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Column: On marriage equality and the red herring of raising children

Whenever same-sex marriage is argued against – be it in print, radio or television – the issue of raising children is inevitably raised. But it’s a red herring.

Peter Ferguson

THE ISSUE OF same-sex marriage has been ever-present in Irish media since the government announced the upcoming referendum, and it has once again being reared after Minister leo Varadkar came out publicly; however, the debate has been marred by opponents of marriage equality focusing on a red herring. Whenever same-sex marriage is argued against, be it in print, radio or television, children are inevitably raised and often become the core focus.

If a same-sex couple chooses to have a child together they have three avenues available to them. They can either adopt, use a surrogate or a sperm donor. However, the referendum doesn’t deal with the issues of adoption, surrogacy and sperm donation. In fact, these issues are dealt with in the Child and Family Relationship Bill which the Government hopes to publish in March.

Defeating the referendum would not prevent one gay couple from having children

If children truly are the concern of marriage equality opponents they would be better served opposing the Bill and lobbying to stop surrogacy and sperm donation. Defeating the referendum would not prevent one gay couple from having children if that is their wish. Those who employ this line of reasoning have never elaborated on how defeating the referendum would prevent gay couples from having children – probably because it wouldn’t.

Maintaining the natural ties between parent and child is another oft cited reason behind opposing marriage equality. But this equally applies to infertile couples. If by allowing same-sex couples to marry we are breaking the natural ties between parent and child, then it is equally true of couples who cannot conceive – yet nobody is arguing that such couples should not be allowed to marry, even though infertile couples outnumber LGBT couples four to one. It is solely LGBT people who targeted with such spurious arguments.

But even if the Irish government made surrogacy and sperm donation illegal in Ireland, LGBT people would still want to get married because their desire to affirm their love and commitment as a couple is not predicated on whether or not they can have children.

Simply put, the issue of children has zero relevance to the marriage referendum. The Child and Family Relationship Bill will be passed prior to the referendum and the avenues for gay couples to have children will be same regardless of the result of the referendum. The wording of the referendum has made it abundantly clear that it has nothing to do with children: “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex”. It is about love and equality.

The focus on children during the debate has been nothing but a red herring. It is a cheap, scaremongering tactic that is often rolled out during progressive civil rights issues. People were warned children would be negatively affected due to universal suffrage, women being allowed into the work force, interracial marriage and during the divorce referendum. By pretending children will be affected, marriage equality opponents are trying to use fear in order to get people to vote no. It also serves to distract from the elephant in the room: religion.

To have a fully informed debate on marriage equality, opponents must  disclose their attitudes to homosexuality

Opposition to marriage equality largely, if not exclusively, stems from the religious sector of Irish society. Organisations that have voiced their opposition have been religious in nature, from the Catholic Church to self-described Catholic and Christian organisations.

Catholicism has, to put it mildly, not treated homosexuals very well in the past. Even the most ardent apologist would struggle to defend some of the Church’s actions. Some would argue, myself included, that it still doesn’t treat LGBT people with the compassion and dignity they deserve.

In 1986 a pastoral letter entitled Homosexualitatis Problema (The Problem of Homosexuality), the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith labelled homosexuality a “phenomenon”, a “condition”, a “problem”. It proceeds to ask homosexuals to lead a celibate life as homosexuality is “immoral” and “ordered towards an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder”.

Bishops are instructed to give special concern and attention to people who have this “condition, lest they be led to believe that the living out of this orientation in homosexual activity is a morally acceptable option. It is not.”

This letter was expanded upon in 1992 which stated that discrimination against LGBT people is permissible in certain areas such as adoption and foster parenting, and in hiring teachers, coaches and military members. In 1993 Pope John Paul II’s Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth) “specifically proclaims the intrinsic evil of the homosexual condition”.

The Church has not changed its stance on homosexuality since and still calls homosexual acts gravely depraved and says that, under no circumstances, can they be approved. It would be an act of naivety to pretend that the Church’s archaic view of homosexuality does not inform them on their position on marriage equality.

The social acceptance of homosexuality on par with heterosexuality

But what of the other organisations that oppose marriage equality, do they also think homosexuals are intrinsically disordered and morally evil? If we are to have a fully informed debate on marriage equality then opponents must be questioned on their attitude to homosexuality, especially since most, if not all, of these organisations are Catholic in nature.

Acceptance of marriage equality isn’t just the granting of legal recognition to same-sex couples; it is the social acceptance of homosexuality on par with heterosexuality as a distinct yet equal form of love. Something Catholicism has long fought.

If people who oppose marriage equality do not see homosexuality as an equal form of love but think it is evil, disordered, and immoral then it must be known so the public can be fully informed.

Peter Ferguson is a sceptic and a writer, he is a contributing author in the upcoming book 13 Reasons to Doubt, and he blogs at SkepticInk.com. Twitter @humanisticus.

Iona Institute respond with their own chart of prominent words on their website

‘Should we allow mothers to marry their daughters?’

Here’s the wording you’ll be voting on in same-sex marriage referendum

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