No Democratic Deficit: Children and Family Relationships Bill has had a Lengthy Gestation Period

Those opposed to marriage equality and same-sex parenting are targeting the Children and Family Relationships Bill 2015, claiming that it is being pushed through by the government. This is disingenuous and fails to take account of the lengthy gestation period (no pun intended) that the legislation underwent before being debated by the Houses of the Oireachtas. I know this because I was one of the legal experts invited to Leinster House almost a year ago, on 9th April 2014, to engage in pre-legislative scrutiny of the General Scheme of the Bill with the members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. It has been claimed that the Bill has not been adequately scrutinised, but indeed it was. I would like to assure the public that the Bill’s provisions were indeed ‘pored over’ by me prior to my arrival at Leinster House, and the advice given by myself and the other medical and legal experts that day during a lengthy consultation helped to identify problems and recommend changes to the legislation to prevent unforeseen consequences for children.

The version of the Bill that the Oireachtas hopes to pass within weeks can most likely be passed in that time because it is the final, legally watertight version of the Bill that has been modified to reflect the child-centred changes recommended by the experts a year ago. The Bill also adheres to best practice worldwide in the context of donor-assisted human reproduction (DAHR). In September 2014 the Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald TD, made it clear that the expert opinion provided by myself and others had contributed to the careful refinement of the Bill when she stated that she had “listened to the views expressed in the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality’s consultation.” The Bill certainly cannot be seen as a haphazard attempt at legislating for families.

Adoption

Marriage equality and same-sex parenting opponents disingenuously claim that the Bill demonstrates that the Government does not care whether one is raised by one’s own biological parents or “two men or two women who may or may not be related to you”. Many adopted children nationwide are being       raised perfectly well by men and women biologically unrelated to them, so this preference for biological parents is most disrespectful to the child-rearing capability of all adoptive parents. Further, whether a child is raised by two men or two women who are related or unrelated to the child, an ever-increasing body of evidence shows that same-sex parenting is not detrimental to child welfare.

Donor-Assisted Human Reproduction

The opponents of progress and inclusiveness vehemently claim that “the person who gives you half your identity is apparently not your parent just because the Government says so”, and this is simply untrue because the reason a donor is not treated as the parent of a child conceived via their donated egg or sperm is precisely because the donor intends to donate her/his genetic material to enable a loving, committed couple who would not otherwise be able to have a family to conceive a child. Indeed, to donate is to give something away for a worthy or charitable cause.

The opponents even resort to disinformation, claiming that “in the case of egg-and-sperm donation, two mothers can be registered as the only legal parents, effectively eradicating the concept of genetic parent”. This assertion is highly sensationalist. Where a lesbian couple conceives a child via insemination of donor sperm, the child will have a genetic link to whichever member of the couple is inseminated with the sperm and ultimately gives birth to it, so there is no eradication of the concept of genetic parentage because the birth mother will always be the mother. Further, it is not uncommon for a lesbian couple to use the fertilised embryo of the woman who will not be carrying the child so that, in a sense both women can be genetically related to the child, although the woman in whom such an embryo is implanted will have but an epigenetic connection to the child. Nonetheless, there is certainly no eradication of the concept of genetic parent.

Marriage Equality

Dissatisfied with the denunciation of their arguments surrounding the 2015 Bill, the opponents then decide to launch into an attack on marriage equality because this is really what they take issue with. Objections to the 2015 Bill’s provisions are but a smokescreen for their moral repugnance of, and inherent belief in the wrongness of, gay and lesbian relationships. The opponents of progress and inclusiveness use case law of the European Court of Human Rights to highlight that Ireland is not under an obligation under the European Convention on Human Rights 1950 to introduce same-sex marriage. While this is correct, they neglect to mention that Article 53 of the Convention provides that “it is of course open to Member States to provide for rights more generous than those guaranteed by the Convention” so if the Irish people choose to embrace marriage equality under the Irish Constitution on 22nd May it is no concern of the European Court of Human Rights. This is the reason why countries such as France, England and Wales, Scotland, Spain and Portugal certainly were not acting in breach of the Convention when they legalised marriage equality.

The introduction of the Children and Family Relationships Bill 2015 will be no democratic disaster; it will be the result of painstaking work by our legislators and their advisors that has been on-going since Alan Shatter first introduced the General Scheme of the Bill in January 2014.

No Democratic Deficit: Children and Family Relationships Bill has had a Lengthy Gestation Period

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