“Not having legal recognition of a relationship is discriminatory” guest lecture speaks out for same sex marriages

The topic of civil marriage for gay and lesbian couples was at the heart of a recent guest lecture given by Grainne Healy, chairwoman of the Marriage Equality organisation, to students of social studies at DCU.

At the lecture, participants heard about the challenges faced by homosexual couples who wish to get married in Ireland and discussed the recent campaign that the Marriage Equality organisation deployed in Dublin. Marriage Equality is a not for profit organisation which aims to get access to civil marriage for same-sex couples in Ireland.

“This guest lecture was part of the social studies course in the context of discussions around gender and sexuality,” said Dr Des McGuinness of DCU, who organised the session. He said that the session was well attended and stimulated productive discussions on the topic. “A course on social studies is about opening up the debate.”

Around 25 students participated in the lecture and subsequent Q&A session according to Ms Healy, which allowed her to get feedback on the current Marriage Equality, titled “Just Love?” The campaign was launched last month and highlights the issues faced by same-sex couples, who can benefit from a civil partnership since the advent of the Civil Partnership Act in 2010, but cannot get married in Ireland under current legislation.

Though civil partnership offers legal recognition to same sex couples and defines rights and obligations in a similar manner to married couples, the Marriage Equality organisation says it’s not the equivalent to marriage.

The Marriage Equality website lists 169 legislative differences between a marriage and a civil partnership. It describes how the civil partnership doesn’t recognise same-sex family units, doesn’t consider a home jointly owned by a same-sex couple as a family home or allow same-sex partners to adopt as a couple. The issue of children also arises around the topics of guardianship, custody and maintenance.

“We’re creating an institution solely for one group of people due to their sexual orientation,” said Ms Healy. “The status of civil partnership is a lesser status than marriage. So it’s a second-tier institution for Irish lesbians and gays. Not having access to legal recognition of a relationship is discriminatory.”

The “Just Love?” campaign ran on large billboards and strategic posters across Dublin for three weeks. It features real Irish couples. In one poster, a laughing lesbian couple poses with their daughter over the slogan “The law ignores our little girl, will you?”. In another, a gay couple embraces under the slogan “73% support equal marriage rights, but the law doesn’t.”

“These are real Irish people featured in the campaign,” said Ms Healy, “and it matters to them hugely that they are not allowed to be married.”

The campaign also includes a marriage audit report called “Missing Pieces” and a short viral film, “Rory’s Story”, which addresses how the child of a same-sex couple is not considered the next of kin of the non-biological parent under the civil partnership.

“The feedback from students was enlightening when we discussed the appropriateness of the messaging,” she continued. “They seemed to like the fact that the campaign doesn’t play the blame game or focus on negative emotions, but rather asks questions of the reader and informs.”

In parallel, Marriage Equality is running a TD campaign, which includes an information pack which allows individuals who wish to support this cause to raise the issue in an informed manner with their local TD.

“It’s been a very successful initiative so far, even with conservative TDs,” said Ms Healy. “People who oppose the marriage of same-sex couples try to use the argument that there is no demand for it, so we are challenging that.”

To people who ask her why a civil partnership is not enough, Ms Healy responds that above and beyond the official differences, a marriage has a status. “People immediately know what you are, you don’t keep having to explain the term civil partner to the person on the end of the phone at an insurance company for example. Also in Ireland the family based on marriage has a status protected by constitution, something same-sex couples and their families don’t have.”

“Over the years, different polls have shown that since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1993, the number of people supporting civil marriage for same-sex couples has been on the rise”, said Ms Healy. “In 1996, 45% of the Irish population was supportive, another poll in 1999 showed a rise to 62% and then in March this year, the Irish Independent and Millward Brown Lansdowne survey showed that 73% support same-sex marriage. That would now be considered a full majority, on any issue!”
Ms Healy explained that she is heartened by the support of the current Dáil, saying that there is a promise in the programme for government to address the issue of same-sex marriage.

A Supreme Court appeal date is also being eagerly awaited by supporters of the case of Irish citizens Katherine Zappone and Ann Louise Gilligan, who are still fighting to have their Canadian marriage recognised in Ireland. The Marriage Equality association was born from this landmark case.

“With all of these strands coming together, perhaps we will be done and dusted by this time next year?” said Ms Healy.
Alongside her duties as chairwoman of Marriage Equality, Ms Healy is a PhD SALIS scholar at DCU, focusing on the meanings of civil partnership for gay and lesbian people in Ireland.

A shorter version of this article appeared in the DCU College View on November 30.

About monicaheck
Monica Heck is a bilingual freelance writer and journalist based in Dublin, Ireland.

2 Responses to “Not having legal recognition of a relationship is discriminatory” guest lecture speaks out for same sex marriages

  1. Excellent post! Thank you for sharing that with us.

  2. very informative post! Thank you for sharing with us.

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