Marriage and the ICCL’s straw-men

In its latest newsletter, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, and its director, Mark Kelly, take The Iona Institute to task over its position on the Civil Partnership Act.

In the course of his attack on us, Kelly sets up a whole series of straw-men which he naturally has no difficulty in toppling over.

For example, according to Kelly we claim that “the essence of marriage…lies in the ‘right of a child to a mother and father”.

Therefore, he suggests, we believe that “the sole purpose of marriage is procreation”, that “marriages that do not produce children are lesser unions”, that “married heterosexual families do not fail and cannot harbour abuse” and that “children are not being raised successfully in happy, loving, understanding same-sex families”.

But we do not believe that the sole purpose of marriage is to try and secure a child’s right a mother and a father. What we have said, and will continue to say, is that the central purpose (the ‘essence’) of marriage as a social institution (and thus the reason it receives special State support and recognition) is child welfare, that as a social institution it exists to ensure that as many children as possible are raised by their own two parents.

We do not believe marriage is solely for procreation, or that the lack of children makes a given marriage a lesser union. Nor do we believe that children in heterosexual married families are immune from abuse (although children in such families are least likely to suffer abuse). We also accept that some children are being raised in “happy, loving, understanding same-sex families”.

But time and again, when careful research is conducted on which family structure is best for children, it turns out to be traditional marriage. Which is why the State has given it special status. We are also aware that those studies which purport to show that children do just as well, if not better, when raised by same-sex parents as compared with opposite-sex parents are based on tiny samples and almost invariably suffer from fatal methodological flaws.

Kelly then goes on to (mis)quote the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. He claims: “According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, a child should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding. “

He continues: “There’s nothing there about the gender, sexual orientation or marital status of the people who constitute the family, you’ll notice.”

He appears to be referring to Article 7 of the Convention. But this says: “”The child…shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and, as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.”

This article strongly implies that a child has a right to know and be cared for his or her biological parents. If it doesn’t mean this, then it would mean instead that adopted children for one have no right under this article to know, “as far as possible”, their natural parents. Such an interpretation would be plainly ridiculous.

Kelly is also unable to allow that his opponents might be operating in good faith. He says if he really cared about child welfare we would support a children’s rights referendum.

But we have never expressed opposition in principle to a children’s rights referendum. We have merely asked questions about the form such a wording would take, and we have made clear that such a wording should not give excessive power to the State to intervene in family life.

Of course, one might add that, if the ICCL itself was pro-child, it would surely favour of a child’s right to a mother and father, “as far as possible”, to quote Article 7 above. But it is clear that the ICCL does not believe in such a right.

The same goes for all those organizations that are campaigning for a children’s rights referendum.