Opinion: the document's data and design needs to undergo significant transformation to reflect changes in Irish family structure

By Páraic Kerrigan and Amber L. Cushing, UCD

Birth certificates and the data that they gather play an important role in providing complete and accurate information on demographics, especially by linking people as families and identifying a person's origins. While countries around the world have modified the structure and practices surrounding the ways in which they document the event of birth and associate children with parents via the birth certificate, Ireland’s birth certificate has remained largely unchanged since it was introduced under Victorian law in 1864.

The structure of the birth certificate, as it currently stands is orientated around normative categories of gender and sexuality, and accordingly, does not allow for the fluidity and multiplicity of gender and sexual identities that characterize the lived experience of many parents. This issue is particularly pertinent for LGBTQ families, who are often faced with more acute inequalities due to the structure of the birth certificate. This often renders LGBTQ parents invisible in the eyes of the state, and sometimes their children.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, Kathleen Funchion, Sinn Fein spokesperson for Children and Chairperson of the Children's Committee, talks bout new birth cert legislation

In 2020, we conducted a series of research interviews with LGBTQ parent families across Ireland and with Irish LGBTQ parents who have left the State due to current birth registration law. We wanted to find out about their experience with the Irish birth certificate and birth registration process, and how they think the birth certificate needs to be changed.

Many of these LGBTQ parents saw the birth certificate as an exclusionary tool that failed to gather accurate data about an LGBTQ parent family. Participants spoke to the fact that only one parent can be listed on birth certificate in most cases, due to the fact that the default fields of information (currently the standard is one "mother" and one "father" only) on the birth certificate cannot recognize same-sex parents. Many gay fathers noted how difficulties emerge with attempting to recognize only a father in their instance as Irish birth certificates require a mother,.

For all LGBTQ parents, children who are donor-conceived and born outside of Ireland to same-sex parents cannot be legally connected to both parents, often leaving one of the parents in limbo. There are many more permutations and variations of these cases, but exclusions such as these created significant vulnerabilities for both parent and child. It means the unnamed partner on the birth certificate does not have any legal role in making decisions for the child, particularly as it pertains to healthcare.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

From RTÉ One's Six One News, same-sex couple legally recognised on twins' birth certs

The inability to ascertain full and accurate birth certificate results in data gaps for LGBTQ families. This leads to demonstrable negative effects when some of these families attempt to access services of the state, such as social welfare like the universal Child Benefit monthly payment. Some families have had to engage in legal battles to ascertain full rights for accessing the Child Benefit for monthly payment, resulting in a significant economic costs as a result of legal fees.

Some LGBTQ parents have had difficulties obtaining Irish passports for their children, largely related to the issue that a child can only obtain Irish citizenship by having an Irish citizen mother or father listed on the child’s birth certificate. In cases where an Irish citizen was not the birth mother or genetic father, the second parent is not listed on the birth certificate, limiting a child’s entitlement to Irish citizenship.

Some progress has been made in making the birth certificate more inclusive for LGBTQ parent families. The Children and Family Relationships Act legislates that if a child is born through assisted reproduction, both parents can now be on the birth certificate. However, this only applies if the parents are two women who conceive through an Irish fertility clinic and the child must have been born in Ireland. This change is very narrow and still excludes many families. Our preliminary data suggests that this process requires LGBTQ parents to engage in additional information management and documentation not required of heteronormative family structures, leading to unequal access to a birth certificate.

Many LGBTQ parents saw the birth certificate as an exclusionary tool that failed to gather accurate data about an LGBTQ family

The birth certificate and how it is structured is not just an issue that effects LGBTQ-parent families. Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth Roderic O'Gorman is currently attempting to make a concession on a bill to give adopted people access to birth certificate and other personal information. While adopted people are significantly impacted by a lack of access to birth information, LGBTQ parents, as well as donor conceived children and children born via surrogacy are also impacted by the framework in which birth information is recorded on birth certificates in the Republic of Ireland.

What is clear is that birth certificate data and design needs to undergo significant transformation to take account of the diversification of family structure, particularly as it relates to LGBTQ families. This can come down to changing the field of information on the birth certificate to be more inclusive, such as changing "mother" and "father" to "parent 1", "parent 2" and perhaps allowing for additional parents to be listed, as is allowed in the Canadian Province of British Columbia. The process of collecting birth information and the design of the birth certificate must be reconsidered to enable a more accurate and fuller representation of LGBTQ families in Ireland, especially as the number of LGBTQ-parent families begin to increase in numbers.

Dr. Páraic Kerrigan is an Assistant Professor in the School of Information and Communication Studies at UCD. His first book, LGBTQ Visibility, Media and Sexuality in Ireland was published this year. He is a former Irish Research Council awardee. Dr. Amber L. Cushing is a Lecturer and Assistant Professor at the School of Information and Communication Studies at UCD. She is a former Irish Research Council awardee


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ