Some months ago, I read reports about the court case challenge against California’s ban on same-sex marriage. What caught my attention was that one of the core arguments for restricting the definition of marriage to opposite-sex couples was that lesbian and gay people are not fit to be parents.
I was surprised that the anti-same-sex marriage crowd would try to play the adverse child development card. It doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
First of all, lots of people, primarily heterosexuals, have children outside marriage.
Second, homosexual parents have been raising kids for years — in heterosexual marriages. The difference now is that so many do it openly with their same-sex partners, which, when you think about it, figures to be positive. I have to think it would be much easier to be a good parent if you aren’t struggling to suppress or come to terms with a core part of who you are.
Third, there is now research on the children of same-sex parents — lesbian moms mostly — and researchers have failed to turn up any sign of risk or harm to the kids’ development. Some of the more interesting findings suggest that children of lesbian mothers tend to behave and think in less gender stereotypical ways. In a couple of studies comparing heterosexual and same-sex families, sons of lesbian mothers were found to be somewhat less aggressive, and daughters were more likely to aspire to non-traditional female occupations, such as engineer, astronaut or lawyer. (Read our special report on kids and gender.)
Aaron Lazarus and Kevin Shannon, a gay couple in Toronto, are the proud parents of a baby daughter, who I could hear babbling happily in the background as we talked by phone. “People like us have to jump through a lot of hoops to become parents,” says Lazarus. “We had to go through a psychological assessment before the fertility clinic would consider us for an in vitro procedure.” (Lazarus and Shannon became parents via surrogate pregnancy.) If they had adopted, there would have been a home visit and a class to attend. In other words, they had to be approved. Most heterosexual parents (except those who adopt or go through in vitro procedures) don’t have to meet any requirements to become parents. “When people have gone that far out of their way to become parents, there’s got to be a lot of love and commitment to parenting in that family,” says Lazarus. Commitment for sure. Shannon and Lazarus, who were at their daughter’s birth, also attended every prenatal appointment, even though the surrogate mother lived 90 minutes away.
The biggest potential challenges that non-heterosexual families face, in most cases, are prejudice and homophobia — being mistreated or socially shunned because they have two moms or two dads. Shannon says their family hasn’t encountered that yet. “So far we have spent time with people we choose to,” he says. “It could change when Sydney starts going to school or plays organized sports. But right now, we just feel like parents and our experience has been that people are happy for us.”
I hope that continues because all parents who are this committed to raising kids deserve our support.
I’m not saying gay dads and lesbian moms are “better” parents. I just think they have as much right to participate fully in life (including raising kids) as anybody else. Some might argue that kids need both a mother and a father. I can see advantages to that. But what kids really need most is loving, committed parents (or parent), regardless of sexual orientation or circumstances.
I really don’t care (nor is it my business) who a parent (or anyone) chooses as a partner. I just hope that person loves the kids, participates as equally as possible in raising them, and makes their mate’s life a little happier.