Why Equal Marriage Matters

16 Aug 2014

Grainne Healy Gráinne Healy

Grainne Healy,
Chairwoman of Marriage Equality - seeking Civil Marriage Rights for Same-Sex Couples in Ireland

Marriage matters because marriage brings legal recognition to relationships of love and commitment between adults. It matter for everybody - including same-sex couples In Ireland. Marriage brings Constitutional protection to these relationships and protects the children who are part of those relationships. It names them as families with rights, entitlements and equality.

Along with the host of obligations and protections marriage brings with it, it is also a culturally significant institution which is recognised socially and legally, internationally. Marriage itself has gone through changes over time – the age to be eligible to marry has changed, divorce has been introduced in more and more countries around the world – including our neighbours in Scotland, England, Wales and France, civil marriage is now open to same-sex couples. It’s time for a new and positive change to marriage in Ireland – time for a change which will allow same-sex couples to marry the person the love.

Marriage represents to others a recognition and celebration of the love and commitment of the couple. For the couple themselves it represents social recognition and acceptance and equality of status for their loving relationships and family.

Civil marriage differs from religious marriage. Civil marriages usually take place in a registry office or hotel. Religious marriage celebrations for Catholics are a sacrament and for other faith based groups have a spiritual or religious significance. The referendum in 2015 is asking Irish people to change the Irish Constitution to insert a right for same-sex couples to access civil marriage. It is not seeking to force faith based groups to marry same-sex couples, though many such groups such as Quakers and Unitarian faith groups would wish to bless and celebrate such unions. Civil marriage rights have nothing to do with religious practices, except that in religious wedding ceremonies the signing of the register of marriage takes place away from public view, witnessed usually in a side chapel. In civil marriage ceremonies, the signing of the register takes place publicly in full view of all guests and witnesses before a civil registrar appointed by the state.

It matter to same-sex couples that they can marry so that they can feel and be treated as equal citizens in their own country. It matters to all families that their sons and daughters can marry the person they love. It matters to the children in these families that their parents have the right to marry and their families be seen and treated as other families.

Ireland has travelled a distance in progressing rights for lesbian and gay people since decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1993. The equality legislation of the 1990's and Civil Partnership recognition in 2010 are seen as milestones along the road to equality, but civil marriage equality will represent more than individual rights of lesbian and gay people to be recognised, it will represent the equal right of lesbian and gay people to equality of respect and esteem for their relationships of affection and care – those relationships with their partners and children.

Civil marriage is the gateway for family recognition and equality for same-sex headed families. With the proposed passage of the Children and Family Relationships Bill in 2014, many of the issues of guardianship and parentage issues for same-sex families will be legislated for. Civil marriage access will bring the equality mark to these couples and their families.

Ireland has led in providing rights and recognising the need for equality for all - voting yes in the referendum in 2015 will mean making relationship recognition equality a reality. It will mean that the aspirations and dreams, of ourselves and of our sons and daughters in loving relationships, who happen to be lesbian or gay, can be realised in civil marriage, if that is their choice.

Dreaming of being equal is one thing, making that dream a reality is in the hands of the Irish people as they vote in 2015. We believe people will vote Yes for equality, they will vote Yes to show that lesbian and gay loving couples are citizens in this republic, and therefore are equal. And they will vote Yes because it will make Ireland fairer and more equal for all.

Supporters of equality must come out to vote Yes in large numbers to ensure that the referendum is won – this is the only way it can be won. Let there be no complacency, only by getting out all supporters to vote Yes can the right to marriage equality be secured.

Ireland is ready for this change. The public support exists for it and it is time for a change. Calls for marriage equality began in Ireland in 2004, following the launch of the Katherine Zappone and Ann Louise Gilligan court case seeking recognition of their Canadian marriage. A support group for that case transformed into Marriage Equality and in the decade that followed we have worked hard with other organisations to put the issue on the political and public agenda.

Following the success of the Constitutional Convention in 2013, Marriage Equality called a meeting with GLEN and ICCL to begin to plan for winning a referendum. That grouping has been working successfully and is committed to ensuring a win in the referendum in 2015 – a coalition campaign is due to be launched in early Autumn and we look forward to the continued support and active involvement of all civil society organisations to bring marriage equality to Ireland.

Three things that groups and individuals can do now as we await the setting of the date for the referendum:

  1. Check the register – are you on the electoral register to vote?

  2. Start conversations with family and friends and how they intend to vote in 2015.

  3. Start to contribute to and raise funds for the Civil Marriage Equality Referendum in 2015 – we need your financial support to ensure a win.

For further information contact: www.marriagequality.ie