The Irish government has now set the date for the referendum on equal marriage, to be held some time during 2015. The debate has been rather contentious so far and will no doubt continue to be so; however, the debate has been marred by the fact that the opponents to equal marriage have been focusing on nothing more than a red herring. Worse again, is that they have done so largely unchallenged by both debate moderators and even equal marriage proponents. Marriage equality and same-sex parenting are two completely separate issues and should be treated as such. The reason why is rather simple: even if gay couples were barred from having children via IVF and surrogacy, they would still want to get married.
For the sake of argument I will grant the fact that natural ties are important for children. I grant this simply to show how even if the marriage equality opponents are correct in this, it is still an invalid reason to oppose marriage equality. Opponents argue that same-sex marriage will deliberately break the natural ties between children and their biological parents, this is completely false.
It is predicated on the assumption that introducing marriage equality will somehow increase the number of children born into same-sex families, there is no evidence to suggest this is the case. Gay couples, have been, are, and will continue to have children whether or not marriage equality is introduced. It would be ludicrous to oppose equal marriage based on this false assumption.
If opponents of equal marriage were truly concerned about the natural ties between children and parents they would be focusing on the methods used non-biological parents to have children: IVF and surrogacy. However these methods are overwhelming used by heterosexual couples. The debate about surrogacy and IVF is an important one but it is not solely an LGBT issue and it certainly isn’t a marriage equality issue because if the Irish government banned both IVF and surrogacy gay couples would still want to get married. And as these two methods would no longer be available to gay couples it just goes to show how marriage equality and parenting are totally separate issues. If marriage equality opponents are concerned with natural ties then they should focus their energy on the IVF and surrogacy issue because even if they succeeded in preventing marriage equality it would have zero impact on the number of children born to families, both homosexual and heterosexual, where one of the parents isn’t a biological parent.
Equal marriage opponents must also come to terms with the fact that if they somehow did manage to decrease the number of children born to same-sex couples those children won’t magically appear in a heterosexual household with two biological parents; they simply won’t be born. Do equal marriage opponents believe it is better for a child not to be born than to be raised by a loving same-sex couple? Or a loving heterosexual couple with one non-biological parent for that matter? If this is the case then what a horrible message to be sending to children of same-sex parents, adoptive children, and any other child born through IVF or surrogacy. And if this is not the case then why prevent children being born through such means?
I also find it rather abhorrent that equal marriage opponents would use the children of same-sex parents as an argument against marriage equality. I wonder how many children of same-sex parents they spoke to? Every testimony, either written or verbal, given by a child of same-sex parents speaks nothing but of the love that exists in that family and how they want nothing more than for their parents to get married and be treated as equals to other families. To use these children to oppose marriage equality and suggest they would have been better off in another family is nothing short of disgusting.
Even if the “natural ties” argument were a relevant one, it has nothing to do with marriage equality. The idea that marriage equality somehow states that the biological ties between children and parent don’t matter is a complete non-sequitur. The fact we, as a nation, allow IVF and surrogacy, a method of conceiving overwhelming used by heterosexuals, states this. And if natural ties were the true concern of marriage equality opponents then this is the debate they need to be focusing. It is IVF and surrogacy that breaks natural ties, not marriage equality. To try and ban marriage equality in an attempt to protect natural ties makes absolutely no sense and will have zero impact on their intended goal.
As this debate proceeds over the next year, moderators and proponents of equal marriage need to recognise the difference between marriage equality and parenting and stop allowing opponents to detract the debate with a red herring. The focus must be on why two people in love are treated differently in society and law because of their sexual orientation. This is the issue marriage equality opponents have been trying to avoid, and we must not let them.