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‘What about the children?’ As one of the children in question, I say a No vote will hurt us

There will be children who pass ‘Vote No’ posters on their way to and from school and wonder why these strangers seem to hate their families.

Lorelei Fox-Roberts

AS TIME PASSES and we draw ever nearer to May’s referendum, same-sex marriage is becoming a topic hot on the nation’s lips. This referendum is not only about improving the rights of a minority group, it also relates to the country’s ability to change the status quo comfortably.

This is not something easily done within Ireland, a country which, like many others, is in some respects quite settled in its ways. I have come across many people recently who don’t understand the need to vote; not because they are intrinsically homophobic, but because they see no need to instil change and they feel it does not affect them directly.

However, this is inherently untrue.

This affects each Irish person because it affects all communities

We live on a small island consisting of myriad close-knit communities. Within each of these communities there are LGBT people who are being denied the same basic rights and opportunities that their heterosexual counterparts are afforded without question. This affects each Irish person, because it affects all communities and the nation as a whole.

It affects all Irish people because the majority of people will, at some point in their lives, have a friend, family member or colleague who is gay and whose rights will be called into question. We must also each think of our children, or potential future children, and consider their happiness. As a parent, I feel it is essential that my daughter be raised in a country where she is free to love who she chooses, regardless of sexual preferences, and that she be afforded the same opportunities to express that love through marriage. That is something that I will fight for.

I grew up with gay parents and I had a happy childhood

This referendum is close to my heart for another reason – I grew up with gay parents. I had a very happy childhood and still have a wonderful relationship with my parents. The idea that I could choose to go out tomorrow and get married, but that my parents could not saddens me immensely. Why should I be granted more rights than other members of my family, or community for that matter? It baffles me that sexual orientation continues to be used as a reason to deny people certain opportunities.

Unfortunately this is not the worst aspect of the current inequality. We live in a society which gives great legal power to the union of marriage and yet does not allow many of its citizens to become married. Currently, non-biological parents in same-sex parented families are not legally recognised as being related to the children they are raising. This causes countless problems, from day-to-day tasks such as collecting a child from school early, to being able to visit an ill son or daughter in hospital. I have witnessed situations in which parents have not been allowed into hospitals to see new-born children and have been denied access to visit their very unwell child over the Christmas holidays.

Even more disturbing is the fact that if a lesbian or gay couple has a child and the biological parent dies, the State has the power to remove the child from the household and place them in the care of extended family or foster care, rather than allow them to stay with the parent who has been raising them. I believe this to be a huge injustice, adding immensely to the tragedy of losing one parent and causing immeasurable damage to the child.

I always felt loved and safe, I was well cared for

Whilst the Irish people will be voting on same-sex marriage on 22 May, not on any matters pertaining to parenthood, many people have asked me what it was like growing up with LGBT parents over the past few weeks. This has increased since the No campaign posters were first erected.

Honestly, growing up with gay parents was no different to growing up with straight parents; I always felt loved and safe, I was well cared for. Every morning my father would get up and make my lunch before bringing me to school, or dropping me to the school bus. I had help with my homework, I was encouraged not to be shy and to believe in myself; I was taught never to discriminate against people who are different to me.

From where I stand, that’s a pretty ‘normal’ childhood. Or at least it should be. Unfortunately some children aren’t so lucky – they aren’t well cared for and nurtured. Some grow up neglected, unhappy, or surrounded by negativity and witness discriminatory action carried out by those they love; the very people who are supposed to create a safe and loving environment for them. This happens for many reasons, none of which relate to a parent’s sexual orientation.

How will children will LGBT parents feel when they see these posters?

I grew up seeing people treated equally and being taught to believe in the possibility of a world where people don’t hurt each other because they’re different. I believe that this has, in turn, made me a better parent and a more empathetic person. It is because of my upbringinging that now I remain steadfast in the face of the No campaign and still believe that an equal Ireland without hatred is a possibility, despite this campaign’s driving force being people who dislike me and those I love simply because of who we are.

However, my experience does not change the experience of others. There will still be children who pass ‘Vote No’ posters on their way to and from school and wonder why these strangers seem to hate their families; who go home in the evenings and ask their parents, or parent, why people think they deserve less or think that they can’t have a happy home. The knowledge that these posters are causing ongoing pain for children around the country and for LGBT friends and family whom I love dearly is what hurts me now. I just hope that the Irish people will make history on the 22nd and make sure that no more children, LGBT youths or LGBT adults have to suffer like this.

A No vote will hurt us

A lot of people who are campaigning for a no vote ask the clichéd question of: ‘What about the children?’ and their current poster smear campaign encourages this line of questioning. As one of the children in question, I want to take this opportunity to say that a No vote will hurt us. It will not offer protection to Irish children, it will merely allow Irish law to condone the discrimination of us and our families and allow us to fall through the cracks because of outdated and unfair attitudes.

There are also those who encourage smear campaigns against LGBT parents, insinuating that abuse within the home is more prevalent because of the parent’s sexual orientation. This is nonsense. Entirely fabricated statistics are the only ‘proof’ these people can offer and it is sadly a scare tactic created by people who want something to hide behind.  Scientific research consistently indicates absolutely no evidence to suggest that children of same-sex parents would be affected negatively in any way by their parent’s sexual orientation.

The questions of the moment seem to be ‘should gay couples be allowed to marry?’ and ‘won’t allowing same sex marriage cause harm to children in some way?’

I want to pose a new question to the people reading this, and I hope you will take a moment to consider it: isn’t it about time that we started asking how we can live in a society that questions the value of equality and considers discrimination against some people a viable choice?

Lorelei Fox-Roberts was raised in Longford but has been living in Dublin for nine years. She completed a degree in UCD in 2009 and later completed courses with DCU and Irish Academy of Public Relations. The original version of this piece first appeared on SpunOut.ie.

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Lorelei Fox-Roberts

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