Human Rights / Family

Ireland’s 3 political parties speak to on Marriage Equality

Thursday, October 31, 2013
Senator Katherine Zappone, Senator Averil Power from Fianna Fáil and Co-chair of Irish Labour LGBT Louise Hannon evaluate the possible Marriage Equality legislation change.
On November 1, the Irish Government officially responds to the “Recommendations of Convention on the Constitution on Marriage Equality for Same-Sex Couples”.
To see how some of the senators from various political perspectives position themselves regarding Marriage Equality debates, I spoke with Independent Senator Katherine Zappone, Senator Averil Power from Fianna Fáil Party and Louise Hannon who is the Co-chair of Irish Labour LGBT.
Senator Katherine Zappone is an independent member of Seanad Eireann which is the upper house of the Irish Parliament, Oireachtas. She is the first openly lesbian parliamentarian who is also married. She and her partner Ann Louise married in 2003 in Canada, which was back then the only place where same sex couples could get married and not need to be the citizen of that country. They fought for the recognition of their marriage in Ireland and brought a case against the state which ended up in the High Court in 2006. Their case was denied. Now they have another court case going on.
Zappone was amongst the crowd marching in September for Marriage Equality in capital Dublin. This was the fifth year of the marching. Asked to comment on the nearing government decision on same-sex marriage and related public debates, she commented: "This year’s March for Marriage Equality was a very vibrant event with colorful signs, lots of students and young people chanting as well as families with their children all taking to the streets to seek equality. This year the organizers of the march called on the Irish Government to set a date to hold a Constitutional referendum on the issue of marriage equality. In April of this year a Convention on the Constitution which was made up of ordinary citizens and politicians voted overwhelmingly in favor of providing equal civil marriage rights for same-sex couples. The vote was 79% in favor of opening the institution of marriage to LGBT couples. As a result of this vote the Government must now decide when to have a Constitutional referendum on the issue. We are hopeful that such a vote will be held in 2014."
Commenting on the progress that has been made in the last decade, Zappone added: “When we began, there was no national debate on legal recognition of same sex couples. In the last 10 years, there has been a huge change in terms of social opinion in relation to opening the institution of marriage to same sex couples.”
Senator Averil Power from Irish Fianna Fáil Party is one of the most vocal politicians in the Oireachtas. Having been adopted as a baby and growing up with the care of 2 families, senator Power draws parallel to her life and the same-sex marriage discussions:
“I was adopted as a baby. That was something I did not know until I was about 10. Then I went into my journey to track down my birth family over time. I met my mother and half sisters. So I had had two mothers, two families. I have two families who care about me. And as an adopted person, you always feel conscious about identifying with common stories, that the family is taking you on as their own and love you. There is so much happiness in that. That is what we have to remember in this whole debate about things like marriage equality or marriage for same sex couples. As far as I am concerned, if kids are happy and if parents are happy, we should support those families.”
“How do you explain that to kids who grew up in happy family that their family legally isn’t entitled to the same status as anybody else?”
Senator Power was also amongst the politicians during Constitutional Convention meetings and she has a story to share: “One of the most powerful presentations during the Constitutional Convention was two teenagers who stood up and spoke about their experience of growing up in a same-sax family. They said ‘Look, our families are same as everybody else. They make us do our homework. They make us clean off. The only thing that is different is law doesn’t recognize their relationship.’ How do you explain that to kids who grew up in happy family that their family legally isn’t entitled to the same status as anybody else? I think we need to be moving beyond all of that and embracing people whether they are in single parent families, second relationships, same-sex relationships, all of that! Let’s just make sure everybody has support that they need.”
Louise Hannon who is the Co-chair of Irish Labour LGBT is also a very prominent voice for trans rights in Ireland. She is actively involved in parliamentary meetings and advocacy for Constitutional recognition for trans people.
Commenting on the current Irish legislation that forces trans people to choose between their families and their gender identities, Hannon said: “Marriage for same sex couples is very important, because of the equality issues which surround it. Without same sex marriage being legal, LGBT people cannot have full and equal rights to those who are heterosexual.”
“Marriage Equality will also allow trans people to be legally recognized in law also. Currently trans people must be single, under current proposals for Gender Recognition legislation, to be legally recognized and this is causing a lot of heartache with families where one person transitions and the couple wish to remain together.”  
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