NEXT year, on May 5 2020, The Children & Families Relationship Act will actually become law.
For many families this will end five years of frustration, worry and exasperation as it was actually enacted by the then Minister for Justice on April 6, 2015, a month before the historic Yes Equality Referendum, so it has been a long wait to this date for families affected, including my own.
When the Children and Families Relationship Act was signed into law back in 2015, it was at the height of the Marriage Equality referendum campaign. Same sex parenting was up for public debate and our children saw their family structure undermined and devalued on posters on every street corner around the city. Needless to say in this context and given the years of campaigning which had resulted in the law being developed, it was a truly joyous moment for us when the law was passed. This meant that regardless of the referendum result, our family would be protected and our son could have both of us recognised as his legal parents and named on his birth certificate.
We knew then that the law would take at least one year to commence, as this lead time was needed so no-one already pregnant would fall foul of the law. However we never imagined that it would take five years for the law to be fully commenced and that our children will young adolescents by the time the final parts of the Act commence on 5 th May 2020.
The signing of the commencement orders for Parts 2 & 3 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015, by Minister Simon Harris this month, was a long-awaited realisation of our child’s right to have both of his parents legally recognised. For our son, he remains blissfully unaware of the significance of this moment and that his two mums will only officially be just that, when we can apply to the court to reregister his birth next May.
However, the moment is not lost on us, his parents; it was hard fought for and monumental for our family. So five years and one month later the law will actually catch up with the realities of life for some Irish parents and their children.
On May 5, 2020 families around the country may be celebrating but unfortunately though this is just half the story for us, our other child won’t be covered under the provisions of the Act, and so like many other families like ours, we are waiting for broader legislation to be published which recognise diverse families in a modern Ireland.
The families who won’t be celebrating are those not covered by this law because the Act does not cover surrogacy and other arrangements used by same-sex couples to have children for example, those that didn’t access a fertility clinic to conceive. These families remain in legal limbo, which can have far reaching consequences for them, including in the areas of medical consent, citizenship, passports and inheritance.
This means that without this much needed legislation it fails to meet the rights, interests and needs of children born to couples already and into the future.
Legislation governing assisted human reproduction and surrogacy issues has been promised for a number of years but delivery has been slow. LGBT Ireland in collaboration with many of the families affected, have set out detailed legal proposals to Minister Harris and his Department which could recognise intended parents while also protecting every child’s right to information on their genetic identity, where available.
Myself and Dr Lydia Bracken, Assistant Dean of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at the University of Limerick outlined the case on the Assisted Human Reproduction Bill 2017 (AHR Bill), to the Joint Oireachtas Health Committee at the beginning of this year and made a number of significant points, one being that the proposed law for the regulation of surrogacy in Ireland is not appropriate as it ignores the reality of surrogacy in Ireland and there are two major omissions in the Bill relate to children who have already been born through surrogacy and international surrogacy as there is no provision in the Bill to recognise children who have already been born through surrogacy. This is significant as Ireland is one of the highest users of surrogacy in the world and so many children have been born through surrogacy to Irish parents. There is no opportunity for the parents to be retrospectively recognised as legal parents in the proposed Bill and these needs to be addressed.
We need further law reform in Ireland so that children can establish a legal parental relationship to both of their parents who care for them. This is in the best interest of children and needs to be urgently progressed. When we voted in the marriage equality referendum, we voted for every relationship to be treated equally. However, it is clear our legislation still needs to evolve and catch up with the realities of family life in Ireland.