Should gay and lesbian couples be allowed to adopt children?

 

Head2Head: Yes argues Catherine Egan-Morley, who says the law sees her as a stranger to her own son 

At 7.54pm on October 24th, 2005, my life changed. I became the parent of the beautiful Jacob Edward Egan-Morley. Like most other parents, I was there at his conception.

I attended every ante-natal visit, carried 2D scan pictures in my wallet to meetings, felt his kicks in the middle of the night and watched with a mixture of fear and excitement as he was brought into the world by his fabulous mother.

All through the pregnancy, my family spoke of the imminent arrival of their new grandson, nephew and cousin. My colleagues asked me if I was going to take the usual fortnight of parental leave to ease both his and his mother's transition into the family home. At the birth preparation classes, I listened intently to the advice and I became a pregnancy nerd - reading absolutely every book I could get my hands on.

I dreamed of him constantly, feared whether I could ever give him everything that he would ever need and worried whether I would be able to concentrate enough to drive his mother to the hospital when the time came. Every day, I am peacock-proud as I talk about my son, his latest achievement, his fabulous little smile. I am Jacob-Edward's parent, his Mammy (actually, like many toddlers, he calls me Ca when he's laughing, and Mama when he's upset).

So, Jacob has two parents: we both just happen to be women. My partner, parents, family, friends, neighbours, colleagues - and complete strangers in the street who saw Orla and me on the Late Late Show last October - think and act like I'm his parent. What is it that makes me different from any other parent in the world?

In the eyes of current Irish law, I am a stranger to Jacob, have no rights to maintain his well-being and he has no legal rights to call me his parent with all that that term entails in law. I am not a socially invisible lesbian parent, I am highly visible, in my community, in my work, everywhere; I am a legally invisible parent to my son.

I waited patiently for the Civil Unions Bill to be debated in the Dáil, believing that it would ultimately mean that I could legally formalise my relationship with my partner and my son. I believed the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste when they made their very public declarations of support for my family. Then I read the transcript of the proceedings of the debate with dismay, as each Government representative paradoxically spoke of the need to legislate in this area and at the same time by their actions ensured that it would not pass on to the next stage.

The impact of their decision to delay what could have been so important a step on the way to making me and many others legally visible was palpable in my home, not least because I actually believe that the time for change has come. I see it in people's reactions to my own lovely little family.

So what does equality mean in Ireland today? It means that we do not discriminate on the basis of gender, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, age, race, membership of the Traveller community, religion or disability.

Yet everyone gets to have an opinion on the capacity of a lesbian or gay person to be a parent and the State gets to discriminate against me and my son. Civil union is about equality, about ensuring that the rights and responsibilities of a long term relationship are the same for all of us. Family, and children, are at the core of these rights and responsibilities. Until I have the right to be legally bound to my partner and son, the State's commitment to equality is only verbiage.

It would seem that when most people think about adoption rights for lesbian and gay couples, they think of adoptions by strangers. But as I write this, hundreds of already existing lesbian and gay families like my own are reading stories, tidying up toys and creeping down the stairs. Fianna Fáil TD Charlie O'Connor summed it up perfectly in the Dáil debate last week when he said "good parents are not ordained by their sexual orientation but are adults who love, care, educate and provide for their children".

Should I be allowed to adopt my own son? Should lesbian and gay couples be allowed to adopt other people's children? Some might say this is a matter for the conscience, others might say that this is a matter for legislation. I say it is a matter for both, that a legislature with the confidence to protect the rights of each and every citizen can and should act upon their conscience and support the creation of warm, loving families.

• Catherine Egan-Morley lives in Co Cork and is executive director of the independent social policy consultancy agency Clarity: Research, Development and Training.

No argues Tom O'Gorman, who says children are better off with a mother and a father

For some people the issue of gay adoption is very straightforward. If heterosexuals are permitted to adopt children, then homosexuals must also be allowed to do so. It is a simple matter of justice.

However, this approaches the issue in an adult-centred as distinct from a child-centred way. Gay adoption, like all adoption, is about children and their welfare, and nothing else. In other words, this whole debate must centre on what children need and not on what adults, whether homosexual or heterosexual, need.

The debate, therefore, needs to focus on the following question: in terms of parenting what do children require in order to stand the best chance of flourishing in life? Specifically, does it make any difference whether a child is raised by opposite-sex parents or same-sex parents?

This is a very practical question. It has no moral connotations. It does not ask whether it is immoral to place a child with same-sex parents nor does it ask whether it is immoral, to refuse to place children with same-sex parents. It merely asks what are the real-world consequences likely to be when children are not placed in a home with opposite sex parents?

In a way, the gay adoption debate is a sub-set of the much wider debate on family structure, a debate which asks whether it really makes any difference whether a child is raised in one family form as distinct from another. For example, does it make any difference whether a child is raised by one parent rather than two, or by two married parents, or in a stepfamily, or by cohabiting parents?

Here's what Unicef had to say about the matter in a report issued last month called Report Card 7: an Overview of Child Well-being in Rich Countries:

"The use of data on the proportion of children living in single-parent families and stepfamilies as an indicator of well-being may seem unfair and insensitive. Plenty of children in two-parent families are damaged by their parents' relationships; plenty of children in single-parent and stepfamilies are growing up secure and happy. Nor can the terms 'single-parent families' and 'stepfamilies' do justice to the many different kinds of family unit that have become common in recent decades. But at the statistical level there is evidence to associate growing up in single-parent families and stepfamilies with greater risk to well-being - including a greater risk of dropping out of school, of leaving home early, of poorer health, of low skills and of low pay.

"Furthermore such risks appear to persist even when the substantial effect of increased poverty levels in single-parent and stepfamilies have been taken into account".

Unicef does not address itself to gay parenting, but it does admit that family structure matters. Of course, it's possible for a supporter of gay adoption to agree with Unicef and to admit that ideally a child should have two parents, even two married parents, and that these parents should stay together for at least the time it takes to raise their children. But they might then argue that it makes no difference whether the parents are a man or a woman, or whether they are two men or two women.

In effect this argument says that mothers and fathers don't really matter and that two fathers or two mothers are just as good for children as a mother and a father, a very big claim to make. Alternatively, it is to claim that a man can "play" the role of a mother as well as a woman can, or that a woman can "play" the role of a father as well as a man can. But this is to deny sexual complementarity. It is to deny that there are real differences between the sexes as opposed to ones that are simply the result of environment.

The burden of proof here rests with those who advocate gay adoption and who say it doesn't really matter whether a child is raised by a loving same-sex couple or a loving opposite sex couple just so long as they are loving. This is a claim that must be well supported by the evidence before society can agree that it really doesn't matter. Otherwise we are simply engaged in social experimentation, with individual children as the subjects.

And it is no good to point to studies which suggest that it doesn't make any discernible difference. As Prof Linda Waite stressed in the recent Zappone/ Gilligan case, these studies are badly flawed. In her ruling in this case, Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne agreed with Waite and said the studies, such as they are, are inconclusive with respect to gay parenting and child-rearing. Until they are conclusive, society must continue to favour prospective mothers and fathers in adoption decisions. A child-centred approach to this issue demands as much.

• Tom O'Gorman is a researcher at the Iona Institute

 Online:join the debate at www.ireland.com

Last week, Edward Horgan and Frank Groome debated the question: "Should we let US troops land at Shannon on route to Iraq?" Here is an edited selection of your comments

YES: As an Irish-American and a member of the US armed services that has made multiple trips through Shannon for a multitude of reasons, it hurts to see Ireland becoming a country that ignores any of the good the US continues to do for all the people of the world. Protecting those who can't protect themselves, providing money, food and supplies to those in need. Are we wrong because we believe in freedom and democracy? By the way, I had been to Shannon four times before I got to go past the terminal and meet the wonderful people of Ireland and see the beautiful country of my ancestors who had come to America for an opportunity to prosper and live in freedom. Americans have not forgotten you in the past, please don't forget us in the future. - Jim, United States

NO: I lived in Ireland for a couple of months this past summer and I love it so much that I don't want to see it get involved in any way in this quagmire of injustice. If they want to get their troops to the war-zone let them find another way! - Lisa, United States

YES: It is necessary to separate the two issues here. The first is that of the adventures by the US-led forces in Iraq which were unjustified and cynical . . . The second is our support for the US and its culture, its business and investment clout on which Ireland is so highly reliant.

It is hypocritical in the extreme for Edward Horgan and others to live off and accept the consequences of life in our open and "western-looking" economy while stridently denouncing the US use of Shannon for some of its worldwide military operations. We don't have to like or agree with its military strategies but we are obliged to permit this, assuming we also accept the fact of life of living in our open economy. To do otherwise clouds the real debate on Iraq in a welter of pious and meaningless phrases designed to sway the gullible! - Peter MacNamara, Switzerland

NO: I think the "clouding of debate on Iraq in a welter of pious and meaningless phrases" began at the UN in February 2003 or even earlier, with pious and meaningless phrases such as: "The gravity of this moment is matched by the gravity of the threat that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction pose to the world" and: "In truth, Saddam Hussein had a massive clandestine nuclear weapons program that covered several different techniques to enrich uranium, including electromagnetic isotope separation, gas centrifuge, and gas diffusion . . . "

Those pious and meaningless words, as we now know them to be, were uttered by Gen Colin Powell to the UN as he made out the case for the illegal, destructive, murderous US attack on Iraq. And Ireland, with her own brand of pious and meaningless phrases, such as "diplomatic assurances" and "we deplore rendition" shares a responsibility for every innocent life lost to the cowardice, inhumanity and rapine done in all our names. There's nothing either pious or meaningless about that fact.- John O'Driscoll, Ireland

YES: Clare is all about welcome. Shannon has welcomed troops, politicians, diplomats etc. down through the years. George Bush, Richard Nixon. JFK, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Daniel Ortega, Idi Amin, even Fintan O'Toole himself found welcome in Clare. Shannon airport will continue to do what it has always done: hold out the hand of friendship to all. - GOL, Ireland

NO: Clare holds out the hand of friendship to all?? Even young people who have been manipulated into going to a country to kill innocent women and children for a less than noble cause. Perhaps Clare should extend its hand of friendship a bit further and be in solidarity with humanity. Not only for the good of innocent victims in Iraq, but also for the victims passing through Shannon who may never make it home and who if they do may well have nightmares for life. - Brian, Ireland