“Can we look into having kids?”
The question almost made me crash the car as I was driving – still a relatively new skill for me, as I had absolutely no interest in cars when others were eager to get their first. My partner was still equally unused to being in the passenger seat, and maybe his newfound freedom from having to drive us around all the time allowed him to throw the question at me, as I nervously approached the Kinsale Road Roundabout.
It wasn’t the first time he asked me that question, but it was the first time it prompted a long and deep “ahhhhhhhhh” from me, as if a phantom dentist decided to gift me with an impromptu inspection. Despite my immediate reaction, I sensed the vulnerability in how he asked me if – or more accurately, when – we could start a family. How I moved from a primal sound to an answer in a modern human language would be a delicate journey.
I knew my partner always wanted to be a father one day. I knew that I once wanted the same, and I considered it a certain part of my future when I came out at first; at 15, I knew I was gay, but I told myself and others than I still wanted to have children some day. Whether they were biologically my own or not didn’t matter; I thought that because I’d probably raise them speaking Irish, that was my way of sharing my heritage with them. They’d call him ‘Dad’, and me ‘A Dhaide’.
In a way, I said that to reassure myself that my being gay didn’t have to go against the rest of society’s expectations on how to be a man; to have a successful career, get married, start a family, and provide for them. As I got older, though, I began to question that; did I want to be a father because I had a desire to have a family, or to just fit in with those societal expectations?
While I considered myself to be good with kids, children of my own fell off the wish-list in recent years. Instead, I wanted things to stay as they had been; disposable income, impromptu holidays, regular business travel, dinner parties, nights out until the wee hours, and a lifestyle that was free of any dependents. I’ve no doubt that it’s the same for many prospective parents, but I was afraid of saying goodbye to the lifestyle I had cultivated and enjoyed so much.
Fīat jūstitia ruat cælum*
There was, however, a practical and legal aspect to same-sex couples starting a family in Ireland that also daunted me and made me question how much I really wanted children – or more specifically, how much it was worth the effort of overcoming such obstacles. Even despite the success of the marriage equality referendum, there remain major gaps which prevent both partners in a same-sex relationship being deemed legal parents of a child.
Currently, only one parent can be set as the child’s legal parent, and honestly, that scares me. Not just because it would make one of us vulnerable to exclusion if something bad were to happen, but more that it serves as a now-rare reminder that I’m still not on fully level ground with straight men, who don’t have the same worries. If the State wouldn’t ensure, through its legislation and processes, that both my partner and I were legal and rightful guardians of our future children, how did it expect us to have faith in it? I envied the efforts of friends who started families in Israel or on the Continent, including a friend who was actively pursuing it in Denmark, and wondered how other same-sex couples had such resolve to do it in Ireland.
In recent years, I allowed myself to look away; if I didn’t want to have kids, or other conditions meant it wasn’t the right time to start a family, then I wouldn’t have to face that remaining inequality. I realise now that although hopefully understandable, it’s also a bit cowardly. Not because I was running away from the idea of having kids, or from knowing that my partner wanted us to, but because turning a blind eye to the inequality doesn’t make it go away for others, regardless of my personal circumstances or desires.
Back in the car, somehow managing not to crash, I promised my partner that by the time he was 40 at the latest, we’d have kids. That gave me 4 years to come to terms with the daunting, exciting, terrifying, and wonderful prospect to raise a little one (or more) with the one I love, but it also hopefully gives the Irish State a chance to sort itself out.
Meanwhile, however, there are many similar couples, who already have their children, currently more legally vulnerable and separated from their parents than they should be. That needs to change as soon as possible, otherwise Ireland’s children are not cherished as equally as our Constitution would like us to believe.