6 mins


On March 8, the people of Ireland will be asked to vote on two referendums to change our constitution - the first refers to the definition of family under our constitution and the other concerns the role of women as caregivers in the home. If you’re anything like Ranae von Meding, perhaps these referendums have snuck up on you and you aren’t entirely sure what the changes might mean in practical terms were the referendums to pass. So, she did a deep dive into what a “Yes and Yes” vote would look like, especially from the point of view of a queer, married woman with three children.


Family Matters

“What matters is that all children are equal in Ireland.” This is a phrase I’ve been hearing a lot in relation to the upcoming referendum on March 8. It sounds like something I would say, because, as I’ve been writing and speaking about for the last eight years, children born to LGBTQ+ families in Ireland are still not equal.

The majority of children born into LGBTQ+ families are still prevented from having a legal relationship with both of their parents, regardless of their marital status. My marriage to my wife is not valued in the same way that it would be were I married to a man. Many of you may know my story and know that our family has been fighting for equal rights for all children born to LGBTQ+ families - and we still don’t have it.

For example, our youngest child (Ali), who is two weeks old at the time of this publication, is treated as though he is the child of a single parent. Me. If I were married to a man, this would not be an issue, my spouse would have been granted a presumption of parentage within our marriage. Talk about double standards.

It is almost a decade on from ‘that day in May’ when equal marriage was enshrined in Irish law, and yet we still don’t really have equal marriage, which is ironic.

Issues for LGBTQ+ families aside, there is another cohort of children in this country that are treated as ‘less than’ and those are children born into families where the parents are not married. This can cause all sorts of issues, similar to the ones faced by LGBTQ+ families all over Ireland. When a child is born to an unmarried couple, only the birth mother has an automatic right to guardianship. The father, or the second parent can become a joint guardian but there is no automatic assumption here, and it often means jumping through extra legal hoops. The same applies for custody, or the day-to-day care of a child. Other issues for unmarried families with children may also arise in the form of taxation, property ownership and inheritance.

I spoke to one of my colleagues in the LGBTQ+ Alliance on Assisted Human Reproduction, Dr Claire O’Connell, who is one of the foremost experts on children’s rights in Ireland, specifically those who were born to LGBTQ+ families. She said: “While the Supreme Court in the 2021 case of Re JJ and the recent O’Meara decision have put it beyond question that children have the same constitutional rights regardless of the marital status of their parents, this has not fully filtered down into the legislation where the legal parent relationship is treated very differently depending on the marital status of those parents. It allows access to equality but not automatic equality.”

She continued, “Furthermore, while the upcoming referendum seeks to explicitly bring unmarried couples under the protections of Article 41, it does nothing to clarify the constitutional protections to married or unmarried families and their donor-conceived or surrogate children. The family in the Constitution is currently the married family. It is also the family based on genetic and gestational ties, or alternatively an adoption order; this referendum only expands the former of these categories.”

Despite being happily married myself, in my opinion, the notion of marriage being the only relationship out of which a family can grow is outdated and downright offensive. We all know couples who have incredible relationships who are not married, and we all know those in disastrously unhappy marriages. All families should have the same rights and benefits, regardless of their marital status. A piece of paper does not a family make.

A Yes Vote in this referendum would ensure that the same rights and protections afforded to children within married families would be extended to children of unmarried couples. A family founded on marriage would continue to be specially protected under the Constitution, however these protections would be expanded to include other families founded on committed non marital relationships.


The Role of a Woman

 The second Referendum we are going to be asked to vote on, proposes to delete an existing part of the Constitution and insert new text providing recognition for care provided by family members to each other. This would essentially be allowing for the recognition of the care that men, as well as women, provide within the family home. It would be a gender-neutral recognition of care in our Constitution. Surely this can only be a good thing? It is an outdated and problematic notion that only a woman can be a carer, and while in many cases, a woman or a mother will be the main caregiver within the home, our society and lives have changed astronomically over the last few decades and our Constitution needs to be reflective of our modern Irish lives.

It has long been enshrined in the Irish Constitution that a woman's place is as a homemaker and carer. This has led to decades of Irish women who were forced in many cases to abandon their own aspirations, hopes and dreams, in order to fulfil their “duties” within the home.

The Constitution currently, refers to the importance to the common good of the life of women within the home and that the State should endeavour to ensure that mothers should not have to go out to work to the neglect of their “duties in the home”.

I’ve always found this problematic as a woman married to a woman - where does that leave us? Which one of us should go out to work and ‘neglect our duties within the home?’ Or should we both be homemakers, simply because of our sex?

Some of those advocating for a No Vote will argue that this is a ploy to “erase” women from the Constitution and to undermine their role within the home. I don’t see it that way. I see it as giving Irish families a choice. Don’t get me wrong, being a full time carer is the hardest job in the world… I’m not for one second making light of being a homemaker. I did it for the first five years of our children’s lives. It is exhausting, and exhilarating and one of the biggest privileges I’ve had in my life. But giving birth to a child, or being a woman, should not determine whether you have to stay home or not.

A Yes Vote in this referendum would, firstly, recognise the importance to the common good of the care provided by family members to each other. Secondly, it would provide that the State would “strive to support” the provision of such care within families. The gender neutral language within the constitution would allow for supports, services and assistance to be extended to men as well as women who are acting as carers within the family home.

I don’t know about you, but to me, it’s incredibly clear that the only way to vote is YES and YES.

Ranae von Meding is a Dublin-based writer, speaker, celebrant and a same sex parent to three young children with her wife Audrey. She is also the co-founder and CEO of Equality for Children, a non profit organisation fighting for the rights of children born to LGBTQ+ families in Ireland.

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