Maman Poulet | Clucking away crookedly through media, politics and life

The Green Party meet lesbians and gay men and talk relationships

February 7th, 2008 · 11 Comments · Blogging, Ciaran Cuffe, Equality, Gay, Homophobia, Irish Politics, Lesbian, LGBT, Personal, Queer, Same Sex Partnerships, Social Policy

Last week I received an invitation from John Gormley‘s office to attend a consultation that the Green Party was holding to discuss forthcoming developments in the legislation for Civil Partnerships for same sex couples.

Readers of MP will know I have been vocal on the issue of the Green Party policy in government regarding same sex partnership, particularly their response to the Labour Party Civil Union Bill. The meeting was held in Government Buildings yesterday evening.

In attendance were representatives from LGBT groups, individuals and commentators. I was invited because of my commentary on the issue of late on this blog and elsewhere. I have also experience on the issue from the perspective of providing online resources and support to lesbian and bisexual women in Ireland.

The Green Party were represented by John Gormley, T.D, Ciaran Cuffe, T.D., Senator Dan Boyle, Roderic O’Gorman and several party and private office officials. The meeting was well chaired by Dan Boyle and I think the phrase full and frank exchange of views could be attributed in a more positive sense of the term

After introductions from the Green Party on their history of policy on the matter of legislating for same sex partnerships and discussing the nature of the discussions on the forthcoming bill promised by the Minister for Justice, the discussion was opened to the floor.

The heads of the bill are due for publication in March. The Green Party (led by Roderic O’Gorman) have been meeting with Departmental officials to discuss the bill and will continue to do so. There seems to be a twin track approach – in terms of party members and party policy and then the efforts and inputs of ministers at and around the Cabinet.
The following clarifications were made by the Green Party representatives regarding the forthcoming bill and I think these are important to highlight.

• The legislation will provide for a scheme which will be regulated in the same way as other significant life events – i.e. through the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages.

• It will provide for Civil Partnerships for same sex conjugal relationships, not elderly brothers or friends who have lived together for years.

• There will also be provision for a scheme of dealing with those relationships which are not currently or subsequently recognised through marriage or a civil partnership – particularly in terms of dissolution/ending of those relationships (through break up or death etc.)

The issues of children’s rights and parental rights are the most difficult in terms of the negotiations. More visibility of lesbian and gay families and couples in the public discourse and contact with TD’s was identified as being of most help in highlighting the issue.

Very little other specific detail is available on the bill and it’s contents as this is a matter for the Minister for Justice. There were a lot of ‘don’t knows’ and a few ‘we hadn’t thought of that’s’ which was healthy in terms of the dialogue but alarming in terms of the impact and content of any lobbying done to date. That’s the news as such from the meeting – for more on what happened and some general opinion/commentary click below

There was also discussion of what is full equality – and why the Green Party was not calling for Marriage. John Gormley said that they had tried to include this in the discussions on the programme for government but had not succeeded and that in this programme for government they wanted movement on the issue and that this was the best option. There was as always discussion of the Constitution and the Attorney General’s advice – someday, somehow, somewhere we’ll know I suppose.

I won’t go into specific interjections from the floor as I did not have permission to quote but there were several inputs from people arguing that if full marriage were not offered then this was not good enough.

My personal perspective on the forthcoming legislation is that I would like to see a scheme introduced for the full recognition of same sex relationships by the state. The mechanism for this recognition by partnership/union is far far more important to me that the title of it. If it is the same as marriage in all ways as per the UK Civil Partnerships Act then that’s equality with other recognised conjugal relationships as far as I’m concerned.

But I have to ask why are most lobbyists now only looking for equality with a framework developed for heterosexual relationships?? Why are we not looking for recognition of our relationships and their life events and develop the discourses of our lives rather than continue to hide behind marriage? I don’t mean in terms of seeking special rights either – we have long moved away from special rights. I wonder when and how the rights of non marital conjugal same-sex relationships were dumped on the road to Matrimony?

I think that the investment of energies by community organisations into calling for marriage and marriage alone disenfranchises many many couples who need full protection and recognition and don’t care what it is called and also those who don’t want to marry but do more than cohabit.

The other problem I see with a strategy which concentrates on marriage only is that it’s clear the framework that will be developed come what may – I made the point at the meeting that it was very important that it was done right the first time and for me what it was called was not important. The detail and inclusion of children’s rights and those of parents was pivotal.

Gender proofing of any forthcoming legislation was also important for me.. actually that’s an understatement. Just because I love someone of the same gender does not make my experience of life the same as that of a gay male who loves another gay man. Many more lesbians currently have caring responsibilities than gay men. The access to legislative schemes in other countries is interesting to look at – men use same sex partnership/marriage to protect financial and inheritance rights at a far greater level than lesbian women.

When women turn to the law for recognition it’s far more likely for protection of their family unit. Women still experience poverty and social and economic disadvantage at greater rates than men, they are less likely to own property, have pensions for transfer and other inheritances and legacies. There are women who don’t have children, own 3 houses and have pensions that they wish to transfer, next of kin rights to seek and they need protection and want recognition also. However it’s those who have the weakest voices who often have the most pressing needs and their voices are not at the table for a whole myriad of reasons.

Whilst LGBT organisations and individuals talking to other partners in government is pivotal I do hope that the Green Party continue to dialogue with a broad range of people on the matter and actually learn themselves what the issues are.

This means the Green Party
• framing our rights in terms of equality and human rights,
• realising that there are same sex couple led families and families to be out there – and that our families occur, exsist and are at risk
• and realising that number crunching and making campaign targets out of them won’t make them any more real.

Wanting same sex poster couples and families to do the campaign work removes the onus that I and others expect of legislators to ensure human rights for all of their citizens. Yes let’s educate politicians on what the issues are – why legislation is needed and what is needed. But this is a matter that must be legislated for because it’s the right thing to do, it has to be done, and not just because a group of citizens are calling by T.D’s clinics looking for it.

I am but one individual in all of this, I had my chance to make my views on the matter known and to highlight some of the deficits I felt in the current debate based on my experience of talking to women in same sex relationships in both urban and rural locations in Ireland. Coming away from the meeting I think we’d be extremely naïve to think that the Green Party in government are going to make it perfect but they need to feel the heat of the cooker whilst putting their ingredients into the recipe.

The expectations of the lesbian and gay community in the ability of the Green Party to introduce full equality have probably all but disappeared after the responses to the Labour Party private members bill. They have a lot of work to do in terms of gaining trust and knowledge of the situations that face same sex partnerships and families in this state. That might not be considered by them to be the job of a party in Government (gaining our trust and using the expertise) – it is expected nonetheless by their queer electorate.

A whole lot more happened at that meeting but that’s enough for now. Other reports will appear elsewhere in the coming days no doubt and indeed as we have 3 blogging politicians amongst those in attendance it will be great to hear of their perspectives.

Your comments/questions on my longest. blog post. ever! as always are welcome.

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11 Comments so far

  • eidin

    First of all thank you for posting this report on the meeting you attended. As a lesbian woman living in Limerick city let me first state that i am NOT represented by Glen or any of the other groups that claims to represent me. There has been a failure to consult with groups outside Dublin and from speaking in particular with those on the ground working within the LGBT community its seems if you are outside of Dublin who have no voice. Political parties who are consulting LGBT groups perhaps should consider on holding a series of meetings outside of Dublin.

    In relation to the legislation is it really worth pursuing this token definition of partnership that will be offered if LGBT parents and children won’t be recognised or if full equality is not achieved? (And what is Glen supporting?)
    And if the government does implement this version of partnership what’s the plan/aim in the future to complete full partnership -what will the government do to prepare the state for when partnership is fully implemented re education (catholic ethos schools and children of LGBT parents ?) welfare health etc…?

    Seems to me that there needs to be a full and frank debate among our legislators on rights, entitlements and what equality is rather than the LGBT community running to our local td begging to be accepted

  • Barry McCrea

    Any talk of immigration rights? This seems to me to be the single most basic right denied to gay couples.

  • admin

    Barry, yes there was but no detail at all on what if anything there would be in the civil partnership bill- there was also a lot of concern in the room about the new immigration bill. I am not an expert in this area at all but am looking for something on it.

  • Marie

    If you take a look at the proposed new immigration bill it wont be just gay couples who will be denied the right.

  • Sean Reynolds

    Thanks for posting this informative, thought-provoking piece.

    As you know MP, I am still smarting from how badly handled the whole issue was when the Green Party seemed to jettison ‘gay marriage’ in order to cosy up with the ‘soldiers of density’.
    While I don’t really care whether we call it ‘marriage’ or call it ‘Fred’, I can admit that I felt dumped for the first time in my life. Around that time, on Roderic O’Gorman’s blog, several commentators tried to point out that we seemed to have been dumped in the name of power. Thus, the issue of trust is crucial to me – and I am not alone in that respect. I would like to trust that the legislators have the nerve to just get on with it at this stage!

    What still troubles me is that the Green Party, which professes to want to champion this issue, appears to have a naïve view of the complexity of lesbian and gay culture. If this is not an accurate view of the Greens, then it is solely based on my reading of what they have stated. Rather than a naïve view of complexity, the position should be of adopting a simple solution that is also flexible and workable. The Greens are not alone in this, but they held the meeting… so welcome to Govt again!

    It seems to me that the naivety has emerged in two contradictory ways. Firstly, gender has suffered in the name of political expediency. When the Labour Party’s Civil Unions Bill was presented, Ciaran Cuffe (on http://www.greenparty.ie 20 November 2007) argued “the Green Party would like to see legislation that would go further and permit the removal of all gender specific terms from current legislation and regulations governing the granting of marriages?. Maman Poulet: your call to gender-proof policies does actually bring the GP up sharp on this.

    Your analysis also raises a second point: political expediency has left us with real dilemmas about “who? this legislation is for and what sort of legislation is required for “them?. A whole load of discourses at play here, from ‘gays don’t want marriage’ to elderly sisters seeking recognition can make legislating for Civil Unions like a foggy day at Dublin Airport. The complexity is made into something that veers upon an intractable problem. When MP notes how numerous issues were not known or not anticipated was evocative of Rumsfeld’s infamous ‘known-knowns’ speech. It made me concerned that the Greens were still being thrown off course by unanticipated issues. Likewise, calling now for people to lobby TD’s is also another dimension of muddying the waters, when this issue is quite clear and quite simple. Politicians who are worth their salt in 2008 should appreciate the myriad of living arrangements and relationship in contemporary Ireland and have the good sense to legislate for equality and human rights.

    Are we suggesting they actually know nothing about lesbians and gay men? From their own lived experience (of whatever calibre), surely they should appreciate that effective legislation needs to reflect contemporary family life as a universal. Thus, Same-Sex Civil Union legislation needs to recognise contingency and complexity but also acknowledge the simplicity of the Irish fairy story: two queers meet, fall in love, want a partnership to live happily ever. Maybe they live together in poverty for 20 years or maybe they split up, fighting over custody of cats and soft furnishings. The modalities are not as important as a flexible approach: the legislation has to balance the love story and the contingency. But the crucial bit is to have legislative recognition for our lives as couples, based on who we – that is – WE want to name as our family of choice. The State does not need to interfere beyond that; the State needs to allow “us? to recognise and validate who “we? want, and to support our choice(s) and our families under the law. What part of this mandate isn’t clear to them after literally years of lobbying, media discourses, TV programmes and documentaries? Are we that much of a mystery?

    So was this meeting any more than a re-launch of the promise to produce the Heads of a Bill? Have we evolved yet?

  • City Dyke

    Thanks for the update – Some of us were saying last week in the pub we’d never know anything these days with no groups or public meetings if it wasn’t for the internet and blogs.

    Reading between the lines is it safe to say that the Greens have little or no influence in this process?

    Also that the groups that have been set up to fight for equality are not focussed on the specifics of the new law? Why is Marriage equality being launched when the government have said that this is not going to happen and are doing something else?

  • Bock the Robber

    You’re short-listed for Best Blog. Congrats.

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