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Colum Kenny: A loving home, gay or straight, is what a child needs

Sunday Independent, 11th August 2011

Bishop Christopher Jones's comments on gay marriage don't address the real issue, writes Colum Kenny

An ageing Catholic bishop and a noisy gay rights group spoke up for children last week. And each did so in the name of the family.

There has long been one excuse or another for not delivering on political promises to protect children's rights better in the Irish Constitution. "Unless we do it, to my mind all the rest is just talk", said Mary O'Rourke, former chair of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children, at the Merriman Summer School last Thursday.

And there will be no referendum on children's rights this year, even though other promised referendums are going ahead. Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has claimed that the last government did too little of the necessary legal groundwork to allow a referendum to happen yet.

It is the children of gay couples in particular who are on the mind of Max Krzy- zanowski (39). Max won the 'Mr Gay World' title in 2009, being described then by its organisers as "a classic Irish lad".

Last weekend, Max helped to organise a protest in Dublin calling for gay marriage. One of the reasons that his group, LGBT Noise, is not satisfied with civil partnership for gays is that civil partners cannot, as a couple, adopt a child.

This can leave the child of a deceased gay parent less secure than the child of a heterosexual couple, with the surviving partner having no legal right to a say in the medical or educational care of a child whom they may have parented from birth.

Although Irish gay couples recently won legal recognition for their long-term unions, civil partnership is not the same as marriage. It is claimed by campaigners that there are about 150 anomalies between civil partnership and civil marriage.

LGBT stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. LGBT Noise says: "One of the most outrageous aspects of the Civil Partnership scheme is the complete lack of any rights for gay parents and their children."

The crucial word here is "parents" -- plural. An individual gay who happens to be a parent has the same rights as any single parent.

But a gay couple has lesser rights than a married heterosexual couple. If one gay partner who is a parent dies, then the relationship between his or her child and the surviving partner has not the same status in law as it would have if the couple were a married man and wife.

That is because the Irish Constitution has been interpreted by judges to confer full family rights only on married couples. It requires a referendum to change it.

In Ireland, as the Citizens Information Board points out, unmarried couples may not jointly adopt a child: "A joint adoption by a couple is only possible where that couple is married and living together."

This rule prevents an unmarried couple from jointly adopting a child even where one of the parties is the biological parent of a test-tube or other baby.

And that is not necessarily a bad thing, according to the Bishop of Elphin Christopher Jones (75). He thinks that conferring on same-sex couples the same status as heterosexual married couples would "undermine marriage in my view".

As it is, he believes, many children are "born losers", brought into a world of broken families and too little love. Bishop Jones, who is president of the Catholic marriage advisory group Accord, wrote last week in the Irish Independent: "When a culture of marriage weakens, an ever-growing number of children will never experience the inestimable value of being raised by a loving, married mother and father."

The celibate bishop added: "This is not to say that children cannot thrive outside of the marital family, but if we really value childhood, then we must do what we can to try and ensure that children are raised by the fathers and mothers who bring them into the world."

Gay activists point out that many gay couples already provide a stable and loving home environment for children, adopted by one of the partners or fostered by both, even if one or both of the child's natural parents are never there.

Bishop Jones has previously claimed that the media unfairly single out the Catholic Church when it comes to reporting child abuse. But just last week, his own church authorities in Rome released documents that appeared to conflate the distinction between adult homosexuality and attraction to boys.

Within Ireland, confusion or prejudice about the difference between the two has not been helped by the David Norris affair. It cannot be stated clearly enough that sexual intercourse between mature adults and underage boys or girls is always child abuse.

Any ambiguity feeds prejudice. It also increases the likelihood of opposition to adoption rights for gay couples.

Gay activists can also be righteous, and driven by a sense of entitlement. Children become weapons in culture wars between right and left, conservative and liberal.

Too often, adults want children as some sort of fashion accessory or statement.

It is a faultline that runs right though all forms of parenting. Adults assert the right to have children when those future children have no guarantee of their own rights to a stable and loving home environment.

Right now, a collapsed economy, with associated unemployment and redundancies, is a greater threat to family values than a few gays on the streets of Dublin demanding the right to be married in Ireland on the same basis as any heterosexual couple.

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“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning . . . and the most disquieting loneliness." 

Alex Haley, Author of Roots 





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