The drink flowed and sure enough they kissed. They were 17 and 19 – only teenagers: an odd breed who go through many a once-off. But it lasted, and they moved in together in 2002. Two years later, there was an epiphany: one could not imagine a future without the other. A promise was made and they decided they would be together forever. It is 2012 now and, sure enough, they still are.
They cannot have their own children and applied recently to be foster parents – a process which takes ten months. They will find out in November if the committee, run by the HSE, deems them fit. These two people are very much in love and want a child badly, one they can call their own. But Irish legislation won’t let them adopt. They could foster a child for two weeks or two years, not even the committee knows how long for sure. And even if they fostered a child for five years, he or she could be taken and adopted by someone else. And why?
Because this couple are Anthony and Barry. And under Irish law, only married couples or single people can adopt. They have a civil partnership alright. Travelled to Belfast in 2007 to get one, before it was legal in the Republic. But civil partnership is not the same as marriage in the eyes of the law.
As Anthony says, if he was a single man he could adopt no problem. But he and Barry cannot do such a thing together. “It’s almost as if you’re allowed to look after them but not keep them,” he laughs at the irony. In London they would be able to adopt.
They lived there for three years and that is why they got a civil partnership before they left. They wanted all their friends and family to celebrate with them. So, off on the bus they all went from Dundalk to Belfast. Sandwiches and singing up the M1. They picked their own music, wrote their own vows, it was “absolutely gorgeous”. They felt no prejudice, no damnation, there was only love. They all went back to Dundalk that night for a massive Irish party. They were nervous. Wary of showing off, they are not the parading type. It was the first time for some people to see them kiss, but they had always been open. “Only by legislation do we feel discriminated against.”
If they had adopted in London, the return to Ireland would not be easy. Here, the child could have rights to just one parent. It is the exact same for parents in same sex relationships who have children from a previous partner. Only the biological parent has any rights to their child. Anthony says he knows people in this situation who live in a “constant state of fear” that if something happened to them, their child would not be protected.
Civil partnerships were introduced in 2011. But their home is classed as a “shared” home rather than a “family” home. The Constitution provides for the protection of the institution of marriage. But no section states that it is between a man and a woman only – the courts interpret it that way. “It is as if legislation is making us other, or less, than everybody else.”
The government established a Constitutional convention this year - a group of 66 randomly selected citizens and 34 politicians. They will advise the government on Constitutional reform – same sex marriage included. If they propose it, a referendum will go ahead and Irish voters will get to decide if one group of people are equal to another.
Seventy-three per cent of Irish voters are now in favour of same sex marriage.. Their leader, Enda, has yet to voice his opinion. In 2007, he said he was against it, but says now it is up to the convention, and not him, to discuss. For Anthony and Barry: “silence speaks volumes”. They urge people to understand that it is not about religion, they just want to be recognised. “The Church has its own laws and is entitled to them.”
The wait is on for the convention to start. But in the year 2012, is it right for part of society to be unequal still? Anthony says “the world is not going to end and fire is not going to reign down on Ireland” if marriage equality exists.