Lifestyle

Thursday 18 September 2014

Mammy, Mummy and Me

The age old description of the nuclear family is just that, age old. Three same-sex families share the internal dynamics of their home life, the challenges they face and their hopes for the future.

Caodhan with his two mums, Lucille and Elaine
Anthony and Barry
Caodhan with his two mums, Lucille and Elaine

Daire Courtney's mother Grainne came out a few years after she split with her husband Barry. Grainne met Orla 11 years ago and the two women have been together ever since. They got married last year. Daire lives with both of them and her sister Clare.

"I'm a 19-year-old student at Trinity College, Dublin. Originally my parents, Grainne and Barry, both doctors, and my sister Clare lived together but my parents split up when I was almost two. I don't remember the split.

A few years after the split, my mum met a woman and was with her for three years before she passed away. She then met Orla a few months later and Orla's been with us since I was eight.

I don't remember the first time we met Orla, although she always says it was the most nervous she's ever been. We were used to meeting new people and having a big family around us so it wasn't strange. I do, however, remember the excitement of Orla moving in because we always had fun together.

My mum came out when I was very young, so there really was nothing to get my head around. It was as normal for me as any other relationship, because I hadn't been told that there was anything different about my family.

I think the idea of a normal, nuclear family only comes into your head when you see television and when parents and friends tell you that's what's normal, but that wasn't the case for me.

It was never strange for me to see my mum and another woman together because it was never explained as being an 'alternative' thing. The only change is that I'm now aware that other people think it might be strange.

I remember people in primary school asking why my mum was living with a woman instead of a man and thinking what a strange question, because why wouldn't she live with a woman? The bias only appears when people treat it as if it's strange.

I've lived in the same house as my mum and Orla for almost my whole life, and still do. My family of four genuinely enjoy doing things together and we always have things to talk about. I feel very lucky that we all get along so well.

Last year we took a trip to New York to celebrate Grainne and Orla's wedding, which unfortunately is only recognised as a civil partnership in Ireland. It's funny to think they've been married less than a year when they've been together so long.

My dad Barry is still around and as a child I stayed with him part-time as well. My dad and mum have always been very close friends, even after they split up. They've always made it easy for us to have two families.

My day-to-day life growing up with two mums involves us all having our own things going on. I debate and my mum's play bridge twice a week. We're all very into food, though, so we often go out to dinner together, finding new restaurants to go to, and Grainne and Orla are always sharing their new recipes with us.

One of the many positives to my modern family is the fact that I've always liked having more than two parents, because I think it's great to get different perspectives and parenting styles as you grow up – and it's good to know that you have a big family to look after you.

Other than that, any positives I feel about my family are down to them, not the type of family I'm from. I've always known I had fantastic parents, but only because they are fantastic people.

The only negatives of having two mums come from outside the family, not inside. The idea of losing a parent is more of a worry when you know that another parent doesn't have the right to keep you if that happens.

Once I became aware of the lack of legal protection my family had for a child, it became a worry for me. There will always be one or two people who make negative comments but it's important to realise this is their view, not my family's.

We were never bullied because of having two mums. We went to a very open and accepting school, Mount Temple, a public school in Clontarf, where even if we had been bullied, the teachers would have put a stop to it.

My family have always been very close. Both my parents, like most LGBT people, had some trouble coming to terms with people's reactions, but in general friends and family have always been supportive and accepting. Their wedding party in Dublin had a great atmosphere with some very touching speeches from parents and siblings.

One big societal challenge we faced as a family was having to travel for the wedding. My mums wanted a marriage, not just a civil partnership, which was the only thing available to them as a same-sex couple in Ireland.

We went to New York where they were married on the Staten Island ferry. Even though their marriage is only recognised as a civil partnership in Ireland, it was important for us to have a real marriage ceremony.

It was difficult knowing that we had to travel for that, and it's especially sad knowing that not every couple has the travel option open to them.

In recent years, we've had conversations as a family about how tired we are of campaigning for equality. It's a daily challenge for all LGBT people to know that they still aren't fully equal in law or in society.

The law is a pressing matter for families, particularly for those with young children. We were always able to rely on the kindness of our school, extended family and friends, but for those who are not in accepting environments, it's a lot harder.

Parents need to be able to sign their children's permission slips for school and consent to medical treatment for their children; this is a big concern for families where only one parent is recognised. The proposed introduction of equal marriage rights to Ireland is a step in the right direction.

With only the family based on marriage protected by the Irish Constitution, this means that children suffer. It's important to remember when we talk about what marriage means to children that we're talking about real children. There are hundreds of children living in Ireland right now without the legal protections they need and this needs to change.

Since I'm now over 18, the lack of legal rights and recognition of our family is no longer a concern for me, but the lack of recognition still hurts, as it always has, and I know it would mean a lot to my parents to have their marriage recognised.

We're all hopeful for a yes vote in the marriage equality referendum in spring 2015. It would mean an end to years of campaigning and it would make it more difficult for people to look at my family as different or unusual."

 

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Lucille Furlong and her partner Elaine Grange have a two-year-old son, Caodhan. Lucille is the birth mother.

"Elaine and I have been together for five years and met through the LGBT social scene. Currently living together in Lusk, we plan to marry but are waiting until after the referendum in 2015 to set a date, as we would prefer to have a marriage ceremony rather than a civil partnership.

When we first met, I had full plans of having a child whether in a relationship or not. I told Elaine if she wanted a relationship with me, she would have to consider children as I didn't want to waste our time together if she wasn't onboard. She too wanted children, so a year later I got in contact with Sims Fertility Clinic.

An appointment was made for us to meet with Dr David Walsh who helped us with the decision of anonymous or non-anonymous donors. We decided on an anonymous donor through Cryos International Denmark.

Thankfully, on our second cycle we got what we had hoped and prayed for – we were pregnant. Our son is now two years old and his name is Caodhan, which means 'winner of battle'.

We like to spend our spare time together, going to swimming classes each week with Caodhan, going for walks in the park, watching movies. He has recently been introduced to hot chocolate, so he loves to go to Butler's Café with his two mammies to enjoy this. It's rare on a weekend that we are not together.

Caodhan is too young to understand that his family is any different to any other family, so I don't know how he feels about having two mammies. He calls us different names: I'm mama, and Elaine is mammy. We never differentiated – he just naturally started to call us by these different titles.

Our family has the same positives as almost every other family in our community. We have a loving and happy family home, a son we adore and an extended family who we love to spend time with.

We are very lucky that, to date, Caodhan hasn't had any difficulties. I think that children do pick up on the fact that he has two mums, and will question why he doesn't have a dad, but once it's explained that this is the type of family Caodhan comes from – one with two mums – they accept it.

I also think it is down to how parents react. If gay or lesbians are commented on negatively in the house, then this comes across to their children. We haven't had this experience but I have seen it with other children.

Occasionally when we are out as a family and people realise we are a gay couple with a child they sometimes stare, but never for too long and no one has ever reacted negatively to us.

My mum is 70 years old and is very accepting of my relationship and our son. She did struggle in the beginning with the idea of having an anonymous donor and would have preferred for us to have a known donor but she has helped us with the financial costs of fertility.

For us, the legal standing of our family is the main challenge we face, especially from Elaine's perspective as Caodhan's non-biological parent.

For our son, in the eyes of the law, one of his parents is a stranger and this is always going to be our number one concern until there are protections for our family. A constant concern for us both is if something happened to me, Elaine would have to fight for rights to retain custody/guardianship of her son.

I think the introduction of equal marriage rights to Ireland is another important step in the journey towards an equal society. The key will be the social acceptance that these families exist today and have done for decades and they have all the value that any other family unit has.

With only the family based on marriage protected by the Irish Constitution, this is proof that the laws that govern our land need to catch up with how society exists today. The age old description of the nuclear family is just that, age old."

 

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Anthony Kinahan and Barry Gardiner are a gay couple who have been together for 15 years (civil partnered for seven years). They have fostered for many years and are currently doing so, but would love a family of their own. Under the current legislation that is not possible.

"I have been with my partner Barry for 15 years and we live in Drogheda. I met Barry at the Dundalk Outcomers organisation – they used to run a monthly gay disco in Drogheda in 1999.

We were joined in a civil partnership in Belfast in 2007. As a couple we would very much like to get married in the eyes of the law someday as it's an issue of equality.

As a family, we have always wanted to have our own kids as we are both quite paternal people and work on a daily basis with children: Barry works as a special needs assistant and I teach acting and drama. We feel we would be great dads and that a child would be very happy with us. However, because of the way the law is, we are denied the chance to adopt and a child is denied the chance to be adopted by us.

We have been foster carers since November 2012 but we have no placements at the moment. While we've always wanted to have a family of our own, we came to the realisation that this is not possible for us under current legislation and, in the meantime, we realised that we had space in our home and space in our hearts to provide a stable and loving home for vulnerable children who need it.

Through fostering, we can tell from first-hand experience that, ultimately, children don't care if their guardians are gay or straight, or rich or poor, all they care about is that they feel loved and they feel safe. Being able to foster highlights an inherent contradiction in the Irish legislation: that we're allowed to take care of children but cannot adopt them.

All of our close and extended family have never been anything but supportive of our relationship. We have never been treated any different than a heterosexual couple and our nieces and nephews have grown up never knowing anything else.

It's just natural to them. Once they reach a certain age, they've always raised the question about the labelling of being gay – they understand society sees us as something different, while they never have.

We have never been victims of direct discrimination until we wanted our relationship to be recognised in the eyes of the law and have a family of our own.

The law discriminates against us as it places us in a second-class position where we don't have equal rights. Civil Partnership is not enough, with at least 169 differences between Civil Partnership and Civil Marriage; from simple things like our house is not called a "family home" – it's called a "shared home" – right up to the bigger things such as our ineligibility to be considered as adoptive parents.

We pay our taxes and we contribute to our community so why should we be treated as second class by our legislation?

The message the legislation is sending out to the next generation is that being gay is a negative thing and we don't want our nieces and nephews to grow up in an Ireland like that.

The most pressing matters for LGBT parents and their children living in Ireland today is that children need legal access to their non-biological parents.

Families of all shapes and structures need to be protected in the eyes of the law. When a child has no rights to their non-biological parent it leaves the whole family in a very precarious position.

Society needs to focus on the fact that a child requires a safe, stable, loving home and they will grow up just as well adjusted with same-sex parents as they would if they were reared by a heterosexual couple.

Discrimination of all kinds needs to be weeded out of the system."

Weekend Magazine

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