Marriage deserves unique protection

Government is trying to pretend marriage and children are not linked, writes Fr Eamonn Conway

Fr Eamonn Conway

Earlier this week the full force of the State was deployed to find the mother of the abandoned baby provisionally named Maria. Social workers were on the airwaves telling us how important it was to reunite them both for the welfare of the mother and the child. The Gardaí were at pains to stress that reuniting them was their chief concern.

Meanwhile, it would seem from the relentlessness of the ‘yes’ campaign for same-sex marriage that the full force of our society has also been deployed to bring about a situation where biological motherhood or fatherhood will count for naught in our Constitution. At least five Government ministers have refused to say that there is anything special or distinctive about a biological parent’s love and care. They cannot admit to this, and still support the Amendment to Article 41.

In the Irish Constitution marriage is inextricably linked with the possibility of having children. The Constitution affords the institution of marriage the strongest possible legal support and protection.

The argument that we should approve same-sex marriage to show acceptance of and respect for gay relationships is mistaken. If marriage were only to be understood in terms of the public recognition and celebration of adult love, that might make sense. But that is not how the Constitution understands marriage, and, as the Referendum Commission has told us, the constitutional status of marriage, by which has to mean its status as the foundation of the family, is not being altered.


The problem with the referendum is that we are being asked by our Government to vote ‘yes’ to recognise all loving adult relationships equally, while forgetting, or being told to forget, that all married couples, whether homosexual or heterosexual, will then have exactly the same rights when it comes to procreation.

The Children & Family Relationships Act has not taken the matter of children out of the equation. This is because of the following sentence in the Constitution: “The State pledges to guard, with special care, the institution of marriage on which the family is founded, and to protect it against attack.” (41.3.1).

This sentence will not change. If same-sex marriage is approved, this constitutional protection of the family will require the State to protect the rights of same-sex couples to have children in exactly the same way as it protects the rights of heterosexual couples. Yet apart from adoption, two women cannot have a child without the use of Donor Assisted Human Reproduction (DAHR). Two men need to use DAHR and also engage a woman to carry and to give birth to the child.

The issues of DAHR and surrogacy are central to this debate, and it is wrong to assert otherwise.

In countries where same-sex marriage has been introduced there has been an increase in the demand both for DAHR and surrogacy.

The provision of reproductive services is now a major global industry and it is part of the public record that overseas surrogacy companies are supporting the ‘yes’ campaign here in Ireland.

The argument for same-sex marriage on the basis of equality has been unfortunate and misleading.

All adults are, of course, equal, but all adult relationships are not. When it comes to procreating and raising children a heterosexual married couple has no equal. This is why their relationship was originally granted unique protection in our Constitution, and still deserves it.

Fr Eamonn Conway DD is a priest of the Tuam diocese and teaches theology at Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick.