Friday 23 February 2018

Solicitors back 'Yes' vote, barristers say 'no comment'

Referendum posters in Dublin
Referendum posters in Dublin
Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

The Law Society, the ruling body for solicitors, has made a public statement in support of a Yes vote in the forthcoming marriage equality referendum.

However the Bar Council, which represents barristers, says it will not be advocating a position "one way or another". The Bar Council, which previously made public statements in respect of the Oireachtas Inquiries, Judges' Pay, Court of Appeal and Children's Rights referenda, said it tends to speak out only on referenda directly related to the administration of justice.

"We have members who have very different views," said David Barniville SC, chairman of the Council.

It is only the third time that the Law Society has weighed in on constitutional referenda, previously expressing concerns about the 2011 referendum on judges' pay and advocating a yes vote in the children's rights referendum.

In a 16-page position paper, the Society's Human Rights Committee said that while there are referenda that have little or no impact on the legal system and some that are extremely sensitive and controversial - in which the Society would not take a stand - it should speak out on polls that change our legal framework and help vindicate personal rights.

Last month the Council of the Law Society decided, by 22 votes to 9, that the marriage equality referendum was an issue of equality and human rights on which the Society should take a public position. In a letter to members, entitled 'Taking a Stand for Equality,' Society President Kevin O'Higgins said that there is no legal justification for denying equality to same-sex couples in relation to the civil institution of marriage.

"In basic legal terms, civil marriage and civil partnership are not the same and do not afford an equal level of rights and protections to opposite-sex and same-sex couples," he said.

Ken Murphy, Director General of the Society said that to deny same-sex couples the option of being married is to say that these couples must be treated differently simply because of their sexuality.

"Society changes and eventually the law catches up," he said. "With the passage of the divorce referendum in 1995, the definition of legal marriage changed. It's time for the definition to change again and extend the right to all regardless of sexual orientation."

Irish Independent

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