Step in right direction - but not all same-sex couples are covered by parental rights law
'We'll celebrate when everyone is recognised,' says mother
Few announcements induce as much tedium as politicians announcing laws, but there are some laws that buck the pattern.
As it was recently when Simon Harris announced the enactment of the Child and Family Relationships Act 2015 (CFRA), another component in a suite of laws which will give more rights to same-sex couples. Because of the Act many will be made, officially at least, parents of their own children for the first time.
For Lucille Grange Furlong (44), it has been a long time coming. Lucille and her wife Elaine (43) have two children, Caodhan (8) and Senan (4). Officially, Lucille is a single parent, but in May that will change.
"It's definitely bittersweet because not everyone is covered by the legislation, but it's a step in the right direction," says Lucille.
"The one thing I'll look forward to is not to have to stand in front of a solicitor and lie and sign an affidavit saying I'm a single parent. I'll look forward to getting the birth cert with both parents' names on it. And I'd put off doing the family tree because Ellie wasn't officially a member of the family, so now I'll do a family tree."
Lucille feels a sense of "survivors' guilt" because other parents will not be recognised, including parents using anonymous donor sperm in an Irish clinic, those who avail of fertility treatment abroad or those opting for 'home insemination' - basically any unofficial means of getting pregnant. It also includes gay couples using surrogates and reciprocal IVF, where one mother donates the egg and the other carries.
Yesterday it was announced that the Department of Health is considering the use of court-issued parental orders to legalise parents in such cases.
Lucille is restrained in her welcome for the announcement. But what is certain is that for the Grange Furlongs, this will be a formal recognition of a vow they made 10 years ago to become parents.
Lucille, a project manager, and Elaine, chief operating officer at a security firm, met in 2009 and discussed having children straightaway.
It was immediately apparent that it would not be easy. "When we started looking not every clinic would treat same-sex couples," says Lucille.
"Back then it was still OK to discriminate. It did make me angry because I felt, 'what's the difference if I'm gay or straight?'
"It turned out later that I had polycystic ovary syndrome [a condition which affects ovarian function], so I would have needed treatment if I had been straight anyway. That anger spurred me on."
The couple had decided to use an Irish clinic and that Lucille would carry the baby. They settled on SIMs. The next decision was whether to opt for donor sperm and whether it would be anonymous or non-anonymous, or home insemination.
They used anonymous donor sperm from the Cryos bank in Denmark and chose their donor. Between buying the sperm and the fertility treatments, Lucille estimates the couple spent between €25,000 and €30,000 to get pregnant with their two children.
Invariably, when it comes to sperm donation, some have anxieties. "We've been very lucky support-wise. My mum struggled with us choosing an anonymous donor initially because she felt we were denying the child the right to know their other parent. We explained that Ellie is their other parent," adds Lucille.
"She did wonder about getting a gay friend of ours to help out, but there had been a legal case involving a very similar situation and the donor had successfully sued for his parental rights through the courts.
"Ellie, understandably, didn't want to jeopardise our family in any way. She was taking a big risk with us, trusting me not to walk away with the child. To use a known donor would be another threat.
"We've also said that when the children are older, if they want to contact the clinic and get in touch with the donor we'll support that. After that Mum was on board."
Three years ago Lucille and Elaine sought joint guardianship and custodianship of the children, through the courts. This made consent for issues such as medical treatments more straightforward.
Though officially a single parent, Lucille is not entitled to any associated welfare.
"Even before guardianship, I could not claim - I tried. Because I'm cohabiting I'm not entitled to anything. Even though the same day I was told that I didn't qualify, I had to stand in front of a solicitor and sign an affidavit declaring I was a single parent. It's crazy."
After May 2020, the CFRA will resolve their situation and Elaine will become the boys' second parent.
But some couples will be left out. Ranae Von Meding is one of those parents. She co-founded the Equality For Children campaign to call for full recognition for all parents.
Ranae (32) and her wife Audrey (39) underwent reciprocal IVF abroad. They have two children, Ava (3) and Arya (nine months).
Since Ranae carried, she is, officially, their only mother. "My wife needs my permission if she wants to travel with the children," she says. "She's not allowed to sign consent for school, to consent for medical procedures. If we were in a car crash and I was in a coma and the kids needed blood transfusions she can't consent to that because she's not a legal parent or a legal guardian."
This will not change under the new legislation because of a subsection that regards Ranae as her wife's donor and because she was known to Ranae at the time of the procedure.
If this all seems fiendishly complicated, that's because it is. Dr Brian Tobin lectures in law at NUIG and specialises in child and family issues. "When the 2015 legislation comes into force it will prospectively recognise as parents a female same-sex couple who have conceived a child in an Irish clinic using identifiable donor sperm," he says.
"There's also a provision in the Act for a couple who went to an Irish or a foreign clinic, before the commencement of the Act, to be recognised as parents. The people who will not be recognised as parents will be anyone who has engaged in 'home insemination'.
"The reason for that is that children's rights issues come into play because with the clinic we can ensure the sperm is from identifiable donors, where the child, when they turn 18, will have the knowledge of genetic identity."
It's worth noting that Dr Tobin believes reciprocal IVF could be provided for under the new legislation, with some minor amendments.
The new legislation recognises that the composition of the family unit has changed, but there are clearly gaps in its provisions.
As Lucille says: "We're only included because there's an amnesty for those who used anonymous donors, but we could just as easily not be covered."
She says there is solidarity among same-sex couples. "We'll have a big party to celebrate - but only once everyone's recognised."