Marriage Equality Referendum: No campaign does not value each child

Kelly O’Brien grew up without a father, and she’s doing just fine, despite what marriage equality referendum no vote campaigners might say in their poster blitz

EVERY time I see those posters, the ones advocating a no vote in the upcoming referendum, I feel inferior.

I see that image of a mother, a father, and happy baby and I feel lesser, somehow, because I grew up with one parent instead of two.

In the rational part of my mind, I know I shouldn’t feel like this. I know I had a totally normal childhood, full of love and happiness, homework and birthday parties. If I was granted an abundance of freedom in my formative years it was only to teach me how to make my own decisions and, while we weren’t rich by any means, we never went without.

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It might come as a shock to the no campaign, but I actually count myself lucky. Living with my mother and my grandparents until I was around 16 meant I got to know my grandparents very well before they died. I almost feel as if I had three parents instead of one.

I know all this and yet every time I see those posters, and read the no campaign slogan “Children Deserve a Mother and a Father” I feel I have been weighed, measured, and found wanting.

It’s as if the all-knowing, all-judging eye of the archaic no campaign is looking right through me, telling me that because of a family situation over which I had no control I’m not good enough, and never will be.

It’s a horrible feeling but, by all accounts, it’s not one reserved for me alone — there are, for many different reasons, tens of thousands of children in Ireland growing up in one-parent families.

Around a quarter of all children in this country have either one parent or no parent at all, so it stands to reason a large majority of them will be adversely affected by the insensitive signage of the no campaign and the blatant insinuation that your family is not a real family if you don’t have both a mother and a father in it.

The no campaign talks of protecting children, yet here they are alienating and isolating thousands of them. It’s totally and utterly wrong. No child should ever be made feel as if they aren’t good enough.

Aside from the sinking stomach I, and surely others, feel when accidentally glancing at the no campaign posters, I’ve begun to ask myself a very important question: Why the hell, in a referendum about marriage equality, is the no side putting up posters advocating two-parent families?

The referendum to be held on May 22 is about marriage equality. At the moment, gay couples can have civil partnerships but they can’t marry each other.

If the referendum passes, same-sex couples will be allowed to get married. That’s what the referendum is about. It’s not about one-parent families, two-parent families, adoption rights, or surrogacy laws.

I’ve seen two poster designs from the no campaign so far — the aforementioned “Children Deserve a Mother and a Father” poster and another that reads: “Surrogacy? She needs her mother for life, not just for 9 months.”

These posters are designed to obscure the issue at hand and make the debate around this referendum focus on something else other than equality.

Questions about forms of assisted human reproduction (AHR), such as surrogacy, have no place in this referendum which, as I mentioned earlier, is only about extending the right to marry to LGBT couples. It is not about surrogacy which, by the way, is a method largely employed by heterosexual couples who, for medical reasons, are unable to have children.

Whatever the outcome of the upcoming referendum, the Oireachtas will remain free to regulate AHR in whatever way it wants to.

Since questions about adoption have also come up in relation to the same-sex marriage referendum, it’s important to note that the Children and Family Relationships Bill which was signed into law on April 6 and will come into force very shortly.

Up until now, while same-sex couples could not jointly apply to adopt a child, they could jointly apply to foster, or could separately apply to adopt.

Now, with the revised draft of the Children and Family Relationships Bill, cohabiting couples and those in civil partnerships will have full adoption rights — this will come into force before May 22, so the outcome of the referendum will have no bearing on it.

At the moment, almost 70% of all children in Ireland are raised by two parents of the opposite sex. Whether the referendum passes or not, this isn’t suddenly going to change.

If the referendum does pass, it means that children who are raised by same-sex couples will be afforded the same constitutional status and equality as other children. They will no longer be discriminated against based on their parental situation.

This implication that not all children are equal, a notion overtly employed by the no campaign in their tasteless posters, is utter nonsense. But, while it irks me personally that people are allowed to plaster these views on every lamppost from my house to my workplace, the level of opprobrium they’ve attracted is comforting.

In seeking to obscure the issue, the no side has actually managed to annoy thousands of voters — lone parents, adoptive parents, foster parents, anybody who grew up with lone parents, adoptive parents, or foster parents, anyone is friends with a lone parent.

In an ironic turn of events, the hurtful attitude of the no campaign may finally be working against it — it’s doing more harm to itself than the yes side ever could.

READ NEXT: FERGUS FINLAY: Gays should be allowed marry the person they love. It’s that simple

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