Fine Gael minister backs gay marriage referendum

A Fine Gael minister has backed the idea of a referendum next year on extending marriage rights to same sex couples.

Brian Hayes, minister of state at the Department of Finance, says he has “no problem” with a poll on the constitutional change, despite some in the Fine Gael top brass being wary of the issue.

Mr Hayes is the most senior Fine Gael minister to come out, specifically, in support of a referendum in 2014. And he joins Justice Minister Alan Shatter and Transport Minister Leo Varadkar in saying he would vote yes in a gay marriage poll.

The constitutional convention[/url] of citizens and politicians set-up to consider a wide-ranging national reform agenda voted by nearly four-to-one to hold a referendum on gay marriage equality, and the Cabinet is due to make a formal response to the proposal in October.

Mr Hayes said the equality move had his support.

“If the Cabinet agrees that we should have a referendum then I have no problem with it being held next year and will definitely be voting yes,” he said.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has so far refused to say where he stands on the matter, even though Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has branded gay marriage the “civil rights issue of this generation”.

Some in the Fine Gael leadership fear a referendum could cause friction within the party after the turmoil provoked by the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.

Labour is keen for a poll to be held next year to bolster its social justice credentials as it heads into an uphill struggle to stem major losses in the local and Euro elections next summer.

The reservation of the Fine Gael leadership is not shared by backbenchers who overwhelmingly back the push for a referendum.

A survey of 43 of the 50 non-ministerial Fine Gael TDs found 79% in favour of holding a poll, with 19% opposed.

There was also a near two-to-one majority on the Fine Gael backbenches in favour of granting full parental and guardianship rights to same-sex couples, with 56% supporting the move, while 30% were opposed and 14% had no opinion, according to the Newstalk Breakfast survey.

Some senior Fine Gael figures have floated the idea of holding a referendum on the issue.

France and England and Wales recently legalised extending marriage rights to same-sex couples, and the devolved government in Scotland is set to do so in the near future.

Cork TD and chairperson of the Fine Gael Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgender group, Jerry Buttimer, said it was time for Ireland to follow suit and that a marriage equality referendum should be held as soon as possible after the issue of parental and guardianship rights has been dealt with by the justice minister.

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