Marriage equality passing in 2015 was an incredible moment for the LGBTQ community in Ireland. And indeed for the whole country. It showed what a beautiful and inclusive nation we are we are. That the people who live here are in support of a fair and equal Ireland. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that overwhelming emotion that weekend in May. We were at a moment in time where we had fought so hard for acceptance. And for the first time, equality had won. Suddenly, we were on equal footing and could access many of the same rights as anyone else.
Since then the Irish have been lauded as trailblazers for equal rights. A small country we may be, but a beacon of hope for progress and inclusion. We even won a special award at this years World Pride in NYC where we won the 2019 Luminary award that celebrates us as a global leader on LGBT+ activism and rights.
Things seem pretty amazing here when it comes to equality... Well I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you, but that’s not the whole truth.
What we have in Ireland is far from marriage equality. You see, if you choose to have any children once you are married, that’s where the ‘equality’ begins and ends.
If you choose to get married and start a family, you would assume that you would be treated the same as any other married couple in Ireland. Unfortunately that’s not the case. If you are an LGBTQ couple who chooses to have children, you will NOT be treated the same as your straight counterparts.
My wife and I got married in 2016 and we assumed that when we had kids we’d be treated the same as any other couple. It genuinely didn’t cross our minds that there would be an issue. So when our first daughter Ava was born in 2016 we got quite a shock. Because I’d given birth I was registered as Ava’s sole parent. Two years later, we had another daughter, Arya, on New Years Eve 2018. Again I was registered as her only parent. To make things even more complicated, Audrey, is actually their biological mother as we did Reciprocal IVF, using her eggs to conceive our children. So despite the fact that we are married and had our children within that marriage... Despite the fact that they are her biological children... Despite the fact that we equally decided to bring these two children into the world… Despite all of this, my wife has zero rights or legal connection whatsoever to our daughters. Nada. Nothing.
So on the one hand I’m a married woman, afforded all the equality that entails. And on the other hand I am seen as a single parent to our daughters who were conceived and born within that ‘equal’ marriage.
We started campaigning for LGTQ parental equality way back when Ava was born, and never in a million years did I think that we would still be fighting for it 4 years later. It just seems terribly unconstitutional to deny children a legal connection to their parents. If these were children born through donor fertility treatment to a straight couple, as is very common in Ireland, then these children would have no problem having their parents recognised.
I am in no way calling for anyone to ‘lie’ on birth certificates. We have seen more than enough of that in our past and it is absolutely crucial to allow children to know where they came from. There should be a record of biology along with a birth cert or record of parents at the time of birth. I’m no legal expert, but there has got to be a better way than what we are currently doing. Because in Ireland, the only way to have a parental connection to your child is through a birth certificate (or adoption, but unfortunately adoption is not an option for LGBTQ couples who are conceiving and bringing children into the world.) And let's be honest here, a birth cert is not a record of biology. As I’ve already stated, many heterosexual couples do donor IVF and yet are both on their childs' birth cert. They may not be the biological parents (either of them in the case where both donor eggs and donor sperm have been used). So why can’t this same presumption of parentage be afforded to LGBTQ couples?
Legislation in the Pipeline:
You may have seen reports in the news about new legislation for parental equality and yes it’s partly true. There is some legislation in the pipeline which will mean that certain couples who meet the criteria will be afforded equal rights. It’s called the CFRA (Children and Families Relationships Act) and parts of this bill will mean that two females can be both registered as parents to their children. But only if they have used an Irish fertility clinic to conceive with an identifiable donor and using a standard IVF or IUI. Meaning the non biological parent will be able to be registered as a legal parent.
Everyone else, except those who meet the above criteria, are excluded from the CFRA.
What this means for YOUR family:
If you are a female couple, only the person who gives birth is currently recognised as a legal parent. You will have the option of applying for guardianship once the child reaches the age of two. In the future, once the CRFA legislation is commenced, if you have used an Irish fertility clinic to conceive with a standard IVF or IUI you will be eligible to have the non bio parent also recognised. If you've gone abroad for treatment or have done Reciprocal IVF or an at home insemination, you won't be eligible to apply. It's really awful that anyone would have to take this into account when planning their family, but unfortunately that is the Ireland we live in. Equal in some ways and anything but equal in other ways.
If you are a male couple who has used a surrogate to start your family, then only the biological dad will be recognised. The non biological dad will have no legal connection and will have to wait until the child is two to apply for guardianship. The surrogate will also be listed as the mother.
Let’s get this straight. This is not the same thing as being a legal parent. It can be revoked and it ends once a child reaches 18. There are also implications when it comes to inheritance and other situations. While it can be a valid option for some family situations, it is absolutely not good enough for those who have planned their families from day 1 and created them equally.
I get so many people saying ‘but how can you be an equal family. It’s not possible. It takes a man and a woman to make a child.’ They seem to take issue with the fact that I want my wife and I to be treated the same as any other married couple in Ireland. The thing is we ARE the same. We needed the help of a kind donor to start our family, just as many heterosexual couples need the help of donors to start their families. We should be treated the same.
Every Day Challenges:
If you, like me and my wife, find yourself in the horrible position where you or your spouse has zero legal connection to your children, this is the reality of your day to day life. Aside from it being a really emotionally damaging situation, these are just a few of the everyday situations which will crop up.
You are not allowed to sign any forms to open a bank account for your child. Your child is not allowed to inherit anything from you or from your parents (grandparents).
You are not allowed to consent to any medical treatment your child may need such as a blood transfusion, vaccinations or any surgery.
You are not listed as your child’s parent and may only be listed on school forms as a ‘responsible adult’ who is allowed to collect your child. You must have consent from your spouse to do this.
You are not allowed to travel with your child without the written consent of your spouse.
What Can You Do?
Please sign our petition here on Uplift, which so far has reached over 25,000 signatures. We have managed to secure a meeting with Simon Harris in October and we want to send a clear message to him that Ireland believes in equality for all families. Not just those who tick their boxes. Follow me on social media @ranaevonmeding to keep up to date with our progress in the fight for equality.
If we are allowed and entitled to get married then these rights must extend to everything that a marriage usually entails. Although I do fully believe that parental rights shouldn’t only exist within a marriage. (That goes for straight couples too!) We live in a modern Ireland where there are so many types of families. So many ways to conceive. There is no ‘right’ way to have your family. The bottom line is that our children need protection and it is the responsibility of our government to ensure that they are afforded equal rights. If their parents were allowed an equal marriage, then surely they should be allowed to have equal parents?
Quite frankly, it comes down to this. If we have Marriage Equality then we HAVE to have equality for families. No more and no less. Just to be treated as equals.
***this piece originally appeared in the WEDDING issue of GCN magazine.