Speech by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald TD, on the Marriage Equality Referendum

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to a public meeting ‘Preparing for the Marriage Equality Referendum’

hosted by Fine Gael LGBT

Gresham Metropole Hotel, MacCurtain Street, Cork.

I want to thank you all very much for the opportunity to say a few words this evening on the Marriage Equality Referendum proposal which as you will all know will be going through the Dáil and Seanad shortly in the form of a Bill to amend the Constitution and, if passed in the Houses, will be put to the people in May for a Yes or No vote.

This is an opportunity for Ireland to demonstrate that it is truly inclusive, truly mature in its understanding of marriage.

Of course, marriage enjoys a unique place in Irish society and in our Constitution. Article 41 sets marriage as the institution on which the family is founded. As a result, the marital family enjoys unique constitutional protections that are not available to people in other types of relationships. Let me be clear about this because this piece of information will be critical to get home in the coming months – We are not proposing to change any existing parts or provisions of Article 41.

This is about extending a right. At the moment, it is not possible for same-sex couples to get married in Ireland.

It is about extending a right based on debate throughout Irish society, right up to the Constitutional Convention which agreed by a strong majority – 79% – that the Constitution should be changed to allow for civil marriage for same sex couples.

For our Constitution to be changed, it is imperative that we put a clear question to the people, asking them if couples should have right to marriage equality regardless of whether they are same sex couples or opposite sex couples.

The wording provides that ‘Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.’ It is proposed that an additional section would be inserted into Article 41 of the Constitution which is the article relating to the family. The section would be inserted as Article 41.4 and would come at the end of the existing provisions on marriage.

The amendment will give a clear right to same-sex couples to marry on the same basis as other couples. It will not affect in any way existing marriages.

Let me reiterate that point.

It won’t affect existing marriages in any way.

Neither will it change the way in which the marriages of opposite-sex couples are performed or registered.

Civil partners who wish to get married will need to go through a marriage ceremony – but they won’t have to dissolve their civil partnership first.

Clergy will have the right, exercising their existing religious freedom as at present, to decline to marry specific couples.

The referendum is about who can marry. It is not about parental rights for children. That issue will be addressed in the Children and Family Relationships Bill which I will publish very shortly.

It will deal with long- outstanding family law and children issues in relation to parentage (including parentage in AHR); guardianship, custody, adoption, access and maintenance. It will, with the best interests of children as the golden thread running through it, modernise our existing family law to legislate for family situations in which parents, including same sex parents, and children find themselves in the real world of 21st century Ireland.

Enacting the Child and Family Relationship legislation in the coming month will mean that the only question in the minds of the people, when they vote on the Referendum question in May, should be about marriage equality, and not about children, parents, custody, adoption or the rest of it.

In addressing this major referendum, I want to refer one of FDR’s famous statements to the American public. He said:

“The shadow of fear is longer than fear itself.”

In every area of life, in every country in the world, on every major issue, that is one of the unchanging truths: the shadow of fear is longer than fear itself.

This referendum should be addressed with hope, rather than fear, with trust, rather than dread, with faith, rather than suspicion.

It is all too easy to stoke the fear of change, and that fear-stoking has already happened.

It has happened and it will happen because people who are entitled to their viewpoint will oppose the referendum proposal. They should not be demonised or caricatured because of their beliefs — if this referendum is about inclusion, then we must remind ourselves, every day during the campaign, that inclusion starts with respect for those with whom we passionately disagree.

But we must also reassure people who get worried when negative possibilities are raised – as they will be, even if the negative possibilities have nothing to do with the proposal being put to the nation in the referendum.

We must reassure them that marriage is a special place where two people can provide each other with the love, the support, the strength to cope with all that life throws at a family. For many couples – obviously not for all couples – but for many couples, marriage, while it has moments of pain, of disappointment, of tension, still – for the most part – is a unique way to find the fullness and joy of family life.

As a mature, open and pluralist society, we should want equality on that front.

I can honestly suggest that nobody here – and nobody in the land – doesn’t have a son or daughter, a niece or nephew, a colleague or a friend who is currently left outside marriage because of our current constitutional position

We’re now at a point where we can – without damage or difficulty – bring them inside.

It is a choice we want the public to be proud to make.

Proud.

Because, maybe once in their lifetime, a generation of Irish people get the chance to make a choice which, in turn, defines the nation.

We are now offered that chance, that choice.

Let us help our people to define Ireland as warm, as equal, as trustful of the future for our families.

I want to thank you again for this opportunity to set out some of the issues on this hugely important topic. It is hugely important for the people of Ireland, not only the people in this room. I hope that the debate leading up to the referendum will be constructive, well informed and respectful and most of all worthy of the modern and diverse Ireland in which we are all living together.

 


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