There is no question that gay and lesbian couples can be, and are, just as good at parenting, and should have the same rights in parenting, as any other sets of parents. As a matter of fact, the definition of parenting says nothing of sexual orientation, nor does it include specific genders for specific roles in parenting. The definition for parenting is “the rearing (to take care of and support up to maturity) of children; the methods, techniques, etc., used or required in the rearing of children; the state of being a parent; parenthood.” And think about the many households with single parents. Single mothers are raising children without fathers, and yes, there are single fathers who are raising children without mothers. What is so different about that than two fathers raising children without a mother or two mothers raising children without a father? The difference is that there are two parents in the home, which is more beneficial to the children than having one parent struggling to do the work of two. What difference does it make if the genders of those two parent households are the same?
But there is more to it than that, I bet is what you are thinking now. Gay men and lesbian women are mentally ill, right? Wrong! After years of varying types of research to try to prove that was the case from every conceivable angle, no such findings could be reported, and in the early 1970s, homosexuality was no longer classified as a mental illness or disorder. Won’t the children become confused about their own sexual orientation and be influenced to turn gay? Well, that is a very good question and the answer to that is, no. I have two sons, both of whom were raised in a lesbian couple household, one since age 5 and the other since infancy and they are both, very much so and without confusion, heterosexual.
While the majority of legal decisions regarding gay parent custody have sided with and embraced the aforementioned beliefs, the bulk of psychological research completed almost uniformly reports finding no notable differences between children reared in same-sex family households and heterosexual family households, and states that homosexual parents are just as competent and effective as heterosexual parents (Stacy & Biblarz, 2001). If children in a gay household were to grow up and become gay because of the sexual orientation of their parents, then why is it that most gay and lesbian individuals were raised in heterosexual households? Shouldn’t they have been influenced to be heterosexual instead? Consider what two individuals have to say, one a woman who grew up with two fathers and the other a man who grew up with two mothers in this YouTube interview. Notice how both individuals are now heterosexual adults.
No matter the argument, children are smart, loving, and accepting and are not the ones finding issue with the sexual orientation of their parents. Children need to be loved, nurtured, and supported. Parents need to provide their basic and emotional needs, encourage them to learn and grow, and keep them safe and healthy. That is what parenting is about and that is what children need. One twelve-year-old girl felt so strongly about the stability of her two mother household that she spoke up in front of Vermont Legislators and was instrumental in the changes made giving gay and lesbian couples the right to marry. Listen to what she says she receives from her mothers as parents, how confident she is that she is getting just as much from them as others get from their heterosexual parents, and how proud she is to be a part of her family. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sxnjQdMpnCM&feature=related
Though many children in gay/lesbian households come from one or the other partner’s previous heterosexual relationship, not all do. Adoption is another avenue for gay and lesbian couples to have and raise children. To begin with, they must go through the same screening for adoption as heterosexual couples do and must be declared fit for parenting before adoption can occur. The alternative for many of these children is to be passed around from one foster home to the next or to remain in an orphanage, and in either case, wait for a family of their own. How often do you hear someone share having warm memories and happy times in an orphanage? Generally speaking, most children raised in foster homes or orphanages do not like to talk about their childhood, during or long after. If there are homes with parents who are open and willing and eager for a child to love and provide for, why is society so against it? Take a look at two fathers and their 12 adopted children and see for yourself how happy and healthy they are. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nahifhpm9-8&feature=related
There is one other avenue in which same-sex couples can have children of their own. Gay men can opt for a surrogate mother, in which one or both of their sperm can be inseminated and lesbian couples can also be inseminated either by someone of their choosing or by an anonymous sperm donor. The result is a child born to the couple from the beginning and the child knowing no other parents than the ones they grow up with. There is a movie that is based on a real case where this is what a lesbian couple in the state of Florida chose to do. The movie was made for television, but can be found, in its entirety over eight videos, on YouTube. “Brooke Shields believes she has finally found happiness, now that she and her lesbian partner (Cherry Jones) have a child. But when Jones passes away five years later and her scheming parents apply for custody behind Shields’ back, an affecting struggle ensues.” Here is the first of the eight videos that shows how family, society, and even to some degree, the law, can cause more damage to a child by their prejudices than being raised by a lesbian woman. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mMJ4c9SGEco
Aside from the legal and societal point of view, this controversial issue comes across as being a bit selfish. Gay and lesbian couples want the same rights in parenting as is an unspoken given for heterosexual couples. But history tells us that this should not be shocking. In Germany, Hitler persecuted all Jewish people and did not and could not see them as being equally human. In America, we participated in slavery until the Emancipation Proclamation, and then many years later, the signing of the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964. If true historical events are not enough, let us go even further back in time and look at this from an ethical point of view. As far back as 350 BC, one of the earliest recorded ethical philosophers, Aristotle contended that our main goal in life and our main purpose as human beings is to strive to be good and to achieve the best results that can be achieved. Centuries later, Jeremy Bentham, representing a Utilitarian stance, claimed a surprisingly similar view with the premise that it is human nature to do that which results in pleasure and to circumvent that which results in pain.
I believe that Aristotle has lain out, in a most simple and complete way, the purpose of human existence and that humans are humans, no matter their biological gender or sexual orientation.
“Ethics, as viewed by Aristotle, is an attempt to find out our chief end or highest good: an end which he maintains is really final. Though many ends of life are only means to further ends, our aspirations and desires must have some final object or pursuit. Such a chief end is universally called happiness. But people mean such different things by the expression that he finds it necessary to discuss the nature of it for himself. For starters, happiness must be based on human nature, and must begin from the facts of personal experience… It must be something practical and human” (7).
I agree with Aristotle on the point that “many ends are only means to further ends,” which in this case would be parenting being an end, a fulfillment, that is a means to their children having children of their own to raise and also providing them with grandchildren; these also being the pursuits of every parent’s aspirations and desires.
Furthermore, Aristotle believed that “It must then be found in the work and life which is unique to humans” (7). Though reproduction is not alone unique to humans, raising children is. In the animal kingdom, offspring are fed, protected, and taught how to hunt and/or protect themselves. Raising children is uniquely human in that there is so much more a child needs to learn such as language, social skills, and of course, education. Though we enjoy parenting, it is a full-time job of responsibility. Human nature desires and demands the individual personal experience of being a parent and any person’s right or ability to fulfill this natural, innate desire has nothing to do with their sexual orientation.
Finally, Aristotle writes, “It follows therefore that true happiness lies in the active life of a rational being or in a perfect realization and outworking of the true soul and self, continued throughout a lifetime” (7). Being in a same-sex relationship does not make those involved irrational. Being a parent to a child is not only being true to your soul’s drive and you self’s wholeness, but it is being true to the child and providing their foundation for happiness and success.
Again, the parental rights of gay and lesbian couples should not be based on gender, but on the basis of human rights and desires. Aristotle’s philosophical ideas on being human, and the moral intentions of the average human being, strongly supports the rights of parents, no matter their gender, or more specifically, their sexual orientation. Granted, Aristotle does not specify gender, but he does emphasize that the ethics of life relate to humans rather than to men and women separately. Bentham, too, focuses on the individual rather than the sex of said individual.
Bentham began the extensive writing of his book, the first sentence on the first page, with, “Nature has placed [human]kind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do. On the one hand the standard of right and wrong, on the other the chain of causes and effects, are fastened to their throne. They govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think…” (1). Bentham believed that no matter the situation, our main aim as a human race is to either seek and obtain pleasure or to avoid pain. Parenting is one such situation. Parents, all parents, seek happiness and pleasure in providing the same for our children. We avoid pain by protecting our children from being hurt, whether physically or emotionally, and in some cases financially.
Bentham goes on to explain, “By utility is meant…it tends to produce benefit, advantage, pleasure, good, or happiness, (all this in the present case comes to the same thing) or (what comes again to the same thing) to prevent the happening of mischief, pain, evil, or unhappiness to the party whose interest is considered…” (2) How fascinating, in spite of the many years spent studying, testing, adjusting, and researching the concept of parenthood and what it should or should not entail, that a brilliant English philosopher and political radical, had already summed it up in one sentence and called it utility? The party’s interest being considered is that of the child. The goal of the parent is to be and to do what will benefit, give advantage, produce pleasure, show kindness and caring to themselves and others, and ultimately create a life of happiness. All the while doing whatever is necessary to protect the child and to teach and show by example that bad behavior, pain, and evil will create a void between them and happiness.
To further clarify his point, Bentham writes, “A thing is said to promote the interest, or to be for the interest, of an individual, when it tends to add to the sum total of his pleasures: or, what comes to the same thing, to diminish the sum total of his pains” (2). When we provide a hot meal for our child, it is in the interest of adding to and maintaining the health of the child and ebbing their hunger pangs. When we teach them how to treat others and how to behave, we add to their social skills and provide for them a more enjoyable interactive experience with others and reducing the potential for embarrassment or consequences for being rude or offensive. When we put our child in time out, it is in the interest of giving them time to think about the mistake they made and to learn not to make it again. Everything a parent does for their child is for the benefit and the well-being of the child. Parenthood is about being a parent, not about whether or not the parent is gay.
“Mama…Mama…Mama…MAAAMAAA!!!” my son, just over a year old, cries out from his playpen. I am in the other room sorting through the laundry.
“What Zachary…?” I begin to say.
“No! Not you, Mommy! I want Mama!” he yells before I barely get the words out of my mouth. My partner and I look at each other and smile. She and I have only been in a committed relationship for about six months and without any prompting or discussion from either of us on the subject, he has already figured out, and clearly accepted, that he has two mothers.
I believe that if children ever do have issues with having same-sex parents it is because they are taught or influenced by others to view it negatively. But I also believe, from my own experience as a lesbian mother, that if you love and provide for your children and teach them what “family” is, that they will also defend their family against the bullies they come up against in school. My oldest son, who was five when I began my same-sex relationship, years later would come home and tell me about some of his classmates saying ugly things about his mothers and he would very clearly, and without hesitation, set them straight on the matter. And I could see how proud he was as he told me.
My youngest son, Zachary, was just nine months old when I left his father and began a new relationship with a woman. We were together for 13 years and it often came up that if something were to happen to me, what would become of Zachary? How do we establish, for my then partner, some kind of legal guardianship for Zachary? His father did not want him, but he did not want her to have him either. She was key in helping me raise Zachary for the first 13 years of his life and he considers her as much his mother, if not more so, than myself. But getting legal guardianship was difficult, in that it entailed “permission” from his father.
Eventually, we gave up trying, but I still believe that she should have some rights as his parent, even now that we are not together. I am not dead, as was the case with the biological mother in the aforementioned movie, “What Makes A Family,” but I have left to attend college on the other side of the country. Zachary is currently living with his half-sister because if he were to go and live with my ex-partner, his other mother, it would put her in potential danger of facing the wrath of his father. The result is that Zachary is the one suffering, and at almost 15 years old, yearns for his Mama. What choice do we have? We could go through a messy legal battle that would further jeopardize Zachary’s well-being, but instead we are looking into getting him emancipated once he turns 15 in May, and then his father will no longer have a say in where or with whom he lives.
Homosexuality is not a mental illness, but homophobia is. Homophobia is a learned fear and is caused by a lack of education and in-depth knowledge of what it is they fear. Being homosexual is no different from being Jewish or being black, and even throughout their struggles, they were never robbed of their right to be parents. What society tells us is that if I were married to a man, I could be a great mother, but if I choose to be “married” to another woman, then my right and ability to be a mother is questioned and thought to be troublesome. That is just ridiculous! But I am not worried. When I look at history, I see that it takes time for ignorant people to become educated or to finally give up fighting a battle they cannot and will not win. Twenty years from now, if not sooner, we will have all the same rights as all other humans and this will become the history my grandkids will write about.
“Aristotle [Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy].” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 11 Apr. 2001. Web. 04 Dec. 2011. <http://www.iep.utm.edu/aristotl/#H7>.
“Gay Dads Raise 12 Adopted Kids – YouTube.” YouTube – Broadcast Yourself. Triny200890, 2 May 2011. Web. 04 Dec. 2011..
“My Mini Documentary on Children of Lesbian/gay Parents – YouTube.” YouTube – Broadcast Yourself. ToxicProductions786, 19 Dec. 2009. Web. 04 Dec. 2011..
“Testimony of 12-Year-Old with Two Moms Moves Some Vermont Legislators to Support Gay Marriage Bill – YouTube.” YouTube – Broadcast Yourself. Mediagrrl9, 8 Apr. 2009. Web. 04 Dec. 2011..
“What Makes A Family (2001 Lesbian Film Based On a True Story) Part 1 of 8 – YouTube.” YouTube – Broadcast Yourself. AllSortsOfStuff101, 04 Aug. 2010. Web. 07 Dec. 2011..
Bentham, Jeremy, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. 1907. Library of Economics and Liberty. 7 December 2011. <http://www.econlib.org/library/Bentham/bnthPML1.html>.
Stacey, Judith., and Timothy J. Biblarz. “Does the Sexual Orientation of Parents Matter?” American Sociological Review 66,2 (2001): 159-183. Print.