Again, my apologies for the lengthy silence. First I was travelling and in my travels, I managed to contract the H1N1 flu. I’m prepared to affirm that it is a nasty bug. I am not yet out of quarantine, but at least I am feeling human again.
A couple of recent items on lesbian and gay parents. (I actually think there were more than two, but I’ve lost track.)
First, here’s a current item from France. France permits single people to adopt, including single lesbians and gay men, does not permit lesbian and gay couples to adopt. The rationale? The absence of a different sex role model in a lesbian or gay couple.
Of course, a single parent doesn’t provide a different sex role model either. But perhaps one can hold out the hope that in time, the single parent will couple with someone of a different sex and thereby provide the missing link. Really, though, if you felt strongly about this, you would probably not let a single lesbian or gay man adopt either.
Emmanuelle B. was not willing to take the easy way around this restriction, which was just to check the box that said she was single. Instead she spend 11 years fighting in court, during which time she did not adopt a child. Now she has prevailed.
Although the rationale is different, this is somewhat reminiscent of those states which have a similar adoption restriction–single men and women OK, no matter sexual identity, same sex couple not okay. I’ve discussed these earlier. In the US, the restriction usually requires a couple that is adopting to be married. Of course, since many states will not recognize marriage between people of the same sex, this effectively excludes same-sex couples from adopting. The policy is then justified by the supposed stability marriage brings to a couple.
In either event, the resulting policy is very strange. While there are doubtless many many happy single parent families, people who wish to be co-parents will probably be happier (and more successful) if they are allowed to do so. Thus, it seems like it must be better for the kids to have the actual arrangement legally recognized, with all the attendant rights and obligations.
The second story was in this past Sunday’s NYT Magazine and I assume it has been widely circulated. In this article Lisa Belkin reviews some of the social science literature on lesbian and gay parents and their children. (Although I don’t think it is mentioned in the NYT piece, much of this work probably should be traced back to a paper by Judith Stacey and Tim Biblarz entitled “(How) Does The Sexual Orientation of Parents Matter” that was published in the American Sociological Review in 2001. It’s really worth a read.)
Belkin opens with an observation I think is mistaken–she says it is “striking how comparatively rarely children are mentioned as an argument in favor of gay marriage.” Now I’ve followed this issue for some time and I’ve been struck by how frequently children are mentioned as an argument in favor of access to marriage. Indeed, the issue about children lies at the very center of most of the litigated cases.
This, however, is a comparatively nit-picky point. The main point of the article is that there are differences between children who have two parents of the same sex and children who have two parents of different sexes.
If you really stop to think about it, this must be so. Parenting is deeply gendered in our culture. Having two parents the same gender is bound to be different from having two parents of different genders, even if the parents seek to undermine traditional gender roles.
And what differences result? Unsurprisingly, children have more flexible ideas about gender roles. Thus, girls raised by lesbians are more likely to think it possible they can take on a “male” profession like being a lawyer or a doctor. Also unsurprisingly, children of lesbian parents are more generally tolerant of difference.
For many years litigation strategy in lesbian and gay parenting cases depended on the assertion that it made no difference whether parents were lesbian or gay or not. (I’m thinking here of cases from years ago when lesbians and gay men had to fight for custody rights against their previous heterosexual spouses, but these cases do extend to today.) The notion that it would indeed make a difference was treated as a form of heresy. Now the readers of the New York Times are introduced to the idea that lesbians and gay men may, in some ways, be superior parents.
Because each family is different and the results here are generated from a meta-study (a study of studies) I wouldn’t want to make this into any specific claims about this family or that family. And of course, there’s no absolute measure of better parenting. But it is interesting to watch this idea make its way into the mainstream (if you can call the New York Times mainstream, that is.)