State bids to stop children's rights laws looming over marriage vote

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald

By John Downing

THE Government faces a battle to avoid children's rights issues dominating the gay marriage referendum debate.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald  has said new children's legislation, due to be published next month, need not become entangled in debate on the same-sex marriage referendum. But advocates of a 'No' vote argued that children's future welfare was central to the debate.

Ministers yesterday agreed the wording for the marriage referendum and also cleared a less contentious constitutional vote, lowering the qualification age to be President of Ireland from 35 to 21 years.

These two referendums are to be held on an as yet un-named date next May, along with a by-election in Carlow-Kilkenny to choose a replacement for EU Commissioner Phil Hogan.

The two main opposition parties, Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein, have pledged to support the referendum, which is being put forward by the two coalition parties.


But one prominent opponent of the constitutional change, Senator Ronan Mullen, said the Government had "oversimplified" the referendum proposition.

"This is unfair in the way it is framed as it's not about marriage equality. This is about the right of children to be brought up by a father and a mother wherever possible," Senator Mullen said.

The Justice Minister said all issues relating to children will be dealt with in the Children and Family Relations Bill.

The draft proposes key changes to the laws on adoption, custody and assisted human reproduction.

Under existing laws only married couples or individuals can adopt. But the new law would extend adoption rights to same-sex partners and to cohabiting heterosexual couples.

Ms Fitzgerald conceded these issues would generate debate.