Anthea McTeirnan: Cohabiting couples are legal strangers till death us do part

Broadside: When it comes to cohabitation, every which way you lose

‘Family is something in the heart’: above, a marriage equality mural in the Liberties area of Dublin in May. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

‘Family is something in the heart’: above, a marriage equality mural in the Liberties area of Dublin in May. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

 

Friday, May 22nd, 2015. Ireland votes in a Constitutional referendum on marriage equality. My youngest son, Naoise, posts this on Facebook: “Today, as we stand on the edge of history, we have been gifted the chance to help write a new future of love and inclusiveness, but far more than that, this referendum stands as a reminder of just how far we still have to go as a society.

“It is a reminder that in a world of ‘liberal democracy’, billions of people are still denied the most basic of human rights – that all rights apply equally. I am voting Yes and I hope with all my heart it passes.

“For me, this referendum has also served as another reminder, one that I have carried all my life; that in this society my family is not a family. We have watched the nation engage in debate on the very nature of love and family, yet it is a debate that has taken place completely outside the realm of any of my family experience.

“It has reinforced, once again for me, the fact that we have allowed marriage to define the entirety of human love and affection, and that I am not part of this.

“It is a reminder that my family draws its protection from the rights of cohabitation, and the love and caring that my family feels for one another is not reflected in any legal or constitutional right.

“I was born 21 years ago, but had I been born just a handful of decades earlier, my life would have been utterly different.

“Had my family then rejected marriage as we do now, my mother would have been taken from my father and made to slave in a corrupt religious institution while my brother and I would have been in turn taken from her and faced a life of adoption or state care.

“Today, marriage is primarily an expression of love, and we must celebrate all expressions of love, but we must remember that the legacy of marriage in the country is not one of love. It is a legacy of shackling women for daring to express their love and sexuality outside of the narrow confines placed on them by our society.

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“This referendum serves a chance to choose a real future, one that means real things for real people. I hope with the entirety of my existence that we get a Yes vote and take another step on the road to equality for all our brothers and sisters, but the point stands that no government has the right to dictate or preach who or how we should love.

It is another step for freedom for all people, but we must not forget, now and forever, that family is something in the heart and not just names on a piece of paper.” Naoise McTeirnan

I’ve never been a fan of nepotism, but for the above Facebook post I will make an exception.

Both my kids, who had to eat many dinners constructed from tinned tomatoes and bargain pasta as their mother and father saw out tight periods when she had no job, have earned it.

Having just given birth to a baby, Mum was out the workforce, but not able to claim unmarried mothers’ allowance because she cohabited.

At the same time, because Dad wasn’t married to the mother of the children he lived with, he couldn’t claim any tax allowances for her, either. Cohabitation – to misquote Clint Eastwood – every which way you lose.

Like any good bully, the Irish State is literally forcing your head down the toilet and flushing until you relent and say “I do”.

Well, we didn’t.

Now the kids are too old and independent to be “left” to anyone, so the remaining battle on the horizon is inheritance tax. It won’t amount to all that much, but in spite of living together for longer than the average bears, we will be treated as “legal strangers” till death us do part. Bring on that Supreme Court battle, because the undead one might yet be heading down the quays to take on the State.

When our LGBT brothers and sisters were being denied entry to the marital chamber, it was not the time or the place to have a discussion about choosing to structure our families around marriage. There was another job to be done. And thanks to Marriage Equality, and to the Irish electorate, it was done, and marriage may now “be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex”.

But now that everyone can get married, isn’t it time for everyone to be able to choose not to get married?

According to new figures from the Central Statistics Office, in 2014 36.3 per cent of all births were outside marriage or civil partnerships. That’s 24,490 children to you and me.

As one of my favourite people once wrote: “We must not forget that family is something in the heart and not just names on a piece of paper”.

That’s my boy.

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