Same Sex Marriage: Where Do Our Children Stand?
IF I were to ask you “how do you feel about children being born or adopted into a same sex marriage“, how would you respond? Most of us would feel no different. If I was to ask you that question again after you witnessed a gay couple dropping their daughter or son to school and the child happily turns around and says “Bye, Dad/Mum” to both parents? How would you react then?
With the referendum on same sex marriage on the horizon in May, the vote could fall either way. People voting really need to sit down and read any material available on the benefits of allowing civil partnerships to become civil marriages. It’s not all about the financial or personal benefits for these couples personally but also how it will benefit the children of a same sex couple. This article is a focus on these children. How will it benefit the child if their parents were able to marry?
At present, the law doesn’t permit children to have a legally recognised relationship with both of their parents – only the biological one. This causes all sorts of practical problems for hundreds of families with schools and hospitals as well as guardianship, access rights and custody. In the worst case, it could mean that a child is taken away from a parent and put into care on the death of the biological parent.
The law also does not recognise a same sex couple’s rights to many social supports that may be needed in hardship situations and may literally leave a loved one out in the cold. At the moment, the law defines the home of civil partners as a “shared home”, rather than a “family home“, as is the case for married couples. This has many implications for the protection of dependent children living in this home and also means a lack of protection for civil partners who are deserted.
So will the referendum make the desired impact? Will it make it easier for same sex couples to adopt or even foster a child? Offer them a loving secure home? In the case of adoption right now, a same sex couple have no options as a family unit. Under the Adoption Act 2010, unmarried couples may not jointly adopt a child. A joint adoption by a couple is only possible where that couple is married and living together. This rule prevents an unmarried couple or same sex couple from jointly adopting a child, even where one of the parties is the biological or legal parent of the child.
Many Irish couples decide to take the route of adopting abroad. But for a foreign adoption to be recognised in Ireland, it must comply with the definition of adoption in Irish law. This means that the rule at the moment only applies to a heterosexual married couple. So no matter where a same sex couple turn, they cannot adopt a child and bring that that child up as equal parents with equal rights.
No doubt, the church is going to speak up when the referendum is hopefully passed but what will be their reaction to this referendum? Right now, when a couple is married in a civil ceremony at a registry office, religion is not involved. This is a licenced marriage and does not require the blessing of any religious institution. But a religious marriage is a blessing of a relationship, undertaken in a church or other religious venue.
In Ireland, a religious marriage also requires a civil marriage licence to be valid. No religious institution will or can be forced to marry two people, even if their marriage is licensed by the State. So, will this rule be relaxed should the referendum change this? Do they have the right to deny these new family structures? According to Bishop Doran quoted in the Irish Times on the 4th of December 2014, “Our hope would be that the referendum would be defeated”. There isn’t much hope of the church getting on board just yet but there is time.
The Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, welcomed the news of the upcoming referendum and the new legislation, stating that it “brings a diverse range of family types in from the cold” by “updating five decades of law”.
For now, it’s a top priority that the children of same sex marriages be treated equally and not be punished for their family structure. I, for one, will be voting for this in May and at present, am supported by 75% of Irish people according to polls. Dare we hope that the other 25% get on board?
Photos c/o medicaldaily.com, lockerdome.com