Marriage Bill 2015
First Stage: 20 Oct 2015
Oireachtas Link: http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad2015102000002?opendocument#FF01600
Second Stage: 20/10/2015
Tuesday, 20 October 2015
Senator Ivana Bacik: It will be difficult to follow that. I hoped that I would not speak after Senator Zappone. It gives me enormous pleasure to welcome the Minister to the House as a Minister who has led so strongly on this issue and on the process that has led us to this stage. It gives me enormous pleasure to lead for the Labour Party on Second Stage of the Marriage Bill 2015, a Bill made possible, as we know, by the resounding "Yes" vote in the May referendum on marriage equality. Like other speakers, I welcome very warmly to the public Gallery so many who made that resounding "Yes" vote possible - the leaders of the Yes Equality campaign, the marriage equality group, the GLEN organisation, the ICCL, and so many other groups that have campaigned for so long on LGBT rights, women's rights, groups such as USI that campaigned with the student body and made sure so many young people were registered, and campaigns such as that from the trade union movement. There was an enormous coalition of civil society groupings that came together on this, such as children's rights organisations. Groups that perhaps would not have been expected to come to the fore came to the fore and that was one of the enormous strengths of the campaign.
There are too many people to name individually and I am mindful of the Leas-Chathaoirleach's ruling on this. Gráinne Healy and Brian Sheehan are powerful spokespersons for Yes Equality.
Senator Ivana Bacik: They played an enormous role in this. As others have done, I welcome Ann Louise Gilligan to the Gallery. It was a proud moment for me in the High Court on her behalf, along with my good friend and colleague, Senator Zappone, all those years ago, battling for the recognition of the right to marry. At the time, we thought it would come sooner. It has been a long process but it was a wonderful moment to see it happen on 22 May 2015. I also pay tribute to Senator David Norris and recall that he introduced the Civil Partnership Bill, a Bill on which I had worked with him.
At the time I think we said it would be open to gay and straight couples. We were not bound by the same constraints by which the Minister was bound in terms of advice from the Attorney General, but it has been a long process. I welcome to the Visitors Gallery members of the Labour Party, Labour LGBT, Labour Youth and Labour Women who campaigned so strongly on this issue. It is fair to say the Labour Party played an enormous role in putting the referendum to the people. We have a proud history of campaigning for equality and rights in terms of social justice, the social agenda, contraception rights, the introduction of divorce in the 1990s, the X case legislation and, more recently, the gender recognition legislation. The Labour Party has led on all of these issues and it also led on the marriage equality issue. Senator Darragh O'Brien, very generously, paid tribute to the then Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, who pushed this issue when it was not popular across the political spectrum to do so. I do not know if anybody has mentioned the Constitutional Convention but the citizen members who gave of their time so generously during a 14 month period voted overwhelmingly in support of putting a referendum to the people. Again, it was part of the process that made marriage equality possible.
When we are talking about the process, I acknowledge a previous Government which put in place the civil partnership legislation which helped to change people's minds and make them see that marriage equality was a real possibility, that it was something that could be put in place and that the sky would not fall in if it were. A range of processes and developments culminated in an overwhelmingly successful campaign that resulted in a "Yes" vote on 22 May. As we said when campaigning for a "Yes" vote, the marriage equality referendum was very straightforward. We were being asked to vote on the issue of equality, to insert 17 words into the Constitution - "Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex". It is those 17 words which have enabled what we hope will be the speedy passage of the Bill, first, through the Dáil and, now, through this House.
During the campaign I set out what I saw as three key reasons to vote "Yes". It is worth revisiting them today. The first key reason was that gay couples would be able to get married. That was the simple and straightforward message of the referendum. The purpose of the legislation, once passed, is to put in place the legislative provisions necessary to enable couples to marry without distinction as to their sex. While the provisions are complex, the Minister has taken us through them comprehensively and there is a very simple purpose to them. It was that simple purpose that brought people to vote "Yes" in May.
The second point I argued was that the rights of children would be strengthened and affirmed. One of many provisions that stand out is section 16 which enables, as the Minister said, equal guardianship rights for gay couples. That is hugely important for children. This argument was made very strongly and was the reason all of the main children's rights organisations endorsed a "Yes" vote.
The final argument we made in campaigning and knocking on doors for a "Yes" vote was that we would have a more equal Ireland. There can be no doubt about this. With the passage of the referendum and the Bill and its speedy enactment and commencement, we will see Ireland join a growing European and international consensus that there is no valid legal basis on which to discriminate against same-sex couples. We considered this was an immensely positive message to send to the world, particularly, as the Minister said, given that Ireland was unique in being the first and, to date, only sovereign country to have affirmed the right to marry for gay couples through popular vote. This message of being equal was hugely important.
I said there were a number of hugely important provisions - all 24 are important - but perhaps I might single out three. I have mentioned section 16 and children's rights, but section 4 is the key provision. As the Minister has pointed out, it is the single most important section in giving effect to the result of the referendum. It amends the dreaded section 2(2) of the Civil Registration Act 2004 which played such an important role in earlier litigation and put in place a statutory block or obstacle for gay couples who wished to marry. In 2013 Labour Party Senators tabled a Private Members' Bill to seek to delete the relevant provision and it is good to see it being deleted in this Government legislation.
Section 7 which the Minister dealt with in some detail is hugely important because it makes it clear that religious solemnisers will not be obliged to solemnise marriages between same-sex couples. An important part of the campaign was that those against the referendum argued that religious bodies might be coerced in some way. It is important to note that section 7 enables religious bodies and secular solemnisers for the Humanist Association to conduct same-sex marriages. In that context, I mention a point Senator Aideen Hayden asked me to raise, that is, the lack of a provision to ensure sufficient numbers of civil registrars and secular solemnisers. There are 5,000 religious solemnisers but only 105 civil registrars and currently 14 accredited Humanist solemnisers. We only have the secular Humanist solemnisers because of legislation I introduced on behalf of the Labour Party, the Civil Registration (Amendment) Act 2014, which the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, took up. We will need to look at this issue in future legislation as there will be increased demand for civil and secular solemnisers to contract legal weddings.
Section 24 removes the so-called forced divorce clause in the Gender Recognition Act. It is welcome that it is being brought forward speedily.
I welcome the Bill in the strongest terms. I also welcome the Minister's announcement that she and the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, will work to ensure it is commenced within two weeks of its enactment. This will enable the speedy processing of applications to marry. Senator Katherine Zappone referred to the pure joy felt - we all felt it - not only by those of us who were privileged to be in Dublin Castle on 23 May but by all those who celebrated the result around Ireland and the world following the overwhelming vote in favour.
Acting Chairman (Senator Paschal Mooney): The Senator is at least a minute and a half over time. I was very reluctant to disturb her train of thought.
Senator Ivana Bacik: I am sorry. I will finish on this point. I hope we will have many more moments of pure joy felt in families and communities all around Ireland as we proceed to commence this important Bill.