Equal in the eyes of the law?

 
 

With the Civil Partnership Bill being disputed throughout Irish society, Bridget Fitzsimons discusses the various viewpoints on the issue of marriage for same-sex couples.

On the morning of Wednesday 5th November, in the height of the post-American election hype, something else was happening thanks to the actions of America’s voters. In the states of California, Florida, and Arizona, voters had not only picked a new leader, but chosen to outlaw marriage between same-sex couples.

Gay marriage and civil union has long been a very contentious issue in society. After the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland in 1993, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community has long campaigned for recognition of what they say is their basic human right to marry.

However, religious groups, the Catholic Church in particular in Ireland, have long opposed homosexuality and LGBT rights. Religious groups maintain that marriage is a sacred union between a man and a woman that cannot be tainted by homosexual unions, and that the sanctity of the family will be ruined by gay marriage, but is equality for all really going to ruin the Irish nuclear family?

Gay marriage and civil unions are never far from the media spotlight. In 2004, lesbian couple Dr Katherine Zappone and Dr Ann Louise Gilligan took a court case to file a joint tax return and have their 2003 Canadian marriage recognised by the Irish state. Their case was lost at the High Court, but Drs Zappone and Gilligan plan to take their case to the Supreme Court.

Since the proposed introduction of the Civil Partnership Bill, which would allow LGBT people to have civil unions, but not full marriage, several groups have been formed to put pressure on the government for the provision of full marriage for LGBT people.

Groups like MarriagEquality and LGBTNoise have been organising action, along with other groups like UCDLGBT, to try and get full civil marriage for LGBT people. According to UCDLGBT Treasurer, Claire Cunningham, gay marriage is a “human rights issue.”

The Catholic Church has long opposed homosexuality and LGBT rights. Cardinal Sean Brady of the Archdiocese of Armagh has gone as far as to threaten the state with legal action if they go ahead with the Civil Partnership Bill.

Cardinal Brady has stated that “those who are committed to the probity of the Constitution, to the moral integrity of the word of God and to the precious human value of marriage between a man and a woman as the foundation of society may have to pursue all avenues of legal and democratic challenge to the published legislation.”

Cardinal Brady’s legal plans have been met with both anger and sadness from the LGBT community. Ms Cunningham felt the statement was “completely wrong”. Neil Ward, who is a member of Labour LGBT and the Labour Party National Executive, was similarly angered, calling the Cardinal’s response to the Civil Partnership Bill “deplorable, to say the least.”

Both Ms Cunningham and Mr Ward questioned the Christianity of Cardinal Brady’s proposed legal action against civil partnership. Mr Ward stated that “there are two things that strike me about his comments; firstly, they’re not very Christian in nature, and secondly, at such a difficult time in the country, I would’ve thought that the Catholic Church could find much better things to do with money than take court cases against a government measure.” Mr Ward also feels that “for a church to claim to help those that are most disadvantaged, I think much better use could be made of those funds.”

The defence of gay marriage in Ireland is that marriage is not actually defined in the Irish Constitution as being between a man and a woman. There is no concrete definition of marriage.

The LGBT community do not see their fight as one of gay rights, but one of human rights, and feel that every Irish citizen, no matter what sexual orientation, has the right to equal rights under the constitution

The LGBT community do not see their fight as one of gay rights, but one of human rights, and feel that every Irish citizen, no matter what sexual orientation, holds equal rights under the constitution. LGBT people around the globe are in agreement with this. Country music singer Melissa Etheridge has stated that since her marriage to her long-term girlfriend has now been declared void in California, that she should no longer have to pay taxes to a government that doesn’t give her all the rights afforded to other citizens.

A member of the Catholic community on campus spoke to The University Observer about this issue. In response to the Catholic Church being called homophobic in their stance on gay marriage, he said that the Catholic Church “make a distinction between person and behaviour, sometimes expressed as “hate the sin, love the sinner.”

The Catechism describes homosexual acts as ‘intrinsically disordered’: “They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complimentarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”

He said that the Catholic Church cannot be regarded as homophobic as they “deplore acts of discrimination or unkindness against homosexual persons, but we insist on speaking the truth about the nature of homosexual acts. This is not a phobia. It is compassion together with frank recognition of the nature of a disordered condition.”

Within UCD and the LGBT society, the issue of gay marriage and civil unions has been a huge issue. Recently, UCDLGBT organised a public debate in conjunction with MarriagEquality and LGBTNoise on the subject of gay marriage. Ms Cunningham says the event was a huge success, where “members of the society spoke for and against civil marriage.”

According to Ms Cunningham, UCDLGBT does not hold an official stance on gay marriage because “it’d be unfair of us to make a political statement one way or the other when some of our members may have different opinions.” The LGBT Society in NUIG also have political links on the issue. Mr Ward stated that Labour LGBT “have a constant line of communication open between us and we try to maintain campaigns between us. Whenever the Union of Students of Ireland (USI) are organising campaigns we’d always attempt to support them.”

With nationwide protests occurring in the USA over the passing of the bills outlawing gay marriage, the issue is far from the eyes of the world. It seems as if neither side will accept a compromise, and that it must either be one extreme or another. In this modern day, it does not seem unreasonable to want equal rights for all Irish citizens, so should we all be the same, or should a different set of rights and rules be created for the LGBT community?

Is civil partnership enough, or too much? Should the Catholic Church’s definition of marriage be the same as the state’s? In Ireland, it seems that we will be hearing more and more on this issue, until some major change happens, be it on either side. It seems that the only thing we can really be sure of is that neither side of this long and much contended battle is ready to stop their fight yet.

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