While civil partnership legislation has tended to grab media headlines, little attention is paid to the fact that the last government took the deliberate decision to bar gay men and lesbians from accessing the institution of marriage.
Civil Registration Bill 2003: Report and Final Stages. (Dáil Debates, Volume 579, 10th February 2004)
Civil Registration Bill 2003: Second Stage (Resumed). (Seanad Debates, Volume 175, 11th February 2004)
The Civil Registration Act, 2004 provided for the upgrading of the records system for the registration of births, marriages and deaths, and the widening of authorised venues for marriage ceremonies conducted beyond the church or registry office. Section 2.2(e) of this legislation states that there is an impediment to marriage if both parties are of the same sex.
Our legislators never debated the ban in either the Dáil or the Seanad at the time that the Bill went through both Houses of the Oireachtas. Ten opposition deputies did try to remove Section 2.2(e) at the Report and Final Stages of the Bill. However, they did not get the opportunity to debate the ban. They were immediately outvoted by Minister Mary Coughlan’s counter-amendment to keep the ban intact. Her government colleagues supported her in that regard. Fine Gael and Labour deputies did not take part in this particular vote.
The sheer absence of debate about this highly discriminatory measure prompted me to contact lawmakers who voted on the legislation. I asked deputies to provide me with their rationale for keeping the ban intact. I asked senators if they were aware of the clause in the proposals. I provided them with the relevant background information in order to facilitate their response. The vast majority of these public representatives have ignored my repeated correspondence over the last year. The following is a sample of the responses that I did receive:
Deputy Mary O'Rourke: “I was not aware of this proposed ban prior to voting on this Bill.”
Deputy Noel Ahern: “Don't recall. I presumed it was the agreed decision at the time.”
Deputy Brian Hayes: “My understanding from the 2003 Bill was that same sex marriage was never part of the Bill...from the debate, to the best of my knowledge, at the time the issue was about getting rights for same sex couples without full marriage.”
Assistant to Senator Joe O’Toole: “Joe… didn’t speak on this Act and doesn’t remember it as being a Bill that related to any kind of gay rights issue.”
Senator Geraldine Feeney: “I am sure you will agree that this Bill goes some way towards rectifying the discrimination present in society against members of the gay community.”
Senator Michael McCarthy: “From memory I cannot recollect to answer your query. I have contacted a colleague that assists with legislation and will revert to you in due course.”
These responses highlight an unacceptable level of ignorance within our national parliament about an important dynamic to a piece of legisation that they voted on. Is this ignorance acceptable to you? Do you think that it is indicative of a wider malaise within our political system as to the role and responsibility of the legislature?