Thank you for attending today’s formal launch of Fianna Fáil’s campaign for a Yes vote in the referendum on marriage equality.
Our campaign has already been underway for some time. Public meetings are being held throughout the country and we have begun distributing literature.
Fianna Fáil’s position on this referendum is clear and unequivocal. We believe that extending the right to marry to same sex couples is a basic matter of fairness. It is an important reaffirmation of the positive role of marriage in our society. It is a further step forward in the task of building a republic which recognises and supports the rights of all of its citizens.
Our support for this constitutional amendment was first ratified three years ago at the 2012 Árd Fheis and has been reaffirmed repeatedly since then.
However more importantly it builds on what I believe is our unmatched record in promoting legislation to recognise the rights of a group which has suffered many centuries of discrimination.
The decriminalisation of homosexuality, banning of hate speech against homosexuals, equal status protection, employment equality rights and finally civil partnerships for same sex couples were all enacted by Fianna Fáil ministers.
I am proud to have been able to join with my party colleagues in supporting and voting for each of these measures during my time as a public representative.
As a society these changes have strengthened us. By the recognising and vindicating the rights of people of different sexual orientations every group has benefitted
The challenge in a democratic republic is to understand that you must always be open to change. You can never reach a moment where you say that our laws and attitudes must now be frozen in time. You also must never sit back and be satisfied with the rights you hold if they are denied to others.
We believe that marriage is an institution to be valued and promoted. It provides the essential foundation for a strong society. It has been shown time and again to bring with it enormous individual and shared benefits.
It is because we believe in marriage that we believe the right to be able to be married should be extended to two adults irrespective of their gender.
What we do not accept is the idea that the understanding of marriage has always been fixed and that it can never change. The basic historical facts show that the shared understanding of marriage and its legal basis has evolved regularly. And this is not just some distant historical point.
Within relatively recent times the law of this state gave wives few rights independent of their husbands. Official policy was that married women were to be excluded from most employment. This was only changed in the early 70’s and many protested against it.
The legal definition of marriage has changed in the past and we were the better for it. And it is exactly because of the unique position of marriage, because of the status we rightly give it, that civil partnership is not equality. It has represented progress, but does not go far enough as it does not carry the status and position of marriage.
If we extend marriage equality to same sex couples we are saying to them that we value the fact that they are willing to make a loving commitment to each other. Those of us who already have the right to be married will lose nothing and what we will gain is an enhanced status for marriage in our society
It is unfortunately a regular part of referendums in this country that issues which are not before the people are dragged in so as to distort the debate.
Too often this means that all the time is spent responding to negative attacks rather than making a positive case.
We want this to be a debate about the sole issue on the ballot next month – extending the right of marriage between two adults. Nothing else is involved.
Before the debate goes any further it is necessary to address the attempt to claim this is a referendum about children.
Irrespective of what happens on May 22nd the legal position and rights of children in respect of their parents and families will not change in the slightest. These are comprehensively addressed in existing legislation and also in the new constitutional amendment on the rights of children.
Personally I find it outrageous that it is being said that the right to have a mother and a father is on the ballot, or that marriage is solely defined by having children. This is fundamentally incorrect.
The arguments being promoted against this amendment would, in fact, mark a radical redefinition of marriage in our society. It would mark a reversal of many decades of progress. It would say that there is a single type of married family which should be valued and all others should be seen as inferior.
I cannot accept any argument which effectively says that a married couple with no children, or which can have no children, is a second-class marriage.
I cannot accept that a child should be stigmatised by being told that they live in a family which does not conform to an ideal.
The logic of the arguments now being made against the referendum is not that we should stay as we are – it is that we should go backwards. What they are proposing would actually redefine marriage in a way that dismisses the marriages of tens of thousands of people and tells over 340,000 children that their families are not acceptable.
If we look back in our history there are far too many examples of appalling social damage being caused by telling different families that they were not ‘normal’. How many children were stigmatised and had their childhoods destroyed because as a society we said living with a single parent was not acceptable? How often have children been bullied or worse because of belonging to family which didn’t conform?
These things matter profoundly. Status and equal respect go to the very heart of completing one part of the journey of building an inclusive and strong society. They are absolutely central to helping a young person facing enormous pressure about acknowledging their sexuality.
In the five years since civil partnerships was introduced I have talked with many people about why full marriage equality matters. Of all of the groups and parts of our society involved the most passionate and convincing advocates have always been the parents who want their children to have the same right to marriage which they had.
They have raised, and educated and loved their children through often difficult times. They’ve been concerned about their futures and hoping, as nearly every parent says about a child, to see them ‘settle down’.
They want their children to find a partner who they want to make a deep commitment to. But today the final step is not available to them. They are denied the support, respect and status which we give to marriage.
By voting Yes we will declare that this is a country which values equality and fairness. We will allow families currently providing loving and nurturing homes for many children to be headed by a married couple. We extend and reinforce the status we give marriage. We will protect and enhance the position of marriage in Irish society.
On May 22nd a Yes vote for marriage equality is a vote for a fairer republic. That is why I and Fianna Fáil are supporting and campaigning for a Yes.