I want to develop yesterday’s post a bit further here. You can read that to get up to speed.
My basic point is that while gay fathers and lesbian mothers have much in common–for example, both are targeted by anti-gay/lesbian organizations for failing to provide male and female gender role models–there are also significant differences between them. I think I began to jumble some of the differences in the last post. That isn’t helpful so let me slow down and try to sort things out a bit more carefully.
First its worth observing that there are different kinds of differences. Some seem to me to flow pretty clearly from biology (I’ll call that “category 1”), others are differences that may or may not flow from biology but seem primarily tied to the mother/father social role distinction (category 2), and still others are differences in behavior which I observe but for which I do not have any explanation (category 3).
So for example, one difference I discussed yesterday was that the cases I’ve blogged about in which one person challenges her ex-partner’s entitlement to claim to be a parent all seem to involve lesbians rather than gay men–that’s category 3. A second difference discussed yesterday–that to have kids lesbians need to obtain sperm while gay men need something more expensive and complicated (like a surrogate)–that’s category 1. These categories might be useful in thinking about what the possible importance of these differences are.
Putting the categories to one side for the moment, though, I want to explain why it’s important to examine these differences with some care. Though lesbian and gay parents obviously have important overlapping interests, closer examination reveals that there are areas in which lesbians have more in common with other women than they do with gay men.
So, for example, you might initially say that lesbians and gay men need access to ART in order to create their own families. While this might be true, you can push on to a closer examination.
Lesbians need access to assisted insemination and donor sperm. And it isn’t only lesbians who need this access, it’s all single women, be they lesbian or heterosexual. Restricting access to donor sperm and assisted insemination won’t really effect gay men terribly much, however, except to the extent that they are sperm providers. Even beyond that, sperm is already readily available in the US, and so the status quo currently allows access to the necessary ART technologies for most lesbians. (There are, of course, issues of financial access remaining.)
By contrast, restrictions on surrogacy burden gay men (and all single men wishing to be parents) far more than they burden lesbians. Very few lesbians use surrogates. Surrogacy is much more controversial than sperm donation and consequently, access to it is more restricted. Gay men may wish to press for greater access to surrogacy. However, some feminists oppose easing restrictions on surrogacy and some of these feminists in opposition are also lesbians. The simple observation that lesbians and gay men need access to ART conceals all this complexity.
I’m concerned that lumping together “lesbian and gay parents” can obscure some differences which we might want to notice. If nothing else, these differences might lead lesbians to have a different set of priorities than do gay men.
I realize I haven’t made much forward progress, but this is a large and complicated topic. I’ll come back to it again.