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Column: The same-sex marriage debate shows ‘non-traditional’ families aren’t really accepted

As a single parent family, I realise we’ve only been tolerated as opposed to accepted as a proper family unit and because of the absence of the traditional set up we are somehow ‘less than’, writes Carol Redmond, who says same-sex unions are being treated in the same way.

Carol Redmond

WITH THE HOTTING-UP of arguments for and against same-sex marriage in the news and on everyone’s lips, I got to thinking about my own experience as an Irish person and a mother as the problems seem to be mainly around parenting. You see, I am one of those statistics that have suddenly come under the social microscope again after a perceived acceptance over the last few years.

I am one of the many single parents in this country, a heterosexual, divorced mum of three, now grown up, children. As the divorce referendum was debated back in 1995 I was separating from my husband. By the following year divorce was the law and by the end of 2000,  me and my family became a new statistic. When the census form came through the door I had to tick a few new boxes – divorced, single parent – at the head of this household.

‘Fractured family’

I had joined a minority group, and all that entails, in a so-called democracy and have thought long and hard about the effects of being a ‘fractured family’ would have on the continuing development of my three kids. As they were very young when it all happened I had a lot on my plate and needed help and inspiration on how to deal with my difficult situation. All the books and articles I have read then and since point to the preference of a family headed up by a mum and a dad as the ideal standard for raising children and over the years I have tended to agree with this, saw the wisdom in it, and frankly, yearned for what I had been denied.

My own experience wasn’t without its trials and tribulations but my lasting impression and conclusion is that my children have not been disadvantaged by being brought up in a single-parent household, in fact it has mostly been quite the opposite. So what has all this got to do with same-sex marriage then? What has being a heterosexual female single mum got to do with it all? I’ve realised that  single parenting is not as accepted as I had thought, if the debates raging at the moment about same-sex marriages are anything to go by. Why? Because the detractors are trying to uphold and push as the ideal the male/female married unit as the best in which to raise children. What right has any one to say what is the best and only way to do anything?

As a single parent family I and my children have only been tolerated as opposed to accepted as a proper family unit and because of the absence of the traditional set up we are somehow ‘less than’. I take this as an insult to my family and realise we are insulting same-sex unions in the same way.

Gender should not be an issue

The recipe for success in family life lies in the commitment of the parents, or parent, aided by the extended family unit and friends, to the upbringing of the children of that family. The sex of the parents should not, and does not, come into it at all in my opinion. If a child is lucky enough to have a mum, dad, two mums, two dads, or the traditional mum and dad, who will do everything and anything it takes to love and protect and nurture their children, well this is what will make for a better, more loving and peaceful society.

After divorce came into law in 1996 in this country there was a huge uptake in the courts. This was not as a result of people suddenly throwing caution to the winds and running around ditching their husbands and wives on a whim  because now they legally could. Couples were already living apart in their marriages, were legally separated and moved onto their next unions, or were caught in dysfunctional abusive relationships they could not get out of because of our constitution.

These were all heterosexual couples who had the legal status of marriage. These marriages had failed and were now allowed a legal resolution. These marriages were in trouble and there were many children involved. So if the introduction of divorce had not blown the lid off these existing unhappy marriages, would those children have had to remain in these toxic family units? Are the same-sex detractors telling us that it is better to bring children up in households headed by couples that are unhappy just because they are ‘man and woman’ marriages? How awful for those children involved if that had remained the status quo.

Marriage breakdowns

The statistics for heterosexual marriage breakdown show that a mum and dad marriage does not automatically bestow an ideal environment on a child. Regardless of the legal fallout of the sanctioning of marriage for all, there is no reason same-sex marriage can not be legislated for and sanctioned in Ireland. The main reason we should vote it in is the bond of the two parents, the commitment of the marriage, the promise they make to each other to parent the issue of this marriage. This can be made by two women and two men just as successfully, or unsuccessfully, as a heterosexual couple, assuming the odds of success and failure are comparable.

The rest really is just detail. As one person in the audience on RTE’s Primetime recently pointed out, with all the orphans in the world living in institutions without parents, orphans of man/woman unions, married or otherwise, does this not prove that regardless of the sex of the mum and dad surely they are better off in families with couples who have gone to a lot of trouble to bring these cherished children into the world? Should they not be allowed to give a marriage their best shot? Who has the right to say all citizens are not allowed this right, just some?

Same-sex marriages are not guaranteed to last, neither are heterosexual marriages as I will testify to, however if they are allowed to marry in the same way, they would not be doing so lightly. They have to come to the same decisions before they take this step.

By giving society a chance to grow, change and foster inclusion, while outlawing discrimination, equality will have a chance. ‘The Constitutional Convention has voted overwhelmingly in favour of recommending that the Constitution be changed to allow for civil marriages for same-sex couples’. As I said, why the argument? At risk of sounding all seventies and using the Beatles philosophy, love IS all you need, for the perpetuation of the human race, regardless of its source.

Carol Redmond is qualified Life Coach and holds a certificate in psychology from NUI Maynooth. She lives in Delgany, County Wicklow.

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Carol Redmond

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