On the Brink of Change

Following the announcement of an upcoming Irish marriage referendum, Auditor James Upton of UCC’s LGBT* Society discusses the current state of Irish legislation in relation to LGBT* civil rights and asks if Ireland could be the first country ever to pass a same-sex marriage referendum by popular public vote.

LGBT* discourse has taken centre stage in civil society over the last year, with PantiGate challenging homophobia, the heads of bill surrounding gender recognition being published, and the government promising to hold a referendum on Marriage Equality in early 2015. Ireland is on the cusp of a civil rights revolution for the LGBT* community; for two decades Ireland has been to the fore of LGBT* Equality with decriminalisation in 1993, employment equality in 1998 and civil partnership legislation in 2010; in the space of twenty years the country has arrived from the dark days of criminalisation to almost full civil equality for the LGB community with some tedious work remaining on the front of Trans* rights.  Any LGBT* citizen at the young age of twenty one is part the first generation of LGBT* people not to be considered criminal on something that makes up only a fraction of their personality. Being LGBT* may be part of gender or sexual identity, but is only minor in the makeup of person’s individuality.


Celebrations at the 2014 Dublin Pride Parade (Photo by Motley's Emily Horgan)
Celebrations at the 2014 Dublin Pride Parade (Photo by Motley’s Emily Horgan)


It has been debated that Marriage Equality is a gay rights issue, it may be so, but it is a civil rights matter also. It offers a proportion of society that is treated under civil marriage law as unequal the option of full equality. Over the next eight months if the government’s dedication to calling a referendum in the first half of 2015 is upheld, an incredible debate will take place across the country. With cross party support there will be a massive swell of encouragement for this referendum, but the greatest nightmare and failure of the LGBT*Q and Ally community over the next year will be complacency. It will be assuming because opinion polls mark support at 69% that the referendum will pass the line. Historical change in African-American civil rights movement, civil rights in Northern Ireland, and the liberation of women gaining the right to vote and equal pay was not achieved by an “armchair activist.” It was won by a surge of people fervently supporting change, coming together to highlight that they did not support the differences afforded to others or put upon them.

It has been argued, by those who oppose the extension of civil marriage to same gendered couples, that this will offer the community preferential treatment over the heterosexual community. The current system where LGBT* peoples do not have access to civil marriage but rather civil partnership separates the community from the hetrosexual niche and is in fact the preferential treatment those who oppose Marriage Equality talk about; a yes vote in this referendum will allow for that very preferential treatment aforementioned to be broken down and a full inclusive society in the eyes of civil marriage law to be created.

There are LGBT* people who oppose the introduction of civil marriage to same gendered couples also, but it must be highlighted that because you may not agree with the extension of civil marriage on the basis that you don’t want to get married, then it is neither kind nor warranted that you should inhibit the equality of someone else especially when it comes to marriage.

Secondly, the debate to date has further appeared to include a discussion on children with some people stating that civil marriage will offer same-gendered couples automatic parental rights. The legislation will under no circumstances do this. The framework surrounding the parental and protective custody of any child will be finalised in the Family Relationships Bill due before the Oireachtas in January 2015, at which point same gendered couples will go through the equivalent processes as those in opposite-gendered relationships – in the hope of adopting children or  availing of assisted reproduction methods. Thus, when the referendum is put to the Irish people the debate and question will simply, and should be, ‘do you agree with the extension of civil marriage to same-sex couples?’.

There will be a plethora of issues that over the next year will shape and define the debate surrounding this referendum. Just because those who oppose this haven’t come out, to date, and spoken against the motion doesn’t mean they don’t exist,; they do. They exist in the biggest cities of the country, and the smallest villages in rural counties; this debate is going to be centered on winning those people, while working with the many comrades that have been developed across the country through social links like BelongTo, GLEN, LGBT* Noise and MarriagEquality and a swarm of regional LGBT* activist groups also.

The Irish LGBT* community is facing a battle once again at some point next year, when a referendum is called the LGBT* community in Ireland will attempt to win the support of the Irish electorate, as Ireland could be the first country ever to extend civil marriage to same gendered couples through referendum. The community has a right to resent the fact it has to ask for its civil rights in a world that has experienced war, genocide and civil rights injustices for decades, but like all those people who were oppressed their oppression will fuel their dedication to win this referendum, or their complacency will lead to its failure.