In the first quarter of 2015, Ireland is expected to hold a Referendum about Same Sex Marriage, when the public will be able to vote to decide if same sex couples will be allowed to get married. It has been 20 years since homosexuality has been decriminalised in Ireland and almost 3 years that Civil Partnership was introduced into Irish Law.

Kieran Rose, chairman of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) told the BBC that this is an “historic step” towards equality, other LGBT organisations and supporters also said that this is an important part of equality development.

The Catholic Church of Ireland said that they will campaign against the proposal of Same Sex Marriage, believing that the traditional ceremony between a woman and a man is the most important institution for society and this will also affect children’s rights to grow up in an environment with a mother and a father. However the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter has recently announced the family law bill, which is expected to be in place by the end of 2014, which will amongst other changes to the law, allow gay couples to apply to be adoptive parents regardless of the result of the referendum.

There are  160 statutory differences between a marriage and a civil partnership, what is currently allowed in Ireland, but mainly they are related to:

  • Parenting rights: at present a child is only considered part of the biological parent family;
  • inheritance, as the current system includes less rights than the ones offered to traditional couples;
  • Housing: now described as a “shared house” instead of a “family house”, which facing the law can bring disadvantages to one of the parties;
  • Taxation:  although quite similar, it still needs to change to match the man-woman family right, mostly covering maintenance issues.
Picture of same sex couple - Glenn and Vilar

Glenn and Vilar

 

Glenn Cunningham Vilar and his husband Adriano Cunningham Vilar were the first couple to have their Civil Partnership formally recognised in Ireland. They had a ceremony in Northern Ireland in August 2010.

In this interview he talks about his same-sex marriage and what the referendum represents to the gay community.

J.: You are the first couple to have their Civil Partnership recognised in Ireland, was it planned?

G.: It was not planned at all. We had our ceremony in Newry (Northern Ireland) in August 2010, my husband is Brazilian and we were afraid that he wouldn’t have his Visa renewed and would have to leave the country, so we were more than happy to have our Partnership in Northern Ireland, knowing that would be recognised the following year in the Republic of Ireland.  The Law changed and on the 13th of January 2011 we had a day off together, so we decided to go check his Stamp 4 status, believing the law had become effective on January 1st. The guys in the office were all flustered because they haven’t done it before; they said it was just in the Law that day and to forgive them while they were running around. They said it was the first time residency had been granted to a couple with a Civil partnership, something that we had confirmed the same day. A friend who had a radio show on Fm104 asked us to come on and chat about it and from there some newspapers picked up on it and it became a story. It was simply a coincidence, having said that it is something that our families are very proud of, that we made history in that respect. However, it is not particularly important, there are a lots of people that want their relationships recognised or even their basic civil rights and a lot of countries around the world that don’t allow any kind of partnership, so changing that that would be more important than this small footnote.

J.: Do you consider your relationship to be an example to the gay community? How?

G.: I don’t know if I consider it an example to the gay community because our marriage is as simple and straight forward as anybody else’s, we have the days that we could kill each other and the days that we adore each other, in that aspect it is perfectly normal. We are only together 5 years, but I know gay couples that are together 30 years, they are the example. But being through a Civil Partnership is an example to young gay people that they can meet people, form a loving relationship, fall in love and plan a future together that is somewhat recognised by the country. We also had a marriage when we went to Canada in 2012, so we classify ourselves as married, indeed our families and friends make no distinction, although the law clearly does.

J.: In your work environment, does it have any positive or negative effect?                                                                                                                                      

G.: I remember a company I worked for 15 years ago, we got a new boss, and a week into the job he was asked how he was finding the management team; he said “Glenn is great, he’s been really friendly, very helpful” and the bigger boss said “Well, just be wary, he is gay, you want to sort of keep your distance”, which was shocking, this was just 15 years ago. In my current work environment though absolute none, if anything, people congratulate me. However, if I was a teacher, which was my first career plan, I would have to either hide my sexuality or change jobs, as there is no legal protection in Ireland for gay teachers.

J.: How positive are you feeling about the referendum?

G.: Positive but anxious. The opinion polls state that there is a huge support, at the last one it was 75%, what mirrors consistently with what the polls have been saying for the last couple of years. What is key for me is that this isn’t about gay people getting out there and sorting voting, this is a referendum for all of Ireland, so gay people need to just to make sure that their families and friends are aware of how important it is that they have that support and that turns into votes. So many people support the issue, but if they don’t go out and vote then it cannot be passed.

This Referendum is about changing people lives and giving people equality, it doesn’t take anything from anyone. Ultimately it’s not a huge step from Civil Partnership to Marriage. Nobody that is currently married in a straight relationship has to give up anything in order for this to succeed. Equal Marraige is legal in 15 countries and, I think, 16 states in the US, could somebody show me a study that shows lawmakers shouldn’t have legislated for it because society took a step backwards or something changed for the worse? There is no evidence of this, nothing. It has been legal in some countries for ten years or more and it has done nothing to damage their society. Nothing bad has happened since, just a lot of gay people getting married and enjoying their lives more. As I always say, if you are against gay people getting married, then don’t marry one!

J.: Have you recently met anyone who is against it?

G.: Surprisingly I only met one person and he is a gay man. He is a 60 years old and he argued with me that marriage is defined as a man and a woman, that whatever our relationships are they can’t be marriage and that they should just upgrade the Civil Partnership to exactly the same, but different. It is strange, I wouldn’t have expected that.

J.:  In your opinion, why should gay marriage should be legal?

G.: This isn’t about gay rights, this is about human rights. It is about having your love recognised, shared and understood. It is about equality, mainly about two things for me: One is that my family, me, my husband and my child, are legally recognised as a family and that my child can grow up knowing that she is in a regular family, which doesn’t need special laws or is subject to anything which differentiates our family to her friends families; Two is for young gay people that are discovering their sexuality, for them to see that they are equal and there is no need to hide or accept the bullying and violence that can often be a feature of their early lives. Bullying that is directly caused by pople saying You are not as good as us, your relationships are less and can ever be as good as ours. There is just too much emphasis put on being different and love isn’t different, love is love, doesn’t matter who you feel it for, we don’t have control over an awful lot over it, we have all being there with our heart broken over someone that when you look back you say “What was I thinking?”, but you can’t control that because love is your love. Does the pain feel different, does the joy? No, because they are the same.

J.: Can you see any negative aspect if same sex marriage becomes legal?

G.: No. I suppose the concern about the referendum coming up is that it could be mirrored what happened in France, where they changed the law allowing equal marriage, there was a lot of debate on TV and some right wing politicians while arguing that gay people deserve lesser laws and therefore lesser respect eventually stirred up hatred, saying anything they could think of to try to stop this law being passed, resulting in more attacks to gay people over the course of last summer than in the previous couple of years. That is unacceptable and it is probably the biggest concern I would have about what the immediate future could possibly hold.