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The Labour Party’s Proud LGBT History

Posted on May 25, 2015 at 07:51 PM

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It has been a long road to achieve marriage equality in Ireland. So many people and organisations, political and non-political have played their part in making it happen. Achieving social, legal and political change involves a massive collective effort over many decades. 

The Labour Party is proud of its role in helping reaching this pivotal point. For the Labour Party, the question of marriage for lesbian and gay people in Ireland has always been a question of equal citizenship. It is as simple as that. 

We have been at the forefront in major developments in the gay rights agenda. Below you can find a timeline of key landmark LGBT moments for the Labour Party. This is our story but we’d love to hear yours. Please do share with us what you, your friends, family or colleagues have done or are doing to support LGBT rights by emailing us at: [email protected]

  • 2015: Marriage Equality Referendum Passes

On May 23 rd 2015, Ireland made history by becoming the first country in the world to make marriage equality legal by means of a popular vote. The referendum passed by 62.1% to 37.9%. Labour politicians and members campaigned across the length and breadth of Ireland for a victory, having campaigned vigorously for years for such a referendum to take place. (See our blog on the campaign launched from this link.)

In 2015, In Tánaiste Joan Burton’s speech to the Labour Party Conference , she told this moving story: “The Labour Party is all about equality. I want to see an Irish society that’s equal. And this means that all citizens are treated equally under our constitution. Some time back, driving to Limerick for work, I stopped at the Obama Plaza in Moneygall. A woman in a yellow coat approached me, wanting to talk about the marriage referendum. I told her what I thought and stood back slightly. Because I thought she was going to be critical. Instead she told me about her beloved son – her beloved gay son. And her desire that he have the right to marry and settle down. She wanted what every Irish mammy wants for their child. We were both a bit emotional. Tears welled up as I realised we’re fighting for more than just two people in a loving relationship. We’re fighting for everybody who loves them in turn. And we’ll win by making conversation and making our case.”

  • 2015: Children & Family Relationships Bill Signed into Law

The Children and Family Relationships Bill 2015 was signed into law.  This legislation recognises and protects lesbian and gay headed families. It enables same-sex couples to jointly adopt children and step-children.

  • 2013: Cabinet Agrees to Marriage Equality Referendum

The Cabinet agreed in November 2013 to hold a referendum on marriage equality in 2015, on foot of the Constitutional Convention recommendation.

  •   2013: Anti-Bullying Policies Published

In 2013, Minister Ruairí Quinn published ground-breaking anti-bullying policies including homophobic and transphobic bullying for all primary and post primary schools.

  •   2012: Constitutional Convention is Established

The Constitutional Convention was established in 2012. In April 2013, 79% of its members recommended a referendum on same-sex marriage.

  • 2012: Eamon Gilmore Forcefully Backs Marriage Equality as Tánaiste

In 2012, the then Labour Party Leader and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore became the most senior government minister to publicly say that he wanted to see same-sex marriage introduced in Ireland. 

“I believe in gay marriage. The right of gay couples to marry is, quite simply, the civil rights issue of this generation and, in my opinion, its time has come.” – Eamon Gilmore TD

  • 2011: Civil Partnership Tax Changes Introduced

The Finance (No 3) Bill 2011 was published by Minister Michael Noonan which allowed civil partners to be treated in an equal manner as married couples for taxation purposes. This legislation fulfilled a key Labour commitment as set out in our election manifesto and in the Programme for Government.

  • 2011: Changes to Civil Partnership & Citizenship Introduced  

Labour fully supported Minister Alan Shatter’s amendments to the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011 to provide for equal treatment of civil partners and married couples in acquiring citizenship.

  • 2011: Programme for Government Agreed

Labour and Fine Gael agreed the Programme for Government and it was published in 2011. It committed to establishing a Constitutional Convention which would report on a number of reform issues including same-sex marriage.  A wide-range of other commitments to support LGBT rights were included in the Programme for Government.

  • 2011: Ireland’s First Openly Gay TDs Elected to the Dáil

In 2011, two Labour Party TDs, Dominic Hannigan TD and John Lyons TD become the first openly gay TDs elected to the Dáil.

  •   2011: Labour Manifesto Commits to Hold Marriage Equality Referendum

The Labour Party’s Manifesto in 2011 committed to holding a referendum to provide for constitutional recognition of same-sex marriage. Labour also supported entitling all parties to a marriage or civil partnership to apply to adopt a child. Labour committed to enacting provisions to extend the tax benefits of marriage to same sex couples in civil partnerships.

  • 2010: Labour Supports the Civil Partnership Bill

In 2010, Labour in opposition supported the Civil Partnership Bill which provided for legal recognition for the relationships of same-sex couples. April 2011 saw the first public civil partnerships take place. 

  • 2010: Motion Calling for Transgender Rights Passes at Labour Party Conference

Conference reaffirmed the Labour Party's commitment to legislate for a Gender Recognition Act and committed to including this in the Labour Party’s 2011 manifesto for the next general election and to include it as a priority in any future negotiations for a programme for government.

  • 2009: Eamon Gilmore Lays Out Ambitious Strategy to Achieve Marriage Equality 

In 2009, as Leader of the Labour Party, Eamon Gilmore laid out a comprehensive strategy for achieving equal access to civil marriage for lesbian and gay couples; a strategy that endorsed the huge progress possible through civil partnership, and would build on that towards a winning referendum. This landmark speech was called “Labour's goal is full equality for gay citizens.”

“Our Civil Unions Bill is designed to meet the present needs of present day couples…I strongly believe that just a few short years of such legislation being put into practice will greatly strengthen the support for an amendment to the Constitution.” Eamon GilmoreTD

  • 2009: Motion Calling for Marriage Equality Referendum Passes at Labour Party Conference

Labour Party members and activists at Conference voted to support a constitutional referendum at the earliest appropriate opportunity to enable same sex couples to marry. Conference also noted with disappointment the decision of the Government parties to defeat Labour’s Civil Unions Bill (2006).

  • 2008:  Motion Calling for Civil Unions Passes at Labour Party Conference

Conference called on the Fianna Fáil-Green government to immediately pass into law Labour's Civil Union Bill (2007), allowing same sex couples to enter into a union in which they will have the same rights and the same responsibilities as spouses in a marriage. Conference also called on the government to ensure that our Constitution – the Constitution of all citizens - provided for full equality between heterosexual and homosexual couples.

  • 2007: Labour Re-introduces the Civil Unions Bill

Following the 2007 General Election, the Labour Party in opposition reintroduced the Civil Unions Bill. It was defeated by Fianna Fáil and Green Party Government .

  • 2007: Labour Manifesto Outlines Extensive Policy Proposals to Improve Gay Rights

In 2007, Labour Party Leader Pat Rabbitte set out his vision for the future of Ireland. He called it, the Fair Society. After Labour’s Civil Union Bill was defeated by Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats, the Labour Party Manifesto in 2007 committed to re-introducing and enacting the Civil Unions legislation, if elected to Government. 

“Our objective, in due course, is to bring about constitutional change to provide for full equality between heterosexual and homosexual couples.” Labour Party 2007 Manifesto

  • 2006: Labour Publishes Dáil’s First Civil Unions Bill

In December 2006, Labour in opposition, tabled a private members Civil Unions Bill in Dáil Éireann . This bill which was published by Brendan Howlin defined a Civil Union as providing all the rights and duties as defined for marriage, but specifically limited Civil Unions to same-sex couples. It also provided for adoption by Civil Union couples. It was defeated by the Government. It was the first time that the Dáil considered legislation providing for the recognition and registration of civil unions entered into between persons of the same sex.

Brendan Howlin in the Dáil in February 2007, advocating that his Civil Unions Bill be supported by the Government of the day : “I regard this Bill as a seminal equality issue. I challenge all Members of the House to support it in principle. If there are difficulties in the detail, let us deal with them, but let us give full equal citizenship to all citizens of this country, so that they are cherished and respected under the law.”   

Brendan Howlin Proposing the Civil Unions Bill



  • 2003: Labour Forms the First Political Party LGBT Group in Ireland

A group of LGBT Labour party members set up the Labour LGBT group in 2003 to work with the Parliamentary Labour Party, with Ministers, Councillors, TDs, community groups and others to create change for LGBT people in Ireland. Labour LGBT has worked to support LGBT Labour candidates, have participated in Prides with Labour representatives since 2006 and has pushed for a range of legislative reforms.

  • 2002: Labour Manifesto Commits to Legal Recognition of Gay and Lesbian Couples

Labour in its manifesto committed to introducing legal recognition for couples in non-marital relationships including gay and lesbian couples, if elected to Government.

  • 1997: Mervyn Taylor Publishes the Equal Status Bill

The Labour Party and in particular Minister Mervyn Taylor introduced powerful and wide-ranging equality legislation. The Equal Status Bill was published by Mervyn in 1997 and outlawed discrimination in the provision of goods and services on grounds listed including sexual orientation.  It was declared unconstitutional in 1997 and reintroduced, being enacted in 2000. The Act remains in force today.

  • 1996: Mervyn Taylor Publishes the Employment Equality Bill

The Employment Equality Bill was published by Minister Mervyn Taylor in 1996 and outlawed discrimination in the workplace on grounds listed including sexual orientation.  It was declared unconstitutional in 1997 and reintroduced, being enacted in 1998. The Act remains in force today.

  • 1996: Inclusion of Sexual Orientation in the 1996 Refugee Act by Joan Burton

Minister Joan Burton’s inclusion of sexual orientation in the 1996 Refugee Act, made Ireland the first country in the world to give explicit statutory protection to lesbian and gay asylum seekers.

  • 1996: Inclusion of Sexual Orientation in the EU Amsterdam Treaty

Labour ensured the inclusion of sexual orientation in the EU Amsterdam Treaty in 1996 which has underpinned all EU work on equality for gay and lesbian people.

  • 1993: Homosexuality is Decriminalised

Labour in Government with Fianna Fáil delivered on a Labour manifesto promise to abolish criminal offences relating to homosexual acts . The passage of the Bill was one of the most important steps in the liberation of gay people in Ireland.

“What could be more important for us, as legislators, than to create a climate and a space in which two people who have chosen each other can express and share their love?” Mervyn Taylor , Labour TD and the Minister for Equality and Law Reform in 1993, speaking during the debate to decriminalise homosexuality.

  • 1993: Labour’s Equal Status Legislation Becomes Official Government Policy

Labour’s equal status legislation which was voted down by Fianna Fáil and the PDs in 1992 when it was an opposition Bill, became official policy of the Labour-Fianna Fáil Government. Minister Mervyn Taylor was charged with eliminating inequality for groups in Irish society suffering from disability, disadvantage and discrimination through institutional, administrative and legal reform.

  • 1992: Programme for Government Commits to Decriminalisation

The Programme for Government agreed between Labour Fianna Fáil committed to decriminalisation of homosexuality at the insistence of Labour.

  • 1989: The Words “Sexual Orientation” First Appear on the Statute Book

The words “sexual orientation” first appeared on the statute book in incitement to hatred legislation in 1989, after Labour’s proposals to amend a Government Bill that had been confined to racial hatred were accepted.  

As much as the Labour Party is proud of its record in promoting and securing LGBT rights, there’s a great deal more work to be done in order to achieve full equality for LGBT citizens in Ireland. Two important pieces of legislation that the Labour Party in Government is currently progressing include:

  • The Gender Recognition Bill

In 2014, Tánaiste Joan Burton announced the publication of the Gender Recognition Bill 2014 following Cabinet approval. The purpose of the Gender Recognition Bill 2014 is to provide that a person’s preferred gender will be fully recognised by the State for all purposes. The Bill will be dealt with at Committee Stage shortly. Ministers Joan Burton and Kevin Humphreys are working hard to ensure that the Bill is passed this year under the current Government. 

Minister Jan O’Sullivan has committed to taking steps, in consultation with the transgender community and other stakeholders within the education system, to explore the policy options available to address the needs of transgender children within the school system.

  • Preventing Discrimination of LGBT Teachers

A group of Labour TDs and Senators published the Employment Equality (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2013, which will put an end to the situation where staff in educational or medical institutions can be discriminated against for having children outside marriage,  being divorced, or for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). Legislation is being advanced by Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin in conjunction with the Attorney General

The legislation involves making amendments to Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act so that no one will be forced to hide their private life over fears of going against their employers’ religious ethos. 

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