Justice Minister: 'There has already been fear-stoking in marriage equality debate'
JUSTICE Minister Frances Fitzgerald warned the marriage equality referendum in May is about the rights of same-sex couples and nothing whatsoever to do with parental rights.
She called for a ‘Yes’ vote as she said Ireland had the unique opportunity to “demonstrate that it is truly inclusive and truly mature in its understanding of marriage.”
Ms Fitzgerald was speaking in Cork as she addressed a packed gathering in the Metropole Hotel of same-sex marriage supporters organised by Fine Gael’s LGBT organisation.
But the Dublin TD moved to address a potential issue of concern amongst older and religious voters as she insisted that the issue of parental rights will be fully dealt with in her forthcoming Children and Family Relationships Bill (CFRB).
She also acknowledged that there had already been an element of “fear-stoking” in the referendum campaign and appealed for no-one to be “demonised” over their beliefs.
“I will publish this (CFRB) very shortly,” she stressed.
“The referendum is about who can marry. It is not about parental rights for children.”
She said the children’s legislation will address a broad range of issues – and allow people to focus on the simple issue involved in May’s referendum which is extending the right of marriage to all couples.
“It (CFRB) will deal with long-outstanding family law and children issues in relation to parentage, guardianship, custody, adoption, access and maintenance,” she said.
“It will, with the best interests of children as the golden thread running through it, modernise our existing family law to legislate for family situations in which parents, including same sex parents, and children find themselves in the real world of 21st century Ireland.”
“Enacting the legislation in the coming month will mean that the only question in the minds of the people, when they vote on the referendum question in May, should be about marriage equality, and not about children, parents, custody, adoption or the rest of it.”
She stressed that Article 41 of the Constitution, which gives special protections to the family unit as being founded on marriage, will be unchanged by a ‘Yes’ vote in May.
“This is simply about extending a right. At the moment, it is not possible for same-sex couples to get married in Ireland,” she said.
“It is about extending a right based on debate throughout Irish society, right up to the Constitutional Convention which agreed by a strong majority of 79pc that the Constitution should be changed to allow for civil marriage for same sex couples.”
Ms Fitzgerald stressed that the referendum will have no implications for existing married couples.
“Let me reiterate that point - it won't affect existing marriages in any way. Neither will it change the way in which the marriages of opposite-sex couples are performed or registered.”
The Government has insisted that civil partnerships won’t have to be dissolved before couple’s opt for marriage under the proposed new arrangement.
Ms Fitzgerald also said that clergy who decline to marry same-sex couples on religious freedom grounds will have their decision fully respected.
The Dublin TD also appealed for the referendum campaign to be fought in a respectful, dignified manner.
“This referendum should be addressed with hope, rather than fear, with trust, rather than dread, with faith, rather than suspicion.”
She said no-one should be targeted because of their stance on the referendum issues.
“They should not be demonised or caricatured because of their beliefs - if this referendum is about inclusion, then we must remind ourselves, every day during the campaign, that inclusion starts with respect for those with whom we passionately disagree.”