Monday 11 December 2017

Several hundred doctors are gay, but not 'out' for fear of being treated differently - Health Minister Varadkar

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar
Minister for Health Leo Varadkar
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Several hundred of Ireland's 5,000 doctors are gay but may not be "out" in the workplace and are afraid to raise the marriage equality referendum, Health Minister Leo Varadkar said today.

He asked medics to go out and vote on May 22 next and support the proposal which will allow same-sex marriage.

He used the opportunity to call for a 'yes' vote at the end of his speech on the health service to doctors at the annual meeting of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) in Kilkenny.

Mr Varadkar, who publicly declared he is gay earlier this year, said :"I want to mention one non-medical matter, the referendum on marriage equality on May 22. There are about 5,000 doctors in Ireland and by the law of averages several hundred must be gay, lesbian or bisexual.

"Many are not "out" in their workplace. While medicine is not a discriminatory profession, in the back of their mind is the concern that they may be treated differently by colleagues or patients. For reasons of professionalism, they are unlikely to raise the referendum in the workplace," he added.

"But don't think for a second that means that the referendum result is not important to them. It is. It is not just about equality. It is also a statement of acceptance by their peers. By you. A 'No' will make things much harder for the same reasons.

"In my opinion, marriage is an institution that has stood the test of time precisely because it has adapted to the times - the abolition of divorce in the 1920s and it's reintroduction as the right to remarry 70 years later, judicial separation, the succession act, the marital home act, the end of the marriage bar and the abolition of conjugal rights as a defence against marital rape all changed the legal definition of marriage but they did not weaken it."

He added:"Marriage is not so fragile an institution that it needs to be wrapped up in cotton wool and protected from change. Marriage can only be strengthened by extending it to loving committed couples of the same sex.

"I know that there are some among us here today who will vote 'No' out of conscience or religion conviction, I respect that. However, I am convinced that the vast majority of us here support the change. In a democracy decisions are made by those who turn up. The turnout in referendums rarely exceeds 50%. Please turn up on Friday, May 22 and vote Yes for equality."

He also took the chance to warn "doctors about voting for politicians in the next election who want to cap public service pay.

"It is not my role to dispense tactical advice but I would ask you to bear in mind the fact that there are political forces new on the scene that openly oppose any restoration of public service pay this side of 2021.

"There is a risk that they may be in a position to influence the next government or even be part of it. On the other side of the political spectrum, there are those on the left who propose a salary cap in the Public service of €100,000 and massive tax hikes for those who earn above that from private income.

"The election of any of these forces is not in the interests of Irish doctors nor the health service. It is would be a mistake to assume that there will be a better deal on offer after the general election," he told the gathering of doctors who earlier called for more investment in public services."

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