Amnesty Is Wrong On Gay Marriage
Irish Independent 17 August 2009
Widney Brown of Amnesty International (Letters, August 15) repeats Colm O'Gorman's erroneous assertion (August 11) that Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 23 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) support their call for same-sex marriage.
It is patently clear from the wording of the right to marry specified in both articles, however, that they relate to heterosexual couples.
Article 23 states: "The right of men and women of marriageable age to marry and to found a family shall be recognised." Article 16 likewise refers to "men and women of full age".
Marriage is the only right in the Universal Declaration and the ICCPR which is articulated by reference to "men and women". All of the other articles in both documents use the generic term "everyone".
It is a basic maxim of legal interpretation that deliberate differences in wording must be treated as significant. If Amnesty's interpretation (only adopted since 2007) is indeed correct, then one would expect to find these articles referring to "the right of everyone of marriageable age...".
How else can Amnesty account for the change from "everyone" to "men and women" in the two articles dealing with marriage? It is unsustainable to suggest that general references to equality and universality in other parts of both documents can be used to overrule their own express wording on marriage. Rather it is the clearly expressed intentions of the documents that must guide the interpretation of their more abstract statements of principle.
To approach the interpretation of legal texts in any other way would render legislation (whether in the form of human rights charter or statute) completely indeterminate and therefore pointless.
If Amnesty wants to ditch its traditional focus on political prisoners and campaign for same-sex marriage, that is its business. But it is simply misleading for it to claim that these international rights charters support its position.
Gerard Brady BL
Belmont Avenue, Dublin 4
Declaration Is Being Distorted
Irish Independent, 13 August 2009
WRITING about same-sex marriage, Amnesty International's Colm O'Gorman states the right to marry is contained in Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 23 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and that these rights "belong to everyone".
Firstly, the articles do not state any such thing.
Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: "Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution."
Article 23 states: "The right of men and women of marriageable age to marry and to found a family shall be recognised."
Both explicitly state "men and women". It is disingenuous to suggest that the drafters of those articles meant anything other than the marriage of a man and woman. Secondly, even between men and women, the right to marry does not "belong to everyone". The Prohibited Degrees of Kindred and Affinity lists 28 categories of people that one cannot marry, including those that are not blood relations. For example, a woman cannot marry her son's daughter's husband or her father's sister's husband.
Finally, if the original meaning of documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights can be ignored and interpreted to mean whatever one wishes it to mean, then it is not worth the paper it is written on.
Right To Object to Gay Marriage
Irish Independent, 12 August 2009
Colm O'Gorman (Analysis, August 11) of Amnesty International Ireland argues that same-sex couples have a human right to marry with reference to Article 23 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
However, the plain wording of Article 23 of the ICCPR clearly intends marriage to mean a heterosexual union and, by definition, one that is generally capable of conceiving new life: "The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state. The right of men and women of marriageable age to marry and to found a family shall be recognised." Proof of this view is found in the fact that since the entry into force of the ICCPR in March 1976 not one nation party to the covenant has declared or made a reservation that the ICCPR acknowledges such a thing as same-sex marriage.
At the time of the ICCPR's inception in 1966 no country in the world had considered legislating for same-sex marriage -- are we now to believe that every nation upon ratification was in breach of the covenant?
It is time that Amnesty International Ireland paid closer attention to the actual content of human rights law. I look forward to them actively supporting fundamental human rights when it comes to debating the Civil Partnership Bill. Yet unlike their founder, Peter Benenson, their current stewardship seems unlikely to fight to uphold the right to conscientious objection.
Why Same-sex Couples Must Be Allowed to Marry
Irish Independent 11 August 2009
OPPOSING civil partnership for same sex couples does not automatically make anyone a bigot.
But if we are going to oppose equal treatment for a group of people we have to consider whether our arguments are based on reason, on facts and on evidence. If they're not, we have to take a hard look at ourselves.
We have to confront the kind of unthinking prejudices that all of us have held at one time or another; that suspicion of the unfamiliar, the fear of the unknown. I believe it is those kinds of fears that characterise much of the opposition to same- sex marriage in this country.
The proposed Civil Partnership legislation denies equality in civil marriage law to certain people on the basis of their sexual preference. This is a Government-endorsed act of discrimination.
The right to marry is contained in Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in Article 23 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Human rights are universal. They belong to everyone, regardless of their race, citizenship, gender, sexuality or any other status.
This is why we oppose discrimination in civil marriage laws on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Civil marriage grants rights and protections to people who choose to make such a commitment to each other. It is how couples gain social and legal recognition. It protects their relationship and grants a level of financial security. It provides an environment for raising children, should they chose to do so, though access to civil marriage in no way depends on raising a family.
International law demands that decisions on adoption must be made in the best interests of the child. In Ireland, gay people can adopt, just like anyone else. There is no bar to adoption on the basis of sexual orientation. A gay couple cannot jointly adopt, not because they are gay, but because they are unmarried. An unmarried heterosexual couple cannot adopt either, but they can choose to marry and jointly adopt, a choice denied to same-sex couples.
Because a same-sex couple is denied access to civil marriage, any adopted child parented by a same sex couple will not have the same rights, entitlements and protections afforded to a child adopted by a heterosexual couple.
They will not have the same inheritance and succession rights. They will not have a legal and secure relationship with one of their parents. Such families exist in Ireland today and they, and most importantly, their children, are entitled to equal protection and equal rights under the law. The issue at the heart of civil partnership for same sex couples is not gay marriage, it is discrimination.
Some people have suggested that Amnesty International should not involve itself in issues such as same-sex marriage; that they are too divisive or not pressing human rights concerns. Our members do not agree.
As a democratic movement of over two million people it is they who decide our policies and campaigns. Last year our members in Ireland voted to work on the issue of same-sex marriage. Human rights are always divisive. If they were universally respected and upheld, Amnesty International would happily have no cause to exist.
It is not enough for any human rights organisation to talk about human rights in far away places. It is not enough for a human rights organisation to choose to address only the safe and comfortable issues that don't challenge us. If we are to credibly work to hold others to account, we must be prepared to apply those same standards to ourselves. To do otherwise would be hypocritical.
Colm O'Gorman is executive director of Amnesty International Ireland