A Clare TD has proposed two amendments to the Marriage Bill (2015) introduced to the Dáil on Wednesday.
Deputy Michael McNamara, a barrister, wants to see the legislation amended so as to allow for new civil partnerships to be entered into and to widen the number of people who hold can the role of solemniser.
The Bill, as it exists, does not change the status of any existing marriage, or any future marriage between a man and a woman bit instead proposes to remove the current obstacles in legislation that prevent a lesbian or gay couple from marrying. Marriages abroad of lesbian and gay couples will be automatically recognised in Ireland on passing of the Bill.
Existing civil partners will have the choice to marry, but may also choose to remain as civil partners all their lives. However, according to Deputy McNamara, if the Bill passes through the houses of the Oireachtas as it is, no new civil partnerships may be entered into.
The Labour Party deputy quoted gay rights activist Peter Tatchell saying that many people don’t like “the sexist and homophobic history of marriage” and would prefer a civil partnership.
Deputy McNamara told the Dáil “There are many people who don’t want to be married but who are in a stable relationship and they do want legal recognition and legal protection for that relationship and most importantly for the other person in that relationship if something was to happen to them.”
He noted that up until now gay people could enter into civil partnership, that “it was their only option, they couldn’t marry because of the interpretation of the constitution” accepted by the Dáil.
“But just because we are now allowing gay people to marry, and I think that it is a great step forward, it doesn’t mean that gay people who don’t want to marry, and there are many gay people who don’t want to marry but who do want protection for their relationship, should still, I believe be able to enter into civil partnership,” he said, before adding that he knows of heterosexual couples who do not want to marry but who may wish to have their relationship recognised by law.
“So there are many people who still wish to enter into a civil partnership and the purpose of this bill is primarily to allow gay people to marry and I congratulate you and support you on this,” he told the Minister, “but I wonder do we have to get rid of the option of civil partnership.”
Deputy McNamara said he understood that “there might be a question mark as to whether it would be seen as an attack on the institution of marriage as is protected by the constitution, but I don’t really accept that as valid as it already exists and if it already exists then it was constitutionally valid. If it exists and is constitutional then how could it be unconstitutional to maintain it? The second thing is that cohabiting couples enjoy certain rights, not rights as advanced or as full as those in a civil partnership but they enjoy certain rights, and if that is not an attack on the institution of marriage, then how could allowing civil partnership somehow be an attack on the institution of marriage?”
During the Dáil discussion of the Bill, Deputy McNamara called for the power to solemnise marriages to be extended to include peace commissioners or commissioners for oaths. He argued that under the current system, civil marriages had to be solemnised by HSE officials during office hours between Monday and Friday due to a lack of resources.
“I think we need to look, maybe not legislatively but at resources to ensure that people can have a civil marriage at weekends at a venue of their choosing, once of course the venue meets the approval of the HSE, that it is accessible to all and so on,” he said.
Deputy McNamara expressed his delight at the result of the Marriage Referendum and “the indication that we have moved to an inclusive Ireland, an inclusive republic.”
Kilrush man Brian Sheehan of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) was in the Dáil to hear the Minister pay tribute to all those who campaigned for the referendum.
Mr Sheehan was co director of the network’s Yes Equality campaign.
The network described 2015 as “an extraordinary year for Ireland and for LGBT people”, adding that the introduction of the Bill was “another historic moment”.
By Nicola Corless