Sunday 4 December 2016

Our two mums...

As Hollywood brings lesbian parenting to the big screen, Deirdre Reynolds meets two happy families of same-sex parents

Published 01/11/2010 | 05:00

From left, Daire and
Clare O’Connell with
their mum Grainne
Courtney and her
partner Orla Howard
From left, Daire and Clare O’Connell with their mum Grainne Courtney and her partner Orla Howard

They're portrayed as sexually confused, unloved and unstable. And their parents? Unfit and selfish. For years, this is the type of lazy hysteria that's been lobbed at the children of gay and lesbian couples in Ireland and beyond.

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But as a new ground-breaking movie about same-sex domesticity hits cinemas tomorrow, youngsters here with two mums or dads have come out to say: The Kids Are All Right.

Their simple four-word message is the title of a new dramedy playing at multiplexes across the country this weekend.

And already building Oscar buzz in the States, the left-of-centre look at family life is set to do for lesbian mums and their kids what Brokeback Mountain did for gay cowboys.

Based on the real-life story of director Lisa Cholodenko and partner Wendy, the indie flick stars Julianne Moore and Annette Bening as a settled couple with two teenage children, whose cosy clan is disturbed by the arrival of 'bio dad' sperm donor Mark Ruffalo.

Complete with family bickering, household chores and infidelity, the down-to-earth depiction of same-sex coupledom is a far cry from the lipstick lesbianism of Katy Perry's 'I Kissed a Girl' or Coronation Street's Sophie and Sian.

But it's the mundanity that makes the movie so monumental, says Annette Bening.

"It really is a very classic family -- what's going on in the movie are all really classic issues.

"There are so many families with two moms and two dads (that are) very normal, idiosyncratic, regular American families," adds Julianne Moore. "The fact that this movie exists is really a way to recognise that."

Nonetheless, just five out of 50 states in America currently recognise gay marriage.

While here at home, the Civil Partnership Bill -- passed in July and expected to come into effect next year -- allows gay and lesbian couples to register their commitment, but refuses them the same marriage rights as straight couples.

With only a smattering of references to the children, the bill also leaves the children of such couples living in a sort of legal limbo on issues such as guardianship and inheritance.

"Lesbian and gay families are like any other and their children are the same as other Irish children," says Moninne Griffith, Director of Marriage Equality -- an organisation calling for equal marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples

"What people forget is that, apart from the immediate lesbian or gay family unit, these families are interwoven into Ireland's family fabric -- as sons, daughters, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, even grandmothers and grandfathers."

"These families deserve to be recognised and protected by Irish law and until they are, they will continue to experience discrimination."

A recent survey showed that 67% of Irish people believe gay couples should be allowed to marry. However, only 46% of us are comfortable with the same couples adopting.

So why the hypocrisy?

"You've got to remember that 17 years ago, homosexuality was illegal in Ireland," says psychoanalyst Ray O'Neill of Machna.ie. "As a nation, we've taken huge strides in attitude; our notion of family is slowly shifting.

"Twenty years ago, I don't think a question about gay adoption would even have featured on a survey," he adds.

Up to recently, neither would a film about two lesbian mums have made it to the cinema here without the type of picketing parodied by Father Ted.

Formerly a niche genre, the big-name release represents the pinking of an industry whose previous portrayals of lesbianism ranged from fantastical (Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive) to frightening (Charlize Theron as messed-up man-hater Aileen Wuornos in Monster).

But can a humble movie really head off homophobia ahead of civil partnership here?

"Change always comes with fear, and with the introduction of Civil Partnership some people may want to manipulate that fear," says Ray.

"But while homophobia exists, I don't believe Irish people are homophobic.

"We're always prejudiced about things we don't know anything about. As same-sex parenting becomes more visible through movies like this, it will become more acceptable."

And as for the kids?

"Let's face it," he jokes, "any kid who has Julianne Moore and Annette Bening for mums is the luckiest sod in the world!"

Irish Independent

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