Equality Progress

I've noted with interest two moves of note over the weekend. Firstly there has been a really interesting publication on the GLEN website containing a professionally produced interpretation of the Civil Partnership legal changes. I cannot stress how important it is to be fully aware of the actual contents of the original 120 page borefest before you even look at this, since a lot of the queens screaming about inequality haven't actually read what it contains, have a limited or second hand notion about its contents and the issues it attempts or doesn't attempt to address. My main issue with GLEN is their tendency to drift into enormously long and boring documentations rather than handling issues in a way likely to put you to sleep. But well worth looking through the documents on their website.

The document however, is most enlightening since ultimately, neither government deputy nor individual gay/bi person is going to be doing the interpretation but the legal industry. This is key and something we cannot afford to forget. What FF or the Green party say is political spin doctoring - please don't forget this. Neither NLGF, GLEN, Noise or Marriage Equality are in the business of looking for re-election or massaging the egos of hot headed back benchers who've recently discovered how powerful they can be, so there is no point in expecting the messages to be identical, and to realise who each message is aimed at and why. FF are notorious for promising different things to different interest groups so comments from people like Dermot Ahern are deeply questionable.

Indeed, its impossible to tell whether or not the current batch of legislation is intended as a standalone, since almost every document produced by the working groups that existed recommended legislation be advanced to deal with a key failure of the current proposals - i.e. recognition of parenting relationships to be enshrined in law. What is more puzzling again is that there appears to be no join between this failure and proposals for more concrete sets of childrens rights, or anything in the light of the appalling Baby Leane case, where it became apparent that children, like women, were legally to be viewed as mere chattels of the sacred bond of marriage. What is worse is that it does appear that significant elements of the gay community desire this "ownership" to be imported wholesale into the gay civil marriage without a consideration of the individual rights of the child as a separate concern. This is a key failure of all parties, not least the government.

The Adoption Board draws out the basic conditions for family adoption in Ireland - which is the cases to which the most relevance is in the LGB context. (I exclude T on the grounds that due to a failure to properly recognise legal gender changes in the first place, they are technically considered to be still de facto families in the event of a transition where the relationship was a legally recognised opposite sex marriage). The policies unfortunately are simple - anybody but an unmarried couple (same or opposite sex) may apply. In fact it is possible for a brother, sister, or close relative, or a single applicant who is considered "suitable" (on grounds which are not really defined but it does imply the childs interest be taken into account). That this isn't up for consideration in the context of better protections for less than conventional families constitutes not only a national scandal, but yet another complete failure to place the childs best interests ahead of notional institutional interests.

As I have constantly reiterated here and on forums such as Gaycork and AngryPotato, there is simply no point in blindly forcing through a blinkered recognition of extended parental adoption to facilitate an institutional fascism over childrens rights, be it heteronormative or in the name of gay rights. The primary and absolute concern should be the best interest of children and NOT the ideology of "defending" the "family" or gay rights. In this case its critical that the gay community addresses the issue of the need for fair adoption policies in a way that is systemic and encompassing, and not simply badger on with the underclass arguement which is pitifully weak in the context of horror shows such as the Ryan report and the current pitiful state of the so-called "care" system for children at risk.

Lets be straight here, equality sometimes means equality for ALL stakeholders and not just a select few priveliged ones. The community need to get this right as at the moment it seems that having the same patriciarchal rights of control over children is far more important to the LGBT community than establishing a fair deal for children themselves that is sensitive to their needs. We need a change in policy on adoption and the establishment of a new framework which is not hostile to the needs of alternative family units. What we don't need is to force feed gay adoption just because its "equal." What exists right now is hairy to say the least and biased in favour of the rights of certain parents on the grounds of age and martial status. Thrusting another group into that isn't equality.

Indeed it is these kinds of interests which at heart involve the Adoption Board itself - see for example the statements on pages 16-17 of its 2007 report where it strongly suggests that subsequently step-parent adoptions not override the rights of natural fathers (something which of course is an area of deep misandry in lesbian parenting circles, where all too frequently any suggestion that the rights of an absent or dumped previously heterosexual relationship simply be erased due to the newly found sexuality of the mother - which is not a position that the gay community should be wholeheartedly endorsing). However it remains extremely sad that the report goes on to state while natural fathers are entitled to have some say in the process, only single figures did so from the years 2001 to 2006, and not a single natural father took the opportunity to comment in 2007. This massively flies in the face of evidence from the pressure groups pushing for greater fathers rights, which seem to indicate that men are out there dying to have a say - this very sad evidence indicates that significant numbers of natural fathers couldn't care less what happens subsequently. In this year no less than 88 fathers were notified of hearings but simply didn't respond.

I think there is a HUGE need for a "parenting taskforce" in the pro-marriage movement to really look at ways in which the law can/should enable parenting recognition without hurting childrens rights (i.e. not simply copying and pasting the same blanket entitlements from hetero marriage).

Secondly it was really nice to see LGBT Noise's rally on Sunday get SOME media coverage, though still a little less than it deserved. I have to admit after spending at least one or two of my student years of the early 90s on large and small protests, one of the big things I learned was they often get ignored, regardless of size or volume. It was nice to see it generate a little follow on coverage today.

Now what is badly needed is some kind of proper blanket coverage to get key messages across. I'd say newspaper adverts would be a good way of doing this.

We need to get these points across

* in the context of the KAL case left hanging in the air, we need a concrete statement that gay marriage is not a threat to the concept of marriage as an institution from legal sources - muttering about it being impossible is just not good enough - this case must be resolved before any legislation is passed
* there must be follow up legislation to remove discriminatory sections of the 2004 welfare acts
* a concrete plan must be put forward (preferably in the context of the overall improvements to childrens rights) to enable recognition of same-sex parenting in adoption policy
* the differences in "dissolvement" for civil partnerships and gay marriages must be harmonized
* realistic timeframes are needed and must be kept - we've been hanging on this issue now for the best part of 10 years - even worse than the notorious heel-dragging over the Norris case

Not all publicity is good publicity, and accurate information can get lost in a sea of noise, opinion, assumption and misplaced priorities. For example, the issue of gay adoption is the most commonly misunderstood scenario – many heteros don't realise that gays are not heading off a la Madonna or Brangelina in order to suck up some unsuspecting Ethiopian orphan to complete a “designer family” and likewise, lesbian couples who conceive via IVF usually do so under carefully considered legal agreements, often involving anonymous donors.

Unfortunately there is an awful lot of biased media coverage involving gay parenting, most of which produce unusual and barely-ethical scenarios far removed from the kinds of typical scenarios involving gay parents. For example one common one is the common portrayal of gay men having children via donors and surrogates. What most people probably don't realise is that technically offering payment to a surrogate places them into an inenviable legal minefield as legally the child is automatically legally the child of the surrogate mother, and her husband is automatically named father if she is married. It is not possible for a child to be placed up for adoption in the event of its parents being married without a High court decision so legally it is very difficult for a gay man to father a child and remain legally recognised as the father.

Now some gay men and women have circumvented this by making “arrangements” which involve marrying an obliging gay woman who want the same (and before you jeer I do know of at least one “couple” who've done this in order to fulfil their desires to parent), outside of such unique scenarios, gay men are at a particular loss. Yet according to GCN, around 10% of gay men are parents (I suspect, many, by previous relationships).

For lesbians and bi women its a different story. There are numerous scenarios

* women who have been previously married and had children in that relationship
* women who have had children in heterosexual relationships, without being married to the father
* women who are having a child alone by donor insemination
* and finally, women who are having a child by donor in a lesbian relationship

All of these present their own complexities which really do need separate attention to marriage and partnership laws, but the fact is they require ATTENTION, which right now the government are telling us that they have no intention to investigate never mind address.

This is why the civil partnership particularly angers women who are parents – it doesn't really offer them anything as a family unit. But at the same time, there is little understanding within the gay community as to how damaging a badly deployed adoption scenario could be, and how the issue simply cannot be detatched from adoption per se.

Quite realistically -

* surrogacy remains a legal minefield in Ireland and nothing can realistically be done about gay adoption without a proper legal framework
* the legal assumption that the birth giving mother is always the legal mother is problematic in the context of egg donorship and the automatic placing of a husbands name on the birth certificate regardless of where the spern came from is similarly legally both incorrect and a legal impediment
* requirements to notify the unmarried father of an adoption offers potential victimization of the mother if a female partner is to be the new co-parent (or mother in the case of a gay man having custody of the child – unusual but not unrealistic)
* the current situation where a sibling, grandparent or aunt/uncle of the child has automatic rights to adopt but a partner of the child does not is a grossly unjust form of discrimination which does nothing to advance the “special status” of the family in law – it merely reiterates prejudice and discriminationary policies in the adoptive system
* and finally, the legal constitution of adoption societies, which are mostly denominational, offers prime opportunity to discriminate against gay couples, and their huge dominance of the adoption framework is almost certainly the reason why no changes have been proposed despite calls for suggestions back as far as 2003 and in the context of the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children


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