Recognition, Equality and Marriage

MarriageThe expansion of equality laws and the adoption in Ireland of a ‘modern equality code’ (to borrow from former Minister for Justice, Mr Dermot Ahern T.D.), has addressed many of the inequalities that perpetuated discrimination and prejudice in Ireland – but not all.  The introduction of civil partnership in Ireland was an important step towards a more equal regime of relationship recognition, but it did not secure either formal or substantive equality in law for gay and lesbian communities in Ireland.

Extending and opening up civil marriage to same sex couples seeks to bring an end to legally sanctioned discrimination, by providing constitutional recognition to same sex relationships. As the campaign posters note, it does nothing more, and nothing less.

EquinetAs Ireland’s National Human Rights Institution, and National Equality Body, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has expressed its view that ‘the opening out of civil marriage to two persons without distinction as to their sex is a matter of equality and human rights.’ Recognising that marriage is celebrated in Ireland as ‘a key part of an individual’s and a family’s participation in the social and cultural life of the State’, the Commission concludes that the current constitutional position relating to marriage does ‘not provide full recognition and equality of status for same-sex couples’.

Fundamentally, this referendum is about equal recognition, and about the normative, symbolic and practical value of constitutional texts and equality guarantees. The significance of such recognition has been recognized by many constitutional courts worldwide. The Canadian Supreme Court, in Egan v Canada, has held that ending discrimination is fundamentally about ‘recognition’. Excluding same sex couples from marriage, they held, perpetuates the view that same sex relationships are less worthy of recognition than different sex relationships.

In the United States v Windsor, the U.S. Supreme Court pointed out that in providing legal recognition to the Canadian marriage of Ms Windsor and her spouse, the State of New York had ‘enhanced the recognition, dignity, and protection’ of same sex couples.

These statements were echoed in the Irish High Court in Zappone and Galligan, where Dunne J noted  – in a comment that remains very relevant today:

‘…there are two individuals at the heart of this case who have spoken eloquently of the sense of social exclusion they feel by virtue of being denied entry to the institution of marriage.’

The words of Marshall C.J. in the Massachusetts case, Goodridge, were also extensively cited by the High Court:

Recognising the right of an individual to marry a person of the same sex will not diminish the validity or dignity of opposite sex marriage,…. If anything, extending civil marriage to same sex couples reinforces the importance of marriage to individuals and communities.

In Minister of Home Affairs and Another v Fourie and Another, the South African Constitutional Court stated that denying same sex couples the right to marry, negated their right to self-definition ‘in a most profound way’.

These are not abstract judicial statements. They recognise the everyday injuries and harms, caused by legally sanctioned exclusions from the institutions that function as markers of equality and recognition in Irish society.

The words of CJ Warren in Loving v Virginia are often cited in debates on marriage equality, and rightly so:

The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.

Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival. Skinner v. Oklahoma,316 U. S. 535, 316 U. S. 541 (1942).

The ‘unsupportable’ racial classifications impugned in the proceedings before the Court were he said, ‘directly subversive of the principle of equality’.  There can be, he said, ‘no legitimate overriding purpose independent of invidious racial discrimination which justifies this classification’. In the forthcoming referendum, we are being asked to rewrite the text, and to dismiss the invidious and subversive distinctions that limit recognition of the equal worth of same sex relationships.

Gender, and the regulation of gender roles within the family remains at the heart of the referendum debate, though less attention has been paid to this aspect of the campaigns to date. In the 1873 Supreme Court case of Bradwell v. Illinois, Justice Bradley stated clearly the link between women’s societal roles and the institution of marriage:

“The civil law, as well as nature herself, has always recognized a wide difference in the respective spheres and destinies of man and woman …[]..The constitution of the family organization, which is founded in the divine ordinance, as well as in the nature of things, indicates the domestic sphere as that which properly belongs to the domain and functions of womanhood.”

As Judge Bradley’s quote indicates, the marital family was defined by distinct and hierarchical roles across gender. The ideology of separate spheres that underlies Judge Bradley’s statement continues to be reflected in the Irish Constitution – in the gendered reference to “women’s duties in the home” and in legislative exclusions of same sex couples from the institution of civil marriage. Such gendered divisions are appealed to yet again, in this referendum, as they have frequently been in Submissions to UN human rights treaty bodies, and in resistance to constitutional and legislative change.

The Child and Family Relationships Act 2015 is a significant step towards securing the best interests and rights of all children and families in this State. The (much delayed) coming into force of the 31st Amdt to the Constitution gives constitutional recognition to the best interests of the child. These constitutional and legislative protections for children will not be diminished if marriage equality is introduced into Irish law, contrary to the views expressed in several confusing and confused statements about the forthcoming marriage referendum. If anything, the rights of children and the constitutional protections of family life will only be strengthened by a move towards a more inclusive and equal society, and by the constitutional recognition of an equal right to marry for same sex couples.

Generating traditional values: on the Marriage Referendum

Aengus UNAengus Carroll is a PhD candidate in international human rights law at UCC and author of State Sponsored Homophobia: A World Survey of Laws: criminalisation, protection and recognition of same-sex love, 2015, launched by the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights in Geneva on 13 May 2015.

Generating traditional values: Tradition is a powerful political force in all cultures around the world. Indeed many would identify that culture itself is largely defined by the traditions of a place. Increasingly, the demands of implementing human rights law in national settings conflict with states’ traditions regarding issues of female genital mutilation, child brides, women driving cars and the imprisonment, or execution of gays and lesbians, as examples.

ILGALegislation in every country in the world discriminates against LGBT people in penal or civil codes to some degree: 76 criminalise, 10 have the death penalty, and only eight have constitutional bans on discrimination based on sexual orientation. They generally discriminate by exclusions from, or non-inclusions in, legal protections provided to others. Enacting law, or indeed codifying the constitution, that differentiates a class of people based on a particular characteristic is discrimination whether in Ireland, Uganda or Russia. It just is. And the more the public discusses the issues, the more clearly that fact is realized.

Claiming that treating difference differently is not inequality when there are direct and known burdens being carried by the excluded class of person is a false paradigm worthy of Brave New World. Lately, in the print edition of the Irish Times of 16 May 2013 but curiously not headlined as such online, Breda O’Brien’s offering was “New Thought Police Push Dogmatism and Intolerance”. In it she expressed dismay about how the Irish National Teacher’s Organisation “intend to normalize same sex marriage” to children “as young as four”.  Her observation about normalizing, reveals her true position that same sex relations are not normal, and we should not teach kids it is.

This is exactly the logic that has informed laws in Russia, Nigeria, Lithuania and Algeria of the last two years about the ‘propaganda of homosexuality to minors’ resulting in the repression on privacy, freedom of expression, association and other core human rights. These attitudes share themes: fear of a gay-friendly education, and fear of the commodification of reproductive technologies. Since earlier this year, 220 million US citizens now live under equal marriage laws. Children across 37 states are being taught that its okay to be gay, that some people have same sex parents and others don’t. This has been the case in Massachusetts since 2004 where there are a lot of respectful young people around.

The No campaign state there is no human right to same sex marriage (while accepting that there is an equivalent right to different sex marriage). What the European Court of Human Rights actually said is that it was not prepared to compel States to recognize marriage regardless of ‘sex’ at this time. The wriggle room the Court affords to states to figure out weighty social issues, known as the margin of appreciation, tends to run out. This happened in the transgender legal recognition case in Goodwin in 2002 after 20 years of ‘grace’ and prior cases at the Court. The Court did not say that marriage between people of the same sex is not a human right – that is blatant misinformation by the No campaign – the Court just has not affirmed it is. Yet.

Tradition is something that has always evolved, and this is how it is ‘owned’ and passed on by the generations. Marriage, as so many have pointed out already, has changed utterly since women were the vehicles for property and progeny (much like livestock). As Professor Lee Badgett (who writes about the economic cost of homophobia globally) in her extensive research found, in today’s world attitudes to marriage are primarily about human companionship. This then means it is less about the gendered historical, marital roles on which traditional marriage is predicated. Where there are children, the privilege vested to parenthood is given legal shape by a society that supports all familial forms equally.

It beggars belief to accept that this somehow means it’s all about selfish adults with their commodified children modeled as accessories, who put themselves and not their children first. The No posters that elevate a mother’s love as ‘irreplaceable’ sneakily mislead: the person who brings you up and holds you close and gives you the love and protection that all babies and children flourish within is irreplaceable, and these bonds need to be supported, with whoever that is.

The inference being made by the No campaign is that same sex partners are intrinsically ‘unnatural’ in their familial construction, because they may need assistance in the reproductive process. Just extend that to other people that need medical assistance and you see its rather twisted logic. This line of argument posits that rights claims are actually the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ in a new liberalized human reproduction industry. In effect, this position actually attacks the core and intrinsic identity of gays and lesbians. If followed through it in fact seems to suggest a mal-intent on behalf of same sex partners, and it may be very interesting after the referendum is over to examine the nature of such speech. It might be that the cautionary tendencies of many mild ‘Don’t Know’ voters are being triggered by fear stoked all in the name of tradition.

 

Call for Papers Extended CCJHR PhD Symposium

Call for Papers: EXTENDED until 11th May 2015
Centre for Criminal Justice and Human Rights, U.C.C.
PhD Symposium (2015)
Rights in Conflict: Socio-Legal and Critical Approaches to Human Rights
June 8th-9th 2015
Keynote Speakers:
• Prof. Kieran McEvoy, Queen’s University Belfast
• Dr Liz Campbell, University of Edinburgh
• Prof. Illan Rua Wall, Warwick University
The Centre for Criminal Justice and Human Rights (CCJHR) at University College Cork welcomes submissions for its 9th Annual PhD Symposium. The symposium will examine socio-legal and critical approaches to human rights law and practice, with a particular focus on conflicting rights claims, and to rights in conflict. We welcome papers from doctoral candidates researching in law, politics, criminology, philosophy, sociology and related social sciences. The symposium will include workshops on a range of themes including: ‘Linking Research / Praxis’; Critical Research methodologies; Socio-Legal approaches to human rights.
Please forward an abstract (max. 300 words), including a working title, name and institutional affiliation to ucclawconf@gmail.com by May 11th 2015. Selected participants will be notified no later than 15th May 2015. To be considered for the best paper prize, full papers should be submitted by 22nd May. (Best Paper Prize: €200)
Please note: a registration fee of €20 will apply to all attendees.

For updates: Twitter: @CCJHRlawucc ; W: http://www.ucc.ie/en/ccjhr/
FB: (Centre for Criminal Justice and Human Rights Postgraduate Conference)

Launch of World Report on State Sponsored Homophobia

ILGAWe are delighted to welcome this guest post from Aengus Carroll, PhD researcher at University College Cork, School of Law. Aengus has a long track record of research and advocacy in the field of sexuality rights, and this year, is the co-author of the landmark ILGA publication State-Sponsored Homophobia: A World Survey of Laws: criminalisation, protection and recognition of same-sex love.

ILGA : World Survey of Laws  On 13 May 2015, the 10th edition of State-Sponsored Homophobia: A World Survey of Laws: criminalisation, protection and recognition of same-sex love will be launched by ILGA (the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association), in Geneva. The Report will be launched by UN High Commissioner, Mr. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, in Geneva.

Alongside an in-depth report, ILGA produces the World Map, which is very widely disseminated across the globe, and referred to as an authoritative source on the nature and numbers of existing criminalising States. The 9th edition from 2014 version of the report can be found at: http://old.ilga.org/Statehomophobia/ILGA_SSHR_2014_Eng.pdf, and the map can be downloaded from: http://old.ilga.org/Statehomophobia/ILGA_Map_2014_ENG.pdf. Both of these are translated into the six official UN languages, and are disseminated directly to ILGA’s 1,100 member organisations, a very wide range of ally organisations in various sectors, as well as to all UN country and regional desks and targeted individuals at the United Nations in Geneva and New York.

The only global document of its kind produced on an annual basis, as its name suggests it includes a listing of, information on and links to laws under a series of headings: same-sex sexual behavior legal or illegal, non-discrimination in the workplace, (un)equal age of consent, marriage and partnership rights, and so on. Further, it lays out the texts of the laws in criminalising states – specifying what exactly is being outlawed (for example, “sodomy”, “buggery”, “acts against nature”, “homosexuality”), and provides links to the Gazettes or legal instruments in which these legal provisions are found. In the entries on these states, the authors have researched state responses to recent recommendations at the Universal Periodic Review, Treaty Bodies and other UN mechanisms.

The final section of the publication is a series of essays on developments in sexual orientation activism in legal and policy spheres from legal experts worldwide. In this year’s edition, there will be an essay on intersectionality in LGBTI activism from the international NGO, Sexual Rights Initiative, as well as an essay on sexual orientation and gender identity developments at the UN.

ILGA moved their offices from Brussels to Geneva in 2014, having achieved ECOSOC status in 2013. Last year the publication was launched by outgoing UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, and this year it will be launched by the new High Commissioner, Mr. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. High-level interest in the publication is growing and it is being increasingly cited in UN fora. The authors of State-Sponsored Homophobia are Aengus Carroll (Ireland) and Lucas Paoli Itaborahy (Brazil).