ELEMENTS within a Government that was damaged by defections after the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill may not have much appetite for a referendum on gay marriage, but it is on the horizon and has been labelled by Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore as “civil rights issue of our generation”.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny favours same sex marriage too, but when he spoke to The Champion on New Year’s Eve, Clare Fine Gael TD Pat Breen said he’d like some time to pass before the country’s next referendum. “I think that people are a little bit tired of referendums at this stage. Maybe a year without a referendum might be useful to focus on jobs and the action plan that is coming into place in 2014. Obviously, this will be another contentious issue for some people and we had the Protection of Life Bill last year. Sometimes these things can take your mind off the issues that we have to deal with in relation to the economy,” he commented.
On a personal level, he said he was unsure of whether or not he would back a proposed change to the constitution and wouldn’t comment without seeing what wording may be put forward. “I don’t know yet, I’d have to see what’s in the legislation to be honest about it, there’s no point saying I’d support legislation or not support legislation without seeing what’s in the legislation itself.”
However his party colleague Joe Carey says he is in favour of changing the constitution. “I support the principle of gay marriage, I have no objection to it,” he said.
He also said that while he doesn’t view it as a priority, he says there is a real issue there and expects a referendum to take place in around 18 months time.
While it seems unlikely that the referendum will take place in 2014, Clare Labour TD Michael McNamara says it won’t be much longer than that. “I think it’s been said that it won’t happen in 2014 but there may be a series of referenda held in 2015 all arising out of the Constitutional Convention.”
Mr McNamara said he would be in favour of the introduction of same sex marriage, although he felt his party leader might have exaggerated somewhat. “I would (agree with introducing gay marriage). I’m not necessarily convinced it’s the civil rights issue of our generation or anything like that but on the other hand I would back it.”
Homosexuality was only decriminalised in 1993 and gay marriage would then have seemed a fanciful, even bizarre notion to many, but having been introduced in several other jurisdictions it’s definitely possible that it could be in Ireland relatively soon.
While there may be far more tolerance for homosexuality now, Mr McNamara still said he wouldn’t be overly sure a referendum would pass. “No. I’d be hopeful but I wouldn’t be confident. I think there are very few people in Ireland now who don’t know somebody who’s living an openly gay life or who don’t have a family member who is gay. But referenda can be lost for all sorts of reasons. They can become about the issue of the day rather than the actual issue which is a pity.”
A qualified barrister, Deputy McNamara said he believes the matter could technically be dealt with without a referendum. “ I’m not convinced that there is a need for a referendum, that it couldn’t be dealt with by way of legislation. I would have preferred that option but the Government set up the Constitutional Convention, the Constitutional Convention recommended a referendum on the issue so a referendum will happen. “I can see that it is a big issue and undoubtedly it’s good that on an issue as big as this that people have their say. But, on the other hand, sometimes referendum campaigns get diverted towards all sorts of other issues that have very little to do with the question. But sometimes they don’t, you know, in fairness on the Seanad I’m not convinced that a whole load of people were confused and meant to abolish the Seanad but didn’t.”
Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley had no qualms about saying he is in favour of the introduction of same sex marriage. “I am, yeah, the party also took a decision at Ard Fheis a number of years ago that they supported gay marriage. That was the decision of the party, the parliamentary party hasn’t discussed it in any great detail yet but my personal view as a supporter of equal rights, I don’t see any issue whatsoever with it.”
He said he agreed with Mr Gilmore’s claim that it is the biggest civil rights issue of the generation. “There’s no doubt that the biggest issue in the country at the minute is unemployment and financial pressure that people face. But if you look at what’s the biggest civil rights issue, I think there’s merit in what the Tánaiste said.”
The East Clare man said that people in committed gay relationships are being left in limbo due to the legal situation and said that there is no reason it can’t be progressed more quickly. “It’s relatively straightforward, you deal with it and get on with it. There’s no point saying that job creation, and that is a massive issue, should prevent one department or one minister drafting the legislation, bringing it forward and getting it dealt with. But it’s the Taoiseach playing politics and not wanting to face down the Tea Party elements of Fine Gael.”