Anthea McTeirnan: Still waiting after 30 years for a Census that includes me

Not giving people who organise their lives outside of marriage a box to tick on the Census form is not really acceptable.

Last year in Ireland, almost 4,000 children were born to parents who live together but are not married.

Last year in Ireland, almost 4,000 children were born to parents who live together but are not married.

 

I’ve been “single” for almost three decades. So has my partner. Some may say he has been lucky, but our children never got to be part of a “family” or see their parents’ relationship recognised.

This Sunday, three of us will sit down at the kitchen table to do a bit of form-filling.

Each of us - myself, my partner, the son who still has the pleasure of living with us - will have to answer this question: “What is your current marital status?”

We will be able to choose from seven options. They are: 1 Single (never married or never in a same-sex civil partnership) 2 Married (first marriage) 3 Re-married 4 In a registered same-sex civil partnership 5 Separated 6 Divorced 7 Widowed.

The Proclamation of 1916, which this census is timed to honour, stated that the Republic guaranteed to cherish “all of the children of the nation equally”.

Yet 100 years after that noble call was issued, the Irish State is sending out a document to everyone residing within its borders on Sunday, April 24th, that leaves a whole swathe of its citizens uncherished and their life choices uncounted.

Of course, we don’t know exactly how many, because nobody has ever bothered to ask.

Census 2016 asks: “What is your current marital status?” It gives me and my partner seven choices and we fit none of them. The only box we can tick is “single”.

We have been together for 29 years, but the census says we are single. We live in the same home, but the census says we are single. We have two adult children, but the census says we are single.

The census says we are single and the State will charge us tax at 33 per cent on inheritance over €15,075. A surviving spouse or surviving civil partner is completely exempt and, no matter how valuable any inheritance, will not be liable to pay tax on it.

As for pension transfer? In our case, forget it.

Let’s think of “the children” first, of course. Their parents are not married, and given that the family is based on marriage - “The State pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of Marriage, on which the Family is founded”, says Article 41 of the Constitution - they do not belong to any family at all. Never have. Those children have now grown up. Without their family being counted. Ever.

The Central Statistics Office has said that given the recession, it did not have the budget to test new questions for this census. Times have been tough and a nation must surely cut its cloth to suit its measure?

We will just have to settle for the one change to this census that asks people if they are in a civil partnership. (This question was accommodated after the introduction of the Civil Partnership Bill in 2010 but before we voted to introduce same-sex marriage in 2015.)

Time and tide may wait for no one, but recessions come round with great regularity and in the 30-odd years that the census has asked little old co-habiting me to confirm that I am “single”, there has been the odd period of perceived boom when the State could surely have splurged on making a few changes to census questions. Just to keep up with the times, like.

Not giving people who organise their lives outside of marriage a box to tick on the census form is not really acceptable. And don’t blame austerity. Some of us have been shacked up in unwed bliss for decades. It’s not exactly new.

In 2014, more than one-third (36.3 per cent) of births were outside marriage. Some 57.7 per cent of those births outside marriage were to cohabiting parents.

In 2013, there were 6,406 births, of which 3,685 were to parents who live together but are not married. In the eyes of the State and of the census it is about to issue on April 24th, those unmarried, cohabiting parents are “single”.

Last year in Ireland, almost 4,000 children were born to parents who live together but are not married. They and their parents remain in limbo - and even the Catholic Church has abolished limbo. The census needs to change, then the Republic can count all of its citizens equally. You can’t put a price on that.

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