Wednesday 26 October 2016

It is time to fillet the shoal of red herrings being thrown about by the 'No' campaign

Alan Shatter

Published 15/05/2015 | 02:30

Studies have established that it is the attachments and bonds formed between a child and parents and not simply the biological link which is crucial to a child’s welfare and development
Studies have established that it is the attachments and bonds formed between a child and parents and not simply the biological link which is crucial to a child’s welfare and development

A great many people in Ireland, I believe, have no problem whatsoever with the simple idea of gay men and women who want to marry the person they love doing just that. It is simply a matter of treating people, our brothers and sisters, our relations and friends and our colleagues, equally. And on that basis, the Referendum should pass with a majority 'Yes' vote on May 22.

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However, with a week still to go, I am not complacent and I do not believe the outcome can be taken for granted.

Some believe that marriage should be exclusively reserved for heterosexual couples and that gay couples should be content with a civil partnership ceremony, introduced into this State in 2010. But this is not equality and for many gay people, civil partnership, while it was a step in the right direction, does not give the relationship they have and the commitment they have made to the person they love the same recognition as the relationship of a heterosexual couple. They feel discriminated against, regarded as second-class citizens, and they are hurt by it. And not only do they feel the hurt, but their parents, families and friends feel it too. What parent wants their child to be treated differently because of their sexual orientation?

The people who believe that marriage should be only for heterosexual couples have a unique opportunity on May 22 to have their way; to deprive gay people of the right to marry; to refuse to share the gift and joy of marriage with the gay community; to undo some of the great strides Ireland has made to becoming an inclusive, tolerant society where our gay friends, relations and colleagues feel the same sense of belonging as everyone else.

But if the people who believe marriage should be the preserve of heterosexual couples simply said that, the 'No' campaign would go nowhere. So, instead, the orchestrators of the 'No' campaign are busily instilling bogus fears among genuinely caring people and are running with an entirely spurious agenda.

Adoption in Ireland in 2015 is not the preserve of heterosexual married couples. Our adoption laws do not discriminate against single people, gay people or couples who are not married. Whatever the outcome of the referendum on May 22, it will make no difference whatsoever to adoption laws and procedures in Ireland. This was confirmed publicly this week by the chairperson of our Adoption Authority, Dr Geoffrey Shannon.

The 'No' campaign slogan "two men cannot replace a mother's love" implies that two men are not permitted today in Ireland to parent a child and that this would change if the Marriage Equality Referendum is passed.

This is completely untrue. Families in Ireland today come in many shapes and sizes; heterosexual married parents; single parents; unmarried heterosexual parents; same-sex parents.

The most important factors that contribute to a child's welfare and development are not the configuration of the family he or she is born or adopted into or the sexual orientation of his or her parent or parents. It is the quality of the parenting; the love given to a child; and the stability of the family relationship.

Moreover, studies have established that it is the attachments and bonds formed between a child and parents and not simply the biological link which is crucial to a child's welfare and development. The fact is that there is no credible psychological research supporting the notion that opposite-sex couples are better parents than same-sex couples or that the children of opposite-sex couples fare better than the children of same-sex couples.

Currently, we have no law in the area of surrogacy in Ireland. Any couple or single man or woman, heterosexual or gay, can presently arrange a surrogate birth and parent a child.

This has been the position since surrogacy first emerged many years ago. Our Supreme Court has said the Government should legislate on surrogacy. It is the responsibility of the Government to bring forward legislation in this area which is in the best interests of children. However, surrogacy, like adoption, is not relevant to the Marriage Equality Referendum. It is simply another red herring, and recent comments made by the Chairperson of the Referendum Commission, Judge Kevin Cross, are in support of this view.

The 'No' campaign's use of surrogacy as a Trojan horse to stoke the genuine concerns of caring people has nothing to do with marriage equality. How can they deny the benefits of modern reproductive medical techniques to those desperately anxious to have a child, who cannot do so without such assistance, the overwhelming majority of whom are heterosexual married couples?

The referendum on May 22 is about one thing and one thing only. It's a simple question. Have we in Ireland become, in 2015, sufficiently inclusive and tolerant to recognise that a gay couple in love should have the same right to marry as the rest of us?

There are young gay people courageously knocking on doors all over Ireland, courteously asking to be treated equally. They are Irish citizens, filled with hope for the future, their future. We should not turn our backs on them. Do not be worried or misled by bogus arguments or misinformation or innuendo.

Please vote 'Yes' on May 22.

Alan Shatter TD is the former Minister for Justice and Equality

Irish Independent

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