Why Ireland should follow Obama’s lead on gay marriage
Civil partnership was the stepping stone towards same-sex marriage in Ireland
“I think same-sex couples should be able to get married” – these ten simple words spoken by US President Barack Obama recently have reverberated around the world and provided a watershed moment in the evolution of civil rights for lesbians and gay men.
President Obama’s message sent out a very strong signal of inclusion, of value, and of support to lesbian and gay people everywhere and in particular to young gay people.
The New York Times wrote how many people consider same-sex marriage as “the last civil rights movement,” and that the President’s endorsement was a recognition that “the forces of history appear to be changing.” Mr Obama’s support provides “the most powerful evidence to date of how rapidly views are moving on an issue that was politically toxic just five years ago,” it continued.
President Obama spoke of the evolution of his thinking on civil marriage for gay couples. There has been a parallel rapid evolution here and Ireland has made huge progress in evolving towards civil marriage for same-sex couples.
‘Civil partnership was the stepping stone towards same-sex marriage…’
For Ireland to move to marriage now is not a massive legislative leap; it is an incremental step building on the powerful 2011 Civil Partnership legislation. With the singular exception of parenting (where reform is urgently needed), civil partnership provides almost all of the responsibilities and rights of civil marriage.
Ironically, our civil partnership legislation provides more rights than US state-based civil marriage because the latter cannot include federal rights in critical areas such as immigration, tax and health benefits.
In nearly all other countries that now have civil marriage, it was on the basis of civil partnership providing the ‘stepping stone’.
Support for civil marriage has grown, with the latest opinion poll by Red C showing that 73% of Irish voters support civil marriage for same sex-couples. There is already all-party consensus on the issue with Fianna Fáil most recently voting in favour of civil marriage for all. Fine Gael took similar steps at its recent Ard-Fheis.
Equally the introduction of Civil Partnership in April last year has had a transformative effect on social attitudes and the status of gay people in our society. In the nine months from April 2011 to the end of the year, more than 500 couples went to their Registry Offices in all counties and before the Registrar solemnly affirmed their love and commitment to one another. Interestingly, this figure includes people from Ireland and 58 other countries.
These legal commitments are then followed by joyful wedding celebrations where family, friends, colleagues and neighbours give their affirmation of the profound legal commitment the couple have just given to one another.
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