'We deserve equality' - MarriagEquality Co-chair tells launch audience

19 Feb 2008

LAUNCH7 Gráinne Healy, MarriagEquality Co-chair, addresses the formal launch of MarriagEquality in the Mansion House, Dublin, on Monday 18 February 2008

Speaking at the launch of MarriagEquality in the Mansion House on Monday 18 February, MarriagEquality Co-chair, Grainne Healy, said that this was a landmark day for all those who support equality in Ireland.

The text of her address is as follows:

Friends and guests, ladies and gentlemen, you are all very welcome to the formal launch of MarriagEquality.

My name is Gráinne Healy and I am co-Chair (along with Denise Charlton) of this new initiative that has a simple goal: the provision of equality for gay and lesbian people in Ireland by providing access to civil marriage.

Before I begin, I wish to introduce the members of the platform. Judy Walsh is Professor of Equality Studies at UCD and will shortly outline the current legal situation in regard to gay and lesbian marriage, and what needs to be done to change the law to give gay and lesbian people access to civil marriage.

Beside her is Moninne Griffith, MarriagEquality Co-ordinator who will speak to you about our 'Out to Your TD campaign'.

Next we have two couples - Niamh and Jessica, and Paul and Mark - who will speak to you very briefly, but from both their hearts and their minds, about why they should be allowed to marry in the same way and with all the same rights as heterosexual couples.

MarriagEquality grew out of an initiative introduced to support the case of Katherine Zappone and Ann Louise Gilligan - present in the room this morning - to have their Canadian marriage recognised in Ireland. Katherine and Ann Louise are not only the genesis of this new initiative, they are also its inspiration.

Their bravery, courage and determination to live in an Ireland that treats everyone equal, regardless of sexual orientation, has made them pioneers not only for gay and lesbian people in this country, but for all those who support equality.

What was previously a voluntary committee established to support a legal case taken by one couple, has developed into a new organisation with professional staff working to build a broad base of support that seeks legislative equality for gay and lesbian people.

Drawing on Katherine and Ann Louise's example, MarriagEquality believes that the only way for equality to be achieved is to allow lesbians and gay men the option of marrying in a civil registry office. In doing so, gay and lesbian couples would receive all the same legal rights and benefits that are automatically given to heterosexual couples.

Rather than legislate in a piecemeal way through a civil partnership scheme that would create a separate, unequal and legally untested institution, a simple straightforward amendment to the Civil Registration Act - as Judy will outline - could be introduced to open the institution of civil marriage to gay and lesbian people.

When this happens and it will happen sooner or later, all the legal rights in the area of taxation, social welfare, maintenance, immigration and so many more that flow from marriage will be open to gay and lesbian people; the status of 'married' with its constitutional protection and social status, currently unavailable to us, will go some way to ending this unfair exclusion.

Opponents - and perhaps even some supporters - will point to the fact that this may conflict with the Constitution. But MarriagEquality believes that politicians should not hide behind Bunreacht na hEireann. Rather they should test the constitutionality by first amending the law and seeing what happens.

The position paper we are launching today, Making the Case for Marriage Equality, written by Dr Jane Pillinger, fully outlines the reasons why we believe allowing gay and lesbian people to marry is the only means of ensuring equality in modern Ireland. It is a thorough and comprehensive piece of research and I encourage you all to read it and absorb its contents.

It outlines in detail many of the rights that flow from marriage and how these are denied to gay and lesbian people. It also tackles some of the arguments that are presented against same sex marriage and demonstrates, by way of international comparisons, the manner in which gay and lesbian marriage has been introduced successfully in other countries and jurisdictions (namely Belgium, the Netherlands, and Spain in the European Union, and also in South Africa, Canada and the US state of Massachusetts).

It also demonstrates that marriage provides important legal protection for gay and lesbian parents and their children in Ireland. As things stand a child parented by a gay or lesbian couple does not have the right to have his or her parents recognised nor are such children protected in the same way as children of married heterosexuals. Surely this is unfair to the children and against both the spirit and the letter of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Even at this stage, based on the comments of Government representatives, it is clear that their proposed civil partnership bill will not come anywhere near close to providing legislative equality for gay and lesbian people.

All I can say to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Brian Lenihan is that MarriagEquality looks forward to engaging with and informing him and his Government colleagues when the Heads of Bill on Civil Partnership are published before the end of March. Civil Partnership/Union is not marriage, and marriage is what we want.
MarriagEquality believes that Ireland is ready for civil marriage for gay and lesbian people. Recent research in polls and surveys demonstrates that we live in a more mature and tolerant society.

However, we also recognize that for a number of different reasons gay and lesbian people have been slow or reluctant to ask for their rights. MarriagEquality wants that to change. We want gay and lesbian people, our friends, and our families to go directly to out TDs either in their constituency offices, their clinics, or in Leinster House and make them aware that their rights are infringed by being denied access to marriage.

Speaking in the Dail last Novemeber during the debate on Civil Unions Fianna Fail TD, Martin Mansergh stated that the issue of gay and lesbian marriage "is not a matter that I can recall being raised with me, face to face, in my constituency from any angle, either for or against."

MarriagEquality wants to ensure that no Oireachtas member ever again stands-up in the Dail or Seanad and utters such words.

That is why a vital part of our work is the "We are not out till we are out to our TDs" campaign. We cannot let our politicians use silence as an excuse for inaction. MarriagEquality will help gay and lesbian people, their family and friends with the process of visiting their TDs to raise awareness of the issue. We have created a pack (which is available in the room today) for people to use before they visit their TDs. It provides information on what they might say to their TD and the views they may come across. We will provide whatever support we can to encourage people to visit their public representatives and to ask for civil marriage.

We also know that in many parts of the country - whether it is Dublin, Donegal, or Dingle, gay and lesbian people still suffer discrimination - physical assault, verbal abuse, or even institutional discrimination - simply because of our sexual orientation.

For that reason we believe that the Government by legislating for civil marriage for all, will send the clearest message to the Irish public that homophobia is as unacceptable as racism, sexism, sectarianism, or any other form of discrimination.

Ireland has come a long way since the decriminalization of homosexuality in 90's. That memorable change was long overdue. Now it is time for the next step. Civil marriage for gay and lesbian people is not the great leap that some portray it as. It is the logical extension of rights that we as gay and lesbian people in this country have waited long enough for.

Quite simply, there can be no excuse, we are calling for civil marriage for gay and lesbian people, we deserve equality.