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Brenda Power and gay parents

I will give credit to Brenda Power for agreeing to give an interview to Gay Community News, having invoked anger from many gay people with here opinion piece in The Sunday Times last year, “You can’t trample over the wedding cake and eat it”. However, I find fundamental flaws in some of her arguments against allowing gay people become parents.

For example, she says that, “if there is an unhappiness in your life that you are trying to fill by acquiring a child, then you should really think about your motivations”. The interviewer rightly picks her up on this, that for no more than anyone else, gay people want to raise families because it is a natural human desire, rather than to fill a void in their lives.

Something which I think the interviewer let pass, and needs to addressed in this argument, is the idea that a child should have a mother and a father so that they have two role models. There is no clear reason given why these two role models should be of opposite sex. Growing up, role models are important for children for their character formation, but not ultimately for their ideas of sexual and gender identity. Any two people will have different characteristics and traits, to give the children they are raising guidance and example. The values children learn from their parents, from personal integrity to respect for others are not exclusively male or female.

Of course, Sigmund Freud considered gender identity to be a product of the relationships we have with our parents, but in this much he has mostly been discredited. That the children of single parents generally grow up perfectly balanced indicate that the lack of a mother or of a father do not per se affect child development. This is not deny that children in single-parent families might find themselves with more problems, but this is not a rule, and there is no reason to think that this is because of the lack of a particular sex in one of their parents, rather than the time their parents can devote to them. That perfectly many stable heterosexual couples have gay or transgendered children should further lead us to question the idea that having a mother and a father is important for children as role models.

In a recent article “Sins of Admission” in Commonweal, a American lesbian writes of her experience, as a Roman Catholic, where her local parish priest that there would be no question but that she could send the two children she had adopted with her partner to the parish school. She writes of how she had read of the plight of orphans, and how her motives in seeking to adopt them are considered suspect because of her sexuality.

This will sound hopelessly lefty, but the truth of the matter is that at the age of thirty-three I sat one Sunday morning reading the New York Times in a coffee shop a block away from the Newman Center where I had just been to Mass. The Magazine cover piece was “What Will Become of Africa’s AIDS Orphans?” Alone at my table, I murmured, “I could take one.” I read the piece through until the end and had the feeling that I was living the first day of the rest of my life. My partner and I had dated and maintained separate households for four years, but were set to begin our committed life together in a few months, and we had talked enough about adoption for me to know that she was open to it. We fished out the Times article from my files nearly two years later, contacted the agency mentioned in the piece, and — after much soul-searching and research and home studies and whatnot — we eventually welcomed two small boys to our family.

I may be as selfish as the next person in many unlovely areas of my personality and life, but I can say without crossing my fingers that adopting my sons was the most unselfish thing I have ever done and likely will ever do. So it is always a bit surreal to read pieces on gay parenting that take for granted the selfishness of gay people whose adopted children are unwitting players in some grand social experiment. In Catholic grade school my teachers showed me Who Are the DeBolts? and sparked an altruistic urge to adopt. Had I grown up a straight woman, the altruistic narrative would have held. But, as it happens, I am gay, and so the narrative turns on a dime: my adopting is an act of supreme selfishness, and my parenting is, in the delicate phrasing of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, doing violence to children.

Well worth reading in full, as a reminder of the many families that exist with gay parents, and how thoughtless it is to assume anything of their motives.

Ms Power also shows a lack of understanding of what Pride parades are about. As a tradition that started when homosexuality was criminal and persecuted, it is not something that will fade away until gay people genuinely believe that our relationships are considered as others’ are, and that at no level of the law is there discrimination against us. She also descends into an ad hominem case, while it is irrelevant to the argument on allowing gay couple to marry whether Rory O’Connor performs as Miss Panti as it was to the question on votes for women in Edwardian that Emmeline Pankhurst and the Women’s Social and Political Union resorted to violent action. As any question argued on the basis of a fundamental rights, marriage equality should be contested at the general level.

We do view marriage a fundamental right, above any liberty which can be withheld as punishment by society. Hours before his execution after being tried for treason on 4 May 1916, the British authorities allowed Joseph Mary Plunkett to marry his fiancée, Grace Gifford. No law prohibits murderers, rapists or thieves from marrying, if it is to a someone of the opposite sex, so why should the law intervene for the mere offence that in the example presented by Ms Power one of them performs in a dress?

Yes, this does change our definition of marriage as we have traditionally understood it, from a legal commitment between a man and a woman, intended to be lifelong, to a similar commitment between two people in a relationship intended to be lifelong. This change in understanding is appropriate given our modern appreciation of the general equality of all such relationships, and I genuinely feel that it can only strengthen the position of marriage in society.

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  1. 5 April, 2011 at 11:12 pm

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