Referendum is not about me or adoption, says Varadkar

Leo Varadkar. Photo: Damien Eagers

John Downing

HEALTH Minister Leo Varadkar has hit back at 'No' campaigners in the gay marriage referendum who accused him of doing a U-turn on his belief that a child had a right to a mother and father.

Independent Senator Rónán Mullen says that while in opposition Mr Varadkar spoke in the Dáil at some length on a child's need to have both a mother and father.

Mr Mullen took serious issue with Mr Varadkar's assertion yesterday on RTÉ's 'Today With Sean O'Rourke' programme that these comments "were taken out of context".

Mr Mullen said the think tank, the Iona Institute, had put Mr Varadkar's comments in full on their website. They were made during a debate in 2010 on civil partnership for gay couples and unmarried heterosexual couples.

Mr Mullen said that, now the Government wanted to win a referendum on same-sex marriage, they were prepared to change whatever views it took without acknowledging what they were doing.

"Leo Varadkar makes a great virtue of being someone who speaks his mind - now he must acknowledge that he has changed his mind," Mr Mullen said.

But Mr Varadkar insisted that any change of opinion was in matters of emphasis. "I think, like a lot of people, my views have moved on in the past five years. I want to point out though that it was a speech in favour of civil partnership, and I called for it to go further including limited adoption rights for same-sex couples. I now support full equality on the matter," the Health Minister told the Irish Independent.

"The referendum in May is not about me nor is it about adoption. It's depressing that the opponents are already getting personal and are already trying to turn a referendum on marriage equality into a referendum on something else," Mr Varadkar added.

The 2010 contribution to the Dáil debate went as follows: "Every child has the right to a mother and father and, as much as is possible, the State should vindicate that right. That is a much more important right than that of two men or women having a family.

"That is the principle that should underline our laws regarding children and adoption. I am also uncomfortable about adoption by single people regardless of their sexual orientation. I do not believe, I, as a single man, should adopt a child. The child should go to parents, a mother and father, to replace what the child had before."

But Mr Varadkar also conceded that there may be difficult cases which would have to be provided for by the law. "There may be a case of where a man previously had a child from a heterosexual marriage, the mother is off the scene and he and his gay partner have now entered a civil partnership. That type of relationship will have to be recognised," he added at the time.

Civil partnership, which recognised heterosexual and homosexual relationships but stopped short of marriage, became law in 2011. Since then all the main political parties have adopted policies in favour of extending marriage rights to gay couples.

The clash between Mr Mullen and the Health Minister is the first in what will be a four-month campaign. Mr Mullen said there was clear evidence of "group-think" among the established political parties which was also reflected among sections of the media.

Independent Senator Fidelma Healy Eames said people should not be asked to decide how to vote in the referendum until they first saw the full detail of the family legislation which she feared would be rammed through the Oireachtas.