However one feels about it, children are at the heart of the debate on the upcoming referendum, writes ISPCC chief executive Grainia Long.
I TRAVELLED to RTÉ recently to sit in the audience for the Claire Byrne Live debate. The discussion was heated and at times emotional. What was very clear was that most people in the audience have a view of what’s in the best interests of children. Some would argue that we shouldn’t be talking about children at all, that it’s not part of the question being put to the people on the May 22. Others will say that children are at the heart of the issue, and that this should be debated at length.
Either way, the issue of children has emerged as a key part in the referendum campaign, and with that, a whole host of claims and counter-claims about what a yes or no vote would mean for them. This is indicative of how much we, as a society, value our children — so on one level I’m delighted that we are discussing what makes children happy, and what makes them thrive.
In fact I’d be thrilled if every proposed change to our Constitution or legal change was analysed for its impact on children. However, this comes with a big caveat — in doing so we have a responsibility to base our arguments on evidence and on fact.
The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC) has concluded that a yes vote in the referendum is in the best interests of children — and we have based this on evidence and on fact.
Firstly we considered whether the question being put would undermine the rights of children, their welfare, or their protection. There is no evidence or fact to suggest it would. The rights of children will not be reduced if access to civil marriage is extended to same-sex couples. To suggest otherwise is speculative and wrong.
No peer-reviewed research exists to suggest that childhood spent in the care of same-sex parents is inferior to any other type of couple. The skills and experience of ISPCC staff have informed our view that a yes vote would not compromise children or childhood in any way.
Furthermore, a yes vote would improve the circumstances of many children in Ireland. Extending access to civil marriage to same-sex couples will in turn extend constitutional protections to children born of these marriages.
Children are not a necessary prerequisite to the creation of a family, in our Constitution. But where children do exist, their constitutional protection should not be determined by the sex of their parents or by the nature of their parent’s relationship.
Whichever way the vote goes next Friday, it will not impact on the adoption process in Ireland. The birth mother will remain the primary decision maker in adoptions. This was clarified eloquently and succinctly by Dr Geoffrey Shannon, and his comments have been well-reported in the press.
Similarly a yes or no vote will not limit the State’s ability to regulate surrogacy, and that would include its ability to ban surrogacy entirely. There is an important debate ahead on a new legal framework for assisted human reproduction but the marriage equality referendum is not the place to have it.
Much debate has been made regarding the care of children and what is the “preferred” family type. This debate is misleading and it is deeply unfair to the many families across Ireland who are not headed by a father and mother. The ISPCC could not express it more clearly than this: It is the stability and nature of care that a child receives, and not the nature of the family, which determines a child’s happiness.
Finally, perhaps most importantly, is the impact that a yes vote would have for LGBT young people. That heartbreaking statistic — 50% of LGBT people under the age of 25 have attempted suicide — should make us think about what it is in our society that is making such a core group of our citizens feel undervalued.
We have an opportunity next Friday to say that enough is enough. All children are loved and valued, and we believe this so sincerely that we are prepared to put it at the core of our Constitution. I look forward to the day this aspiration becomes a reality.
Myself and the ISPCC are proud to join forces with BeLonG To — the national organisation that provides life-saving services to and advocates on behalf of LGBT young people every day. We have joined them to form BeLonG To YES — the largest nationwide coalition of youth and children’s groups. It includes ISPCC, Barnardos, Foróige, Youth Work Ireland, the Migrant Rights Centre, Headstrong, Yes Equality, the Children’s Rights Alliance, Pavee Point, EPIC, the National Youth Council of Ireland, and Start Strong.
We are all standing together because children and young people deserve a fair and equal Ireland.
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