublin South-East YFG, who stressed that this is a human rights issue, not an LGBT issue, and then by an informed discussion from the floor. It was also supported earlier in the day in an address from local TD Seán Kyne, who picked the motion out as one we should support.
There were other motions this weekend which I was proud of, which I will summarize tomorrow. There have been some great moments since I became active in the party in autumn 2009. But the support the motion received yesterday, such a reversal in twelve months, was one of the most satisfying for me at a very personal level, and something I was proud to play a part in.
Here below is a list of all motions in the general policy section of Summer School: Read more…