Minister for Justice and Equality Alan Shatter has said his proposals for family law reforms will shortly be considered by Cabinet, meaning non-biological parents of children could be legally recognised in Ireland.
Mr Shatter told Marriage Equality's Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) Parenting in Ireland conference at the Royal Society of Physicians today it was a time of change in the country, particularly with rising numbers of couples becoming parents through surrogacy and assisted human reproduction.
“Our current laws do not cater adequately for many children living in particular family forms,” he said. “The process of change will be difficult.”
Mr Shatter said the first-of-a-kind survey for Ireland, the LGBT Parenthood Study undertaken by Dr Jane Pillinger and Paula Fagan, revealed the diversity of the parental situations.
The survey, which included 153 LGBT parents, showed almost 50 per cent experienced negative attitudes in their roles as parents in the last five years.
The report also found almost one-fifth of those undertaking parenting roles, predominantly lesbians, had no legal status as parents.
“I want to rectify the imbalance in parental rights between the parent who is biologically linked to the child and the other parent who does not have this link,” Mr Shatter said. “It makes no sense that the second parent would be a stranger in law and that the child would not have secure rights in terms of inheritance and succession.”
Mr Shatter said he noted the study conclusion that the major factor limiting for LGBT couples becoming parents through options such as adoption, fostering and surrogacy were legal barriers.
Mr Shatter said his proposals would shortly be considered by his Cabinet colleagues and then submitted Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality with the aim to have the legislation resolved before the same-sex marriage referendum next year.
Asked if same sex couples would be able to jointly adopt as part of this legislation, Mr Shatter said he could not confirm if the draft would be ready in time for the publication of the Bill.
Anthony Kinahan and his partner of almost 15 years Barry Gardiner said they had always wanted to have children. They became civil partners in 2007 and foster carers in recent years.
“But as a couple we’re not allowed to adopt. It’s a contradiction,” Mr Kinahan said. “It’s like a dagger in the heart. We go to bed every night knowing the change (of law) can’t come quick enough.”
Mr Kinahan said he and Mr Gardiner, who live in Drogheda, had never been faced with any discrimination from the public for their sexual orientation. “The law needs to catch up with the people of Ireland,” he said.
Mr Gardiner, who works as a special needs assistant, said it hurt deeply when people commented he would make a “great dad” but the laws prevented him from fulfilling his dream.
“I’ve always wanted to be a parent. It’s heartbreaking,” he said.
Mother of four Angela O’Connell said she had no legal right to her two youngest children as she had no biological link.
Ms O’Connell said she had fostered her youngest child when he was just three days old with her former long-term lesbian partner. The couple had tried unsuccessfully to adopt three times.
“We were devastated. There’s no legal ties to me. It’s shocking and appalling as a parent and for the child,” she said.
Ms O’Connell said a recent trip to the emergency department with her youngest highlighted the importance of legal rights and consent for all parents and children.