Friday 30 September 2016

Marriage equality will not affect institution of marriage

Enda Kenny

Published 27/04/2015 | 02:30

The referendum on same-sex marriage will be held on May 22
The referendum on same-sex marriage will be held on May 22

It is indeed rare, if not unique, that we get the chance to vote on something as unquantifiable yet transformative as love.

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But in four weeks that is what we will be doing. On May 22, Irish voters have an opportunity to take a stand for equality when our country votes in a referendum on marriage equality.

What we do in the privacy of the ballot box will have a profound impact on the public life and the personal lives of the citizens of our country.

By voting 'Yes', we will ensure that all couples can share the benefits of civil marriage, regardless of their gender. We will ensure that people will be treated equally no matter who they love. We will acknowledge that same-sex couples, like other couples, deserve the equal right to commit to each other with the words, "I do".

Over the last four years, the Government has been working hard to secure our recovery and to get people back to work. We have shown our true character - our resilience, determination, and capacity for hard work. Crucially for us in our economic recovery we are asking ourselves: how will we define our value and our values into the future?

While other countries have introduced marriage equality with legislation, Ireland will become the first country in the world to hold a referendum so that the Irish people themselves make this decision.

In recent years we have already taken big and sometimes difficult steps in the name of justice. We confronted the disturbing evidence in the Cloyne Report, we apologised to the women of the Magdalene Laundries, and we have established a Commission of Inquiry into Mother and Baby Homes.

Now, with this referendum, we can take another step forward for justice, as we say no-one should be discriminated against simply for who they love.

It's true to say I have had my own personal journey in relation to marriage equality. I have been in the Dáil to see key legislative milestones - the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1993, Fine Gael's 2004 Civil Partnership proposals that led to legislation in 2010, the recent Child and Family Relationship Act. And through the years, as I worked more with openly gay men and women, I have seen their lives and listened to their stories.

But that does not mean this is an easy issue for everyone and I know some voters have real concerns.

Some have asked me why not leave civil partnership as the legal option for same-sex couples? Although the introduction of civil partnership was an important step toward providing protections, it is a separate and unequal relationship status. There are legal distinctions between the two, including the ability of civil partners to receive certain family protection rights from the Constitution. Civil partners also are not entitled to judicial separation and face unclear next-of-kin rules for example. As a State, we already have an institution in place to give loving, committed couples full legal rights, and that is civil marriage.

For those who worry about protections for religious freedom, it is important to highlight that this change affects civil, not religious, marriages. Irish law separates Church and State - this will not change. This vote will allow same-sex couples to receive full legal protections, and will not force any church to recognise same-sex marriage. Importantly, marriage equality will not in any way affect the institution of marriage. It will only extend equal legal protections to all couples.

Others wonder how legalising same-sex marriage impacts adoption rights. Simply put, this referendum does not in any way affect parental rights. Same-sex couples will continue to adopt and foster children, just as they do now. This vote is about recognising these families and their commitments to each other.

On May 22, it is my great hope that Ireland not only says 'Yes', but that great numbers go to polls on the question of marriage equality. Even if you feel this issue does not personally affect you, it is a declaration to your friend, neighbour, relative that you stand for equality for everybody, and as a country, we respect all loving couples who seek to commit their lives to each other.

Irish Independent

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