Thursday 23 October 2014

Gay Parenting: 'The law does not recognise that I am Edie's parent'

Lesbian couple Clodagh Robinson and Moninne Griffith discuss the struggle they face when it comes to the law and their daughter Edie.

Published 31/08/2014 | 02:30

Monine Griffith and Clodagh Robinson, with Edie

Clodagh Robinson is talking about love. "I thought I knew what love was," the school teacher from Portarlington, Co Laois, says. "But the love I feel for Edie is deeper than any love I've ever felt."

Edie is the one-year-old daughter Clodagh has with her partner of eight years, Moninne Griffith.

Although it was Moninne who carried Edie for nine months and although Clodagh does not have any biological relationship to Edie, she feels a bond as deep and powerful as that of any mother.

"She has brought such joy into our worlds," she says. "I can't imagine life without her."

But Clodagh's joy is tinged with anxiety.

"Right now, legally, I have no connection to Edie whatsoever. The law does not recognise that I am her parent. What if something happened to Moninne? I'd have no rights whatsoever."

Her pain is shared by Moninne, who is co-director of the Marriage Equality advocacy organisation.

"The law, as it stands today, is discriminatory towards families like ours," she says. "Our families, friends and neighbours all fully accept that Clodagh and I are Edie's parents, but the State doesn't."

Dubliner Moninne hopes that the proposed Children and Family Relationships Bill will become legislation by the end of the year. "It will provide greater security for all of us, especially Edie."

Moninne says she always wanted to be a mother and loved being pregnant: "It was such a happy time. I know some women have tough pregnancies, but I was lucky."

Clodagh was by her side at the Coombe Maternity Hospital when Moninne gave birth. It was the end of a journey that began several years earlier in an IVF clinic when, invariably, they were the only gay couple in the waiting room.

The couple came out as gay at different stages of their lives. Clodagh was in her mid-20s. "I'd had boyfriends before," she says. "I'd been afraid of homophobia, worried that I wouldn't be accepted. But when I told people, the response was really positive. I got great support."

Moninne came out in her 30s. She had been married to a man for several years and it was after that relationship had ended that she had "the great fortune" to meet Clodagh. "I don't like labels," she says, "but I would identify as a lesbian now. I'm not trying to erase my past - I had relationships with men. When I was younger, coming out seemed to mean that it would be so much harder to become a mother, but that's certainly not the case now."

Both women have been greatly heartened by the warmth and support they have received from strangers, including older neighbours in their apartment complex in Dalkey, Co Dublin.

"We've been really touched by how lovely they've been," Moninne says. "It's a sign about how accepting Ireland has become and how much its changed in a matter of decades, although I do think it is easier for society to accept two mammies rather than two daddies."

Obstacles remain, however. "I am lucky in that I teach in an Educate Together school where the management, staff and parents are very accepting," Clodagh says. "But that's not the case for many lesbian and gay teachers in Ireland who have to pretend they're something they're not in order to keep their jobs.

"The INTO have an LGBT group that is trying to have Section 37.1 of the Employment Equality Act dropped. This discriminates against gay teachers and people in the medical world and other jobs. It shouldn't be in place in 2014 and it's a reminder that for all the progress that has been made in Ireland, there are still reminders that full equality does not exist."

Moninne is quietly confident that the referendum on same-sex marriage will be carried next spring, The polls suggest a huge margin in favour of gay marriage, but she is unwilling to jump the gun just yet. "We need people who favour marriage equality to go out and vote and not sit and home and think, 'I don't need to vote because the polls say it will happen'".

Should the referendum be carried, Clodagh and Moninne will start planning a special wedding day. "I would hope that it would be as important and meaningful for my family as my brothers' wedding days were."

Clodagh was raised in the Church of Ireland tradition and both she and Moninne had Edie christened at St Patrick's Church, Dalkey. "It was such a lovely ceremony," Clodagh says. "So welcoming and inviting and so lovely to have loved ones around us and our baby."

Moninne is hopeful that the Ireland that Edie grows up in will be even more tolerant of gay relationships than it is now. "Of course, there are some conservatives who are opposed to gay marriage and the idea of gay parents. But if those people could see how loved children like Edie are, they might find it harder to maintain such views."

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