04 July 2010

Marriage? Did you say Marriage?

Or Racism et al – Part 2

Some time ago I posted on “Ageism, Racism and Abilitism” in a general way, on what I had witnessed in others. And I did write that I would come back to the topic on a more personal basis. Then I got busy with this, that, the other, months passed… and Part 2 got pushed aside. But this week some event reminded me of my intention, so here goes. Put on your sun lotion, shield your eyes with dark glasses, and hold on to your sun hat, this may be a bit “hot”… (after all, it is summer!)

Once upon a time, once upon several centuries in fact, in places quite close to us, marriage outside of one’s class was not even thought of. One could not look at another human “beneath” one.

Once upon a time, in places quite close to us, marriage outside of one’s race could not be considered. Whites married whites, blacks married blacks. That was the only order of things.

Once upon a time, once upon countries, marriage outside of one’s cast or one’s religion was taboo. The Big No-No!

And then, in some countries, in some times, slowly things changed. People who fell in love were increasingly allowed to pledge themselves to each other, irrespective of class, race, cast, or religion. Some parts of our little planet were “growing up”, becoming more tolerant, less bigoted.

And once upon this week, Ireland grew up a little. A few days ago I heard it said that Ireland came of age, albeit in a small way. The Civil Partnership Bill was passed in Dáil Éireann (the Irish Parliament) with such a majority that no vote needed to be taken. It was unanimous - makes a change after the previous bill earlier in the week, all about some stags, and dogs… and other such crucially important piece of legislation for the recovery of our economy! Some circus this was! Sorry for the digression, but sometimes I really wonder about our politicians!

So the Civil Partnership bill was passed. It does not allow same-sex marriage per se, it does not recognise the children of same-sex unions. BUT, to some extent, it does recognise that such long term relationships exist, such unions are facts, and it does recognise the rights of same-sex partners. It’s a start.

To put things into perspective, sexual acts between men stopped being a criminal offence only 18 years ago! (Interestingly, the possibility of sexual acts between two women had not even been thought of by the authors of this law! More bigotry). It took David Norris 5 years of legal battles in the Irish High Court, then in the Irish Supreme Court, and finally in the European Court of Human Rights, before Ireland was shamed and forced to repeal an antiquated law dating back to the old British rule, and pass its own legislation. That in itself took another 5 years, just for the government of the time to think of an appropriate wording that simply would state: if you are an adult and gay, and engage in consensual sexual acts with someone of the same sex as you, in the privacy of your own home, you are not a criminal.

The road travelled is slow, but it’s is travelled.

And to think that the same David Norris could be running for the Irish Presidency next year. That would be something!

Now, let’s shift time and space. And come to once upon last summer, in Dublin, with yours truly attending the World Down Syndrome Congress.

So I walked in the Helix building in DCU on the first morning. Being a little early before the start of the first plenary session, I took a wander around the various stands outside the auditorium: they were about books, various educational aids, research, celebration of athletes, various DS organisations, paintings and other art forms by people with DS, life testimonies, including the marriage of a young woman with DS and a man without DS… did I see right? Marriage? To my own surprise, I am ashamed to say I did a double take. Me, the liberal, the person who gets so wound up so quickly about what I perceive as basic human rights – a certain group of people who know me well have a saying: “here she goes again!” and they almost do it on purpose to push my button, so sure are they of my reaction! – indeed, I was taken aback.

I did not have much time to think about what was happening, as the bell rung for the first plenary session, so I went in to take my seat. And there, what did I hear, but the second speaker, David Hingsburger, addressing the congress on the topic of Self Concept, and telling the story of two people he had worked with, one of whom had DS, who had been shun by their community for being in love and for wanting to get married.

And all through the three days of the congress, the word “marriage” kept coming back. It took me a few days for me to understand my reaction that first morning. I had simply never thought of relationships outside of the family, and by this I mean romantic relationships, as a probability, even as a possibility, for someone with DS. For some reason, what I would consider as the normal way of life, did not apply in this case. What I would wish for anybody else did not cross my mind in the case of someone with DS. Shame on me!

I have since come back from this. I had read and heard testimonies, and seen marriage videos on the net and on some blogs that have quite moved me. But the liberal Nan P realised she was not “that” liberal up to last summer.

The thing is, she is not the only one! In fact, the law as it currently stands in Ireland is not a bit liberal for people with an intellectual disability. Over the last few months, it has come to my attention that people with an intellectual disability, under the law:
- can be refused opening a bank account, taking out a loan, owning property,
- do not need to be asked for their consent for medical treatments,
- can be refused the right to vote if the returning officer of their polling station decides they do not have the “capacity” to vote.
- can be denied access to justice because of their disability, especially in case of assaults, as the judge has the right to decide they do not have the “capacity” to testify.
- can be considered as criminals if they engage in a sexual relationship with another person with an intellectual disability. The extent of this is that the right of people with an intellectual disability to have consenting relationships is in doubt under law, and this implies the right to get married.

The last point refers to the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993, a recent enough piece of legislation.

But the essence the other points above refers to, wait for it, wait for it… the Lunacy Act of 1871.

Don’t you love the language of choice? Don’t you love the fact that yet another antiquated law, passed during “British Rule”, decides on what a person with DS, or a person with Autism, can or cannot do?

The law need to be changed. Interestingly, Ireland was among the first countries to sign the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in March 2007. The then Justice Minister Michael McDowell had said it would be ratified “as soon as possible”. However, before it can be ratified, modern legislation must be introduced to remove all the “anomalies” listed above.

Three years later we are still waiting… Nothing is moving, nothing is stirring…

Ireland may have come of age somewhat this week. But it certainly is not fully mature yet. Forms of racism and abilitism are not only still rampant in our society, they are enshrined in our laws.

As for this post, please accept it as my “mea culpa”, and proof of my own “growing up” ;-)


jazzygal said...

Very interesting post Nan P. I must admit though, I was excited when I saw the title. i thought you had some news to share with us!!! IYKWIM:P

Our politicians would make the mind boggle. Truly! I switched off completely on the stag thing...what a load of rubbish. Meanwhile jobs are being lost STILL (4000 more mentioned today that the minister appears to know nothing about) and companies continue to go bust. Crazy stuff.

Yet ground breaking decision made on Civil Partnership.

That's shocking about the laws governing people with disabilities. It doesn't surprise me that it's under an age old law which should be abolished.

xx Jazzy

Unknown said...

Hello - I already introduced you to my daughter and sent you her website and you sent me this blog.

Interesting. I remember when she was born thinking that she would have to be sterilised - a knee jerk reaction if ever there was one!

I don't recall ever thinking she would not have any relationships - it was the issue of children that concerned me and her capacity to care for them properly.

That soon faded - well in fact was buried under the mass of medical issues we faced. Now 25 she declared years ago she wants children and marriage (not necessarily in that order - a modern girl is my girl) and has already had two fully consensual sexual relationships with males of around her own age. Neither of these males has DS as she knows the risk of a child DS rises even higher than 50% if her partner has DS. She declared long ago that she didn't want a child with DS.

We had this long conversation one day when she was about 13. We were waiting in a long traffic jam round the city hospital waiting to get into the car park. She said that she would have a test and if it had DS she would have it taken away. I told her that I didn't think I could have done that. That you begin to build a relationship with a child before birth, especially once it begins to move inside you.

So a silence and then - well she would have it adopted. So I pointed out that I didn't want a child with DS but once she was born there was no way I could have given her away - she was MINE. Another silence - then she perked up and said "I'll give it to you!!".

Why doesn't she want a child with DS? Not prejudice - she doesn't want her children to face the myriad social, educational etc etc issues she has faced and doesn't want to have to see it happening.

So somewhere along the time line I crossed a couple of hurdles though my hope is that she doesn't have children even though I would like grandchildren. But I don't think I can physically manage to assist her to bring up a child and I hate to think what social services would do - or perhaps as important not do.

But my will trust for her includes provision for any children. Time will tell.

Be well ...

Jeffrey Goble said...

Excellent post.
I'm still thinking.