Justice Minister Alan Shatter intends bringing in laws by the end of the year to extend guardianship, custody, and access rights to the non-biological parents of children in same-sex relationships and children born through surrogacy and sperm and egg donation.
However, he also said the more controversial issue of adoption by same-sex couples and civil partners would be legislated for no matter how the outcome of next year’s referendum goes.
“There is a simple message about this referendum. This isn’t a complicated issue. It’s about one very simple issue which is whether people of the same sex should be allowed celebrate a ceremony that’s called marriage as opposed to celebrate a ceremony that’s called civil partnership. I think it’s very simple. I don’t think it’s any more complex than that. There’s no other issues that arise because much of the issues that will arise will have been addressed.”
A draft Children and Family Relationships Bill will be discussed by Cabinet shortly and considered by Oireachtas committee by Easter, he said. It will be finalised by July and be ready for Dáil debate by September with the intention of enacting it by December.
While adoption is not currently in the bill, the minister said it would also be tackled. “Since 1952 an individual can adopt regardless of his or her sexual orientation. It makes no logical sense where an individual who is gay can individually adopt that a couple in a civil partnership should not be able to adopt. These are issues to be addressed whether or not we have same-sex marriage.”
His words were warmly received by campaign group Marriage Equality, which hosted the seminar on parenting rights where the minister spoke yesterday, but he anticipates opposition to legislative change.
“These are controversial issues on which there is a diversity of strongly held views,” he said.
“I think people will want to bring in all sorts of extraneous matters.”
He challenged TDs with opposing views to come clean on their position now, particularly as the only Dáil discussion on the issues so far heard no dissent.
A UCD study on parenting by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people presented at the seminar found that the lack of legal recognition for many parent-child relationships was a cause of stress and left non-traditional families feeling vulnerable.
Mr Shatter said family law had been framed for a different age and different social circumstances and were not catering for the best interests of all children and those parenting them.
“The issues and the needs in this area will not change should the outcome of the intended referendum on same-sex marriage support or reject the enactment of legislation to facilitate such marriages. It’s an issue that simply, come what may, we need to address.”