Coming Out

Enda Kenny should follow Éamon Gilmore and come out for marriage equalityGráinne Healy 

Katherine Zappone and Ann Louise Gilligan have begun a new legal challenge in their fight to be married under Irish law. The couple, who married in Canada in 2003, are set to test provisions of the Civil Registration Act, 2004 and the Civil Partnership Act, 2010, which prohibit marriage for same-sex couples.

“It became clear to us that even if we succeeded with our original case, the provisions within the Civil Registration Act and the Civil Partnership Act would remain. So it was imperative to shelve our Supreme Court appeal and proceed to challenge these Acts before the High Court”, Senator Zappone said.

Their original case involved a judicial review of the Revenue Commissioners’ decision not to recognise their foreign marriage for tax purposes. The High Court upheld the Revenue Commissioners’ decision and the couple took an appeal to the Supreme Court. Late last year they attempted to widen the grounds of their appeal, but this effort was rejected by the Court.

The Civil Registration Act, 2004 is the statute that, in laying out where civil registrations can take place, states that marriage is between a man and a woman. They will also challenge the Civil Partnership Act, 2010 which states that foreign same-sex marriages are recognised under Irish law as Civil Partnerships. The Act prevents the recognition of their marriage and effectively insists that they have civil partnership status, despite their being legally married and wanting that status to be recognised.

“We have been at this for almost ten years, looking for the right to marry the person we love. All we want is the right to marry under the Irish Constitution,” Senator Zappone added.

Since Zappone and Gilligan took their original case, much of the context has changed. The Oxford English Dictionary (used as part of the Revenue Commissioners’ case to defend the marriage bar) now includes same-sex marriage in its definition of marriage. In the Irish context, Marriage Equality, which is working to achieve civil-marriage rights for same-sex couples, highlights that the percentage of people in surveys who said they would support changing the Constitution if necessary to afford same-sex couples the right to marry has risen from 56% in 2008 to 73% in 2012.

The forthcoming Constitutional Convention will examine same-sex marriage options and it is hoped that this topic will be part of the second round of deliberations by the Convention in early 2013.

“Missing Pieces” by Paula Fagan (2011) outlines more than 169 differences between what is envisaged by the Civil Partnership Act and the rights and responsibilities given to married couples.  The most serious omissions concern the lack of recognition of family rights, especially the lack of recognition for children. This was criticised by the Ombudsman for Children at the time the Bill was being debated.

Meanwhile, outside of Ireland, it seems that 2012 is the year for public figures to come out for marriage equality. President Barack Obama’s support for marriage for same-sex couples in May this year was a major boost. French President Francois Hollande has joined his Conservative counterpart in Britain, David Cameron, who recently re-committed his Government to pushing ahead with full marriage rights for same-sex couples by 2014.

In the USA, a recent Gallup Poll showed that marriage equality is supported by half of Americans. With some 65% of Democrats backing it, and only 22% of Republicans, it makes sense for President Obama to play to his core support by coming out for marriage equality.

There has been a major push in the Courts in the USA. The Defence of Marriage Act (which states that marriage is between a man and a woman and that states do not have to recognise out-of-state same-sex marriages) is no longer being defended by Federal courts. The Californian ban, Proposition 8, is heading for the Supreme Court again following the lower court’s refusal to uphold the same-sex marriage ban.

Most political leaders in Ireland have come out for marriage equality (Gilmore – Labour, Adams – Sinn Fein, Martin – Fianna Fáil and Ryan – the Green Party) and all have marriage equality for same-sex couples as party policy. It is welcome to see Jerry Buttimer (FG) come out recently and be congratulated for doing so by his party leader Enda Kenny. Jerry Buttimer supports marriage equality and joins the growing group of out lesbian and gay Irish parliamentarians. The new LGBT group in Fine Gael managed to get a supportive motion passed at the recent party convention.

It would be a game-changer if Enda Kenny, standing up with other world leaders, took the step to come out for marriage equality. It’s an austerity-free option which will cost nothing to implement but will make a huge difference to the lives of same-sex parent families in Ireland. With 73% support for the move, it’s a matter of leadership and courage, two traits which he showed when he spoke out to protect the children of Ireland in the clerical sex-abuse scandal. Ireland has a great track record on equality legislation, Enda could go down in the history books as the man who added to that track record by coming out for marriage equality.


Gráinne Healy is Chairwoman of Marriage Equality