I am delighted to speak on this very important Bill. On 22 May, Ireland made history as we became the first country in the world to extend in a direct vote the institution of marriage to all couples irrespective of gender. Very often, and particularly in the recent history of our country, political and social change has been driven by court rulings after which the Oireachtas acted. Much more powerful, however, is the social change that is brought about by a vote of the people. In other countries, such as the US, marriage equality has become a reality because of Supreme Court rulings and the legal aspects are no less significant, but the fact remains that a referendum of the people is a much clearer and more resounding statement.
The “Yes” vote in May is more than just a referendum result. It is a statement of the kind of Ireland we want to live in. The resounding “Yes” is a “Yes” to marriage, equality, inclusion and a warmer, gentler Ireland. I pay tribute to everybody who worked so hard to secure the referendum result and to secure today, the day on which the Oireachtas begins to implement the legislative changes necessary to reflect the decision of the people. An overwhelming and astounding grassroots campaign uncovered support for marriage equality from across Ireland and from Irish people living abroad. Leading the civil society campaign were the stalwarts of a long campaign, GLEN, Marriage Equality and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties. The Yes Equality campaign invigorated and stimulated debate and action in communities across the country. People who had never campaigned on an issue before, who had never knocked on a door over a political issue, took part in what became a movement for change.
I acknowledge the Minister’s own involvement in this campaign. Also, on the political side, I take this opportunity to recognise the work of our campaign director, the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, and, in particular, his constituency colleague, the chair of Fine Gael LGBT, Deputy Jerry Buttimer, who worked relentlessly to achieve a “Yes” vote. Public meetings, canvassing, leaflet drops, media work and, above all else, communication with the public as well as with party members formed the exceptional work of this group, led by Deputy Buttimer and by Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy. I also acknowledge the work and support of the previous Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, in this campaign. The Fine Gael slogan “Equality for Everybody” perfectly encapsulated what the campaign was about and highlighted how every person and every vote mattered.
The nationwide approach was essential. On countless occasions the sentiment that “Dublin will carry it” was pervasive but those with experience of elections and referenda knew otherwise. The result demonstrated the importance of all constituencies in securing the momentous result. In my constituency, for example, the final “Yes” result of 62% mirrored the national result. The tallies from the count centres showed, however, that the “Yes” vote came from all across the constituency and was not just concentrated in the city or urban areas. Parts of the city had high “Yes” votes with parts of Knocknacarra coming in at over 80% and parts of Salthill also at over 70%. However, places like Leenane, Cleggan, Letterfrack and north west Connemara recorded “Yes” votes of over 70% on the strength of very high turnout figures, which exceeded 75% in some places. In many other parts of Connemara, such as Moycullen, Oughterard, Na Forbacha and An Spidéal, the “Yes” vote was higher than the 62% overall constituency vote – again, on the strength of a high turnout.
In terms of the Bill, section 4 amends section 2 of the Civil Registration Act 2004 which has been the main legal impediment to marriage equality. After the enactment of this Bill, marriage will be available to all couples irrespective of gender. Section 7 of the Bill is also important because it effectively demolishes and exposes one of the myths that was an unfortunate plague of the referendum campaign. Section 7 definitively states that no religious organisations will have to permit same-sex marriages. This is completely contrary to the scaremongering during the campaign by some. Part 4 of the Bill is also significant and confirms the point made many of us who supported the marriage equality referendum, namely, that civil partnership, while very welcome, has been a separate and unequal category. This Bill will end the inequality by making marriage available to all couples who wish to avail of the institution.
It is not often that we in the Dáil can be certain of support for legislation. On this occasion, however, we know that the Marriage Bill 2015 is supported by the majority of the people of Ireland. While it is a relatively short Bill, its provisions will have profound and positive implications for hundreds of thousands of people across the country and I look forward to its enactment.
I acknowledge the presence in the Gallery of people who have conducted a long and arduous campaign on this very important issue. In 2009, as a local election candidate, I was e-mailed by Marriage Equality and asked my view at that time. I gave my view strongly that where two people of the same sex love each other and want to have that love and commitment recognised by the State, then that should be possible. I am delighted at this stage, following a very positive result, that I played a small part in the campaign. Like many people, I could have done more but I played a part and I am very happy with the result. I was somewhat surprised by the size of the margin in favour. Certainly, a year out from the referendum, I was not expecting such a result but, as the campaign went on, I was delighted to see the positive engagement by people on this very important issue. I am very proud to stand here today as a Member of the Dáil as this legislation is being debated and enacted.