Having loosely followed the yes and no sides for the upcoming marriage referendum, the argument that has annoyed me most on the no side, is the ‘please think of the children’ aspect of the debate. It brings an emotional aspect to a debate that is about extending the right to marry for people of the same sex.
The relationship of church and state in Ireland has long been documented and studied. Despite many political attempts to separate the two, at a parochial level it appears to be harder to separate. The inclusion of the traditional family unit in this debate as essential to the fabric of society is demonstrative of this. The marriage referendum is challenging our ideas about the traditional family unit, but perhaps, it is time that this is challenged. Irish society is failing children, and pinning our hopes of redemption on the retention of the traditional family as the saviour of Irish children is not only misleading, it is dangerous.
In the context of dealing with the effect the power of the Catholic Church had on society in Ireland through the majority of the 1900’s – is it any wonder that we have a conservative policy hangover? Given this landscape, the family, as the cornerstone of Catholic Social Teaching, is not going to be restructured easily through legislation. And it is not going to be restructured though legislation, some families might be. And it won’t be restructured in a quantitative sense, only in relabelling of gender roles. Even though the majority of individuals, couples and families lives will not be affected, and the change to people affected will be positive in terms of rights – the very notion that the family may be restructured has divided a nation. Well, the media at least.
There are 1,500 children in direct provision centres, 12% of our children are living in consistent poverty, there are unaccounted deaths of children from mother and child homes from the last century. As a society, if we really cared about our children, we would be more flexible about their needs and rights. The loss of the one parent payment in July will disproportionately affect families already at a higher risk of poverty. The ‘won’t somebody think of the children’ argument in this instance is rooted in the economic needs of children and coming from underfunded, over pressured NGO’s with no platform. The solution to these issues is opening a rights discourse, and responding to concerns about children’s rights with broadening the debate about rights. The response to emerging family structures is not to use non-conforming as a stick to beat them with, but as an opportunity for change, for rights expansion and a flexible approach.
The conservative ideology underpinning the no side and it’s emerging rhetoric is reluctant to leave behind traditional values about how families are made up, is also highlighting our reluctance to redefine our understanding of gender roles. However, just because your mammy isn’t female, doesn’t mean you don’t have a mammy. Similarly with daddy. Parenting culture is inheirited and not gifted by gender. It is not something inherent in you as a woman or a man that makes you a mammy or a daddy. What are we really worried about here – that with no mammy to remind us, we will leave the emersion on indefinitely?
Now we are at a critical juncture in our societal development. We have a choice, do we build an Ireland based on equality for all or do we refuse to embrace the new challenges facing us… in my opinion, its time Ireland went on a detox.