The Government has recently announced proposed changes to the laws in respect of Guardianship, Custody and Access in Ireland in relation to gay couples. According to Justice Minister Alan Shatter, the Government intends bringing in laws by the end of year to extend Guardianship, Custody and Access rights to non biological fathers of children in same sex relationships and children born through surrogacy and sperm and egg donation. It is understood that a draft Children and Family Relations Bill will be discussed by Cabinet shortly and thereafter will be considered by the Oireachtas. The plan is to finalise the bill by July in order that it is ready for Dáil debate by September with a view to enacting it by the end of the year. The new changes proposed come against the backdrop of the Referendum next year in relation to same sex marriage in Ireland. According to the Government, the issue of equal parenting rights will be dealt with by Legislation before the end of the year regardless of whether the Referendum on same sex marriage is passed next year.
The Guardianship of Infants Act 1964 currently deals with the issue of Access, Custody and Guardianship in Ireland but, does not have any reference to same sex couples and their rights.
In relation to the issue of adoption, while this is currently not in the Bill, Alan Shatter said that it would also be tackled. He recently said “Since 1952 an individual can adopt regardless of his or her sexual orientation. It makes no logical sense, where an individual who is gay can individually adopt, that a couple in a civil partnership should not be able to adopt. These are issues to be addressed whether or not we have same sex marriage”.
A recent UCC Study on Parenting by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people presented at a seminar found that the lack of legal recognition for many parent-child relationships was the cause of huge stress and left same sex and non-traditional families feeling very vulnerable.