Labour's lukewarm support for gay rights

It seems the Labour Party will use their Private Members' Time in the Dáil next week to introduce their Civil Unions Bill.

This is a positive step, and I hope the Government will accept the Bill (and I suspect they might just do so, although if they do, they will leave it parked until after the election).

However, I can't resist the opportunity to highlight Labour's record on this issue.

In February 2004, the Government's Civil Registrations Bill went through the Dáil. That bill provided for the registration of births, deaths, marriages and divorces. Included amongst its text was a small line which would exclude same sex partners from the right to register a marriage. The Government inserted this line based upon legal advice it had received that without it, same sex marriage would effectively be legal.

Sinn Féin tabled an amendment to delete the line, and thus to give same sex partners the right to marry.

When our amendment was voted on, Labour (as well as Fine Gael) were mysteriously absent from the chamber.

In November 2005, the party's Deputy Leader Liz McManus
confirmed that the Labour Party are not in favour of gay marriage:

I do appreciate by the way that there are sections in the gay and lesbian community who ... would wish for full equivalence, both as regards rights and obligations and as regards terminology, between marriages as presently understood and gay unions.

That does not seem to me, however, to be a feasible proposition and it is not one that the Labour party advocates.

In the furious backtracking that ensued, Labour acolytes tried to suggest (with no real evidence that I'm aware of) that their party supported gay marriage in theory, but didn't think it was constitutionally feasible, and so supported civil union as a compromise.

I can't offhand think of any other situation in which the Labour Party, or anyone else, would say "Well, the Constitution as it stands won't allow that, so we won't support it." Generally speaking, if you think the Constitution prevents a basic human right, the answer to that is that you try to change the Constitution. At the very least such a view is no basis for refusing to register a vote in favour of that right when it comes up in the Dáil. It's not as though our amendment would have triggered a referendum, for heaven's sake - even if all opposition parties supported it, the Government still had enough votes to defeat it. It was simply a means to put support for gay marriage on record and Labour's failure to do so can only mean one thing: they don't support gay marriage. Full stop.

So credit to them for pressing ahead with this Bill. But don't misread it as real support for gay and lesbian equality.


Anonymous said...

I've been going to Pride marches in both Dublin and Belfast for years now and have never seen Sinn Feins banner. You want to talk about luke warm support? its fine mentioning these issues on the net but where are you when it counts?

Wednesday said...

Well, I've carried the SF banner myself at Pride marches in Dublin, so I'm not sure why you haven't seen it. But come on - do you really think that a rally is "where it counts" and the Oireachtas, the place where the laws are actually made, isn't? That's completely arse about face.

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