By Daire Courtney.
As far as my family are concerned, my two mothers are married. They tied the knot in New York just under a year ago. The Irish state does not recognise their marriage, but with luck it will soon. With two weeks to go, the posters are up, the debate is in full swing and every nay-sayer wants to know: should gay couples be raising children?
The Children and Family Relationships Act may have decided that issue legally, but the No campaign aren’t trying to debate marriage. They are looking to scare up No votes. They are asking people to prevent same-sex couples from bringing up children, despite the fact that they already are bringing them up. I am twenty years old. My mother came out as gay when I was two and she met her partner when I was eight.
People often want to know what my childhood was like, but mostly they want to know what was wrong with it. This is the kind of subtle homophobia that comes from assumptions that you weren’t parented properly. Did you have the right kind of role models? Were you bullied? Did you feel like something was missing? Ultimately it all comes down to asking you if you regret that your parents are your parents.
This is and always has been hurtful to me not only because it is homophobic, but also because it’s deeply offensive to every day I’ve lived with my parents. My parents are wonderful people. I won’t hear a word against them. Or I wouldn’t if I had the option to choose. The referendum has given space to many more hurtful opinions than usual.
It’s frustrating to listen to people on TV saying your family is “not ideal”. It’s insulting to have to answer probing questions and educate people. I never had doubts about my family’s legitimacy. I don’t need the state to tell me that my parents are my parents. But the lack of legal recognition causes problems.
When I was five years old, my mum’s first female partner was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. She was given six months to live but she lived three years. I considered her as a parent. I started thinking about what would happen if my other mum died. When my new mum came into our lives, I felt more secure.
But I realised at some point that my new mum had no legal claim to me. If something happened to my birth mum, where could my sister and I go? Both of our parents could be taken away. Not many ten-year-olds have to worry about things like that. It is also about having watched my parents campaign for years for marriage equality. Even without the problems for me growing up, my parents want their marriage recognised. That’s a good enough reason or me to campaign for a Yes vote.
The easiest way for the No side to win seems to be to wax lyrical about the child’s ‘right to a mother and a father’, as if those concepts mean anything specific. Every parent is different. There are no characteristics that are unique to mothers or fathers, unless you believe in gendered stereotypes of Daddy breadwinners and Mammy bakers. The No side are using children to play on the fears of people.
Not everyone knows a queer person and fewer people know a queer family. We have the statistics and the reports to counteract fears, but people need to see our families and connect with how the referendum affects us to understand. Canvassing for marriage equality has always been more successful when queer people go door to door and tell the story of how happy they and their partner are.
For us children, this debate means opening up childhood memories and showing them off. Being a poster child is tough, but it is the only way to show voters who queer families are. This referendum is about LGBTQ children having equality in their future. It is about LGBTQ couples who have been waiting years, or even decades, for a real wedding. And yes, it’s about the children who have been told their whole lives that their families are not equal. •