(l-r) Dr. Jane Pillinger, Senator Zappone, Paula Fagan, Patrick Stokes.
Good afternoon everyone. I am delighted to be with you all here today to launch this ground-breaking piece of research entitled LGBT Parents in Ireland– the first survey of its kind in Ireland to date. As I read the sub-title of the research, the phrase that jumped out at me was [LGBT people in Ireland] who are planning parenthood. My first thought was – these are a group of people who are as visionary, inspiring, radical and courageous as those who set up the well-known American ‘Planned Parenthood’ organisation so many, many years ago. ‘Planned parenthood’ still has for many – radical and indeed ethical resonances. My second thought was ‘planned parenthood for LGBT(esp T) people’! - we in Ireland are being transported over a threshold with this research. We are in new territory – it feels more and more like a land with the fullness of freedom. This is a piece of work that is quietly revolutionary. Long live the revolution.
And so I would like to commend LGBT Diversity for undertaking this important work and complement the authors, Dr. Jane Pillinger and Paula Fagan. In reading all of the people involved in organising, advising and doing the research, being particularly aware of the wide geographic span of LGBT Diversity, I did think that this work is a prime example of how ‘we are better together.’ This co-operative effort between researchers, research participants, academics, advocates and activists, is creating something like a ‘commons’ – a place where all are welcome to come to rest, to be nourished, or just to be in the present, in the now-time, and to celebrate what we are achieving together, that no one of us, nor one organisation can invent or create on its own. And, this becomes even more important, I think, when we begin to move from the research, the evidence-base to, as the document says ‘progress the rights of and services for LGBT parents’ in Ireland today. As a lawmaker, my focus must be on the recommendations for action and implementation, knowing that these are rooted in robust research and the reality and goodness of the lives of LGBT parents. Special thanks are due by all of us to the authors of this research Dr Jane Pillinger and Ms Paula Fagan – their expertise, skill, creativity and empathy, has ensured the significant import of this research for the lgbt sector/community and for our lawmakers and policy-makers.
Like many parents, LGBT people become parents as a result of a great desire to raise and care for the next generation. This is pure goodness it seems to me – it doesn’t get better than that. This report is comprised of the voices of LGBT parents and those who are planning to parent (against odds that are still present, and that this report will help us to ameliorate in time to come). The report is a vital record of their unique experiences and perspectives.
When Civil Partnership legislation was enacted in 2010, crucially the rights and responsibilities in relation to children were not included. Subsequently the current Programme for Government committed to address any anomalies or omissions in the Civil Partnership Act including those relating to children. Yet for now, the gaps remain leaving LGBT parents and children without legal protections. And I must say that I felt/feel a sense of sadness, disturbance at the fact that the study revealed a gap in the legal knowledge of research participants - ‘despite no legal provision to do so, significant numbers planned to become joint legal guardians or joint adoptive parents.’ The more this knowledge gap is filled, the more people we will have agitating for change.
This timely report comes as the debate about marriage equality is due before the Constitutional Convention in April. Those opposed to marriage equality often choose to ignore the fact that LGBT people are currently raising children in families up and down this country. These wonderful young people are rendered invisible by the law and by those who would discriminate against them and their families. This report shows that 46% of respondents had experienced discrimination as an LGBT parent in the past five years. These families have voices and this report lets us hear them, as one lesbian mother put it, ‘As a non-biological parent, there is no official place for you, you are invisible’. LGBT families exist and they must be equally protected in our laws. This is a critical piece of research that must be/will be added to the growing research on children within LGBT families that our opponents will not be able to dismiss or avoid.
Currently, LGBT couples cannot apply to be considered as adoptive parents despite a single LGBT person being permitted to do so. Last year we saw a landmark ruling in Northern Ireland with the ban on lesbian/gay and unmarried couples adopting children being lifted. The ruling brought Northern Ireland law in line with the UK where couples who are not married, those in civil partnerships and same sex couples are permitted to apply to be considered as adoptive parents. The best interests of the child must be the primary consideration when finding loving homes for children who need them.
As well as the urgent need for legal recognition of LGBT people as parents there is a pressing need for legal certainly and protection in the area of assisted reproduction to protect parents of all identities. Over one third of those surveyed had become parents by way of assisted reproductive technologies, with many of those through private clinics. This sector must be regulated in a way that is inclusive of LGBT people and their aspirations to be parents.
Speaking on LGBT equality in November of last year, Minister Alan Shatter indicated that he would address many of these issues in a Family Relationships and Children Bill. Such a bill is not currently on the legislative programme but I will raise this in the Seanad, asking that it be put on the next legislative programme this Autumn.
We recently amended our Constitution to ensure that a child-centre approach is at the heart of our laws and public policy and I whole-heartedly support the recommendation of this report that children from LGBT families be recognised, considered and included in Government policies and state services. No child should be discriminated against because the sexual identity or gender identity of their parents. Recognition of family diversity is a truly child centred approach.
Congratulations again to all who were involved in the production of this research.