Colette Browne: Real issue is about gay adoption, not marriage
Published 06/11/2013 | 02:00
Last year, Eamon Gilmore described same-sex marriage as "the civil rights issue of this generation" – so why has a referendum on an issue of such importance been delayed until 2015?
Government TDs have expressed fears that voters are suffering from "referendum fatigue" but it is politicians who are suffering from this strange affliction.
They're tired of suffering embarrassing defeats in referendum results and fearful of getting another bloody nose in the immediate future.
These fears are unwarranted when it comes to same-sex marriage, with a recent opinion poll revealing 73pc of respondents favouring marriage equality.
So, given the overwhelming support from the public, why the delay? A new study from Michael Courtney, a PhD researcher in the political science department at Trinity College, gives us some clues.
Mr Courtney conducted face-to-face interviews with 82 TDs and senators and found a huge majority, 80pc, favoured same-sex marriage.
However, when it came to the issue of same-couples adopting children from third parties, support dropped quite considerably, to 63pc.
The disparity was even greater if one examines the positions of individual political parties.
Meanwhile, 91pc of Labour Party parliamentarians supported same-sex marriage and 73pc agreed with same-sex adoption, while 100pc of Sinn Fein members agreed with same-sex marriage and 83pc supported same-sex adoption.
Evidently, it seems that for many politicians, the issue of same-sex marriage is not a problem – unless those couples want to raise children.
Which explains why Mr Gilmore is so eager to enact legislation extending adoption rights to gay couples before any referendum on same-sex marriage takes place.
The misgivings revealed in the study are entirely without foundation when one considers that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people in this country can already adopt, but only if they're single.
Paradoxically, gay couples in long-term, stable civil-partnership relationships are precluded from jointly adopting because that privilege is reserved exclusively for married couples.
So, a grotesque situation has developed in which the State deems one adoptive parent to be better than two, with partners unable to even apply to become a child's guardian.
This is not some trivial inconvenience, but a very distressing reality for the hundreds of gay couples who are currently raising children together.
It means that a partner, if a child's adoptive mother or father is away, is unable to sign medical consent forms in an emergency situation.
In the worst-case scenario, it means that a partner has no guardianship rights if an adoptive parent dies suddenly without making a will.
This lacuna in the law is especially bizarre because LGBT foster parents do not endure this blatant discrimination.
Currently, gay couples in civil partnerships can jointly apply to foster children.
Under the current byzantine system, a gay couple can foster a child indefinitely – meaning the State clearly has no concerns about the kind of care children will get from these couples – but, if the foster child remains with the couple for a prolonged period of time, they are debarred from adopting him or her by virtue, solely, of their sexual orientation.
Patently, opposing same-sex marriage because one has concerns about same-sex adoption makes no sense for the simple reason that children are already being raised in LGBT families.
But logic is a factor that rarely troubles dissenters in this debate, who so often resort to misinformation, mistruths and naked prejudice to propound their position.
One such fallacy is that civil partnership is an adequate compromise for a controversial issue, conferring the same legal rights on same-sex couples that married couples enjoy.
In fact, a marriage equality audit has found no less than 169 differences between marriage and civil partnership, which underscore the myriad of ways same-sex couples continue to be treated as second-class citizens.
Opponents of same-sex marriage like to condense the entire venerable institution down to just one salient and all-encompassing factor – procreation, conveniently ignoring the fact that many heterosexual marriages do not result in children.
For them, marriage has an immutable definition in which one's gender, and fecundity, is accorded more significance than the strength, quality and durability of one's relationship.
Expand the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples, they say, and children will necessarily suffer.
The same spurious arguments were advanced in the United States before the definition of marriage was included to incorporate interracial couples.
Blinded by religious ideology, these opponents of marriage equality will continue to repeat their dogmatic mantra in the face of the wealth of scientific evidence that contradicts their assertions.
Professional bodies like the American Academy of Paediatrics, the American Psychological Association, the American Sociological Association and the National Association of Social Workers, to name just a few, are all advocates of marriage equality.
These groups have no vested interest in manipulating research findings, or selectively plucking out unrepresentative studies, in order to support a jaundiced view.
They have all, over time and having examined the scientific literature, come to the conclusion that children, raised by same-sex couples, are not damaged or disadvantaged.