Civil Partnership Bill is little more than an institutionalised apartheid

 

OPINION:The Civil Partnership Bill provides a semblance of legal recognition for gay couples and it affords some new rights – but it’s not marriage, and that’s the point, writes ALAN FLANAGAN

SO IT’S begun. Wedding season – the time in everyone’s life when you must watch your smart successful friends pair off and begin Stage Two – has finally hit. One quick proposal between two good friends of mine and my social calendar for the next decade is ruined.

I don’t mind or begrudge my friends. But as bad as being single among the soon-to-be-wed can be, being gay and single is that much more infuriating.

Having spent the opening years of my 20s clambering to a place where my straight friends and I are on an equal pegging, I’m now forced to watch them merrily skip on to the next socially accepted section of living, while I remain trapped in the box marked “gay, unmarried (but lovely)”.

I’m halfway across the world right now in Ethiopia, but I’ve been observing the back and forth debate on gay marriage nonetheless, and especially the proposed introduction of civil partnership in Ireland. And while living in a country where homosexuality is illegal leaves me under no illusions about the freedoms we enjoy in Ireland, I still find it a bit of a back-handed slap in the face.

Yes, it’s a semblance of legal recognition for gay couples, and yes it affords us some rights that we didn’t have before. But it’s not a marriage and that’s the point.

The key arguments against full gay marriage to date seem to consist of two main threads – natural law and tradition.

Natural law is fairly straightforward: propagation of the species is dependent on procreation. This argument, of course, falls down in two regards: firstly, it discounts the right of married couples to not have (or not be able to have) children; and secondly, the world is an over-populated place as it is. Survival of the species may be dependent on childless marriages.

Tradition is a more convoluted one. It’s mainly based on the idea that marriage has always been an agreed partnership of man and woman and, as marriage is fundamental to society, to change its definition would change society. It also governs the opinions on same-sex adoption, in that raising children in a non-traditional environment can be harmful to them.

But defining same-sex marriage as a complete sea change in society does a lot of disservice to another so-called (at the time) liberal agenda: women’s rights. We no longer consider men and women unfathomably different, and we accept an equality of the sexes as a given. With this rightful homogeneity of the genders we have a logical follow-up: same-sex marriages would probably be very similar to most equal marriages we admire today.

And on the subject of same-sex adoption, I’m in full agreement that children shouldn’t be guinea pigs in social reform. But what’s more troubling is the idea that you would raise a child in a society where, once they figure out that they are gay, they realise that they cannot avail of the life their parents did. Same-sex adoption creates a society where these one-in-10 (at conservative estimates) children can actually believe that they are equal.

So as I watch the marriage of my good friend – a marriage which hasn’t plans for children any time soon, which is completely non-religious, and which couldn’t be less traditional if it tried – I know I’m going to start to feel those pangs of ‘why not me?’. I don’t mind being different. But we’ve outgrown the times when we denied citizens their rights based on how they were born. We haven’t necessarily shaken off our racism, or our sexism, but we have sworn to legislate against these things – not for them.

The passing of this Bill represents institutionalised apartheid. And it sends a clear message to every child across the country who’s thinking of coming out, that the life they face is not only fraught with emotional knocks but that, even if they do their very best to be like everyone else, they will still be unable to avail of the same rights as their parents. And providing less for our children than we do for ourselves is the true threat to society – not gay marriage.


Alan Flanagan is currently based in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia. He is an NGO worker and gay rights activist

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