Friday, March 01, 2013

Parenting in the debate

The one thing that radical rights screams loudest when fighting against marriage equality is, “Think of the children!” It’s among their most offensive political slogans.

When the Government Administration Committee reported back to the NZ Parliament on the marriage equality bill, they had this to say about adoption:
We acknowledge that some people feel very strongly about the issue of adoption of children by same-sex couples and transgender people. If the bill were to pass, it would make consequential amendments to the Adoption Act 1955 that would have the effect of enabling married same-sex couples to adopt children lawfully, as any married couple may do.

Many opponents of the bill are not in favour of same-sex couples being allowed to adopt children. Some argue that if changes to adoption laws are to be made this should be done through a bill that specifically amends the Adoption Act 1955. These opponents also consider a family with a mother and a father married to each other to lead to the best outcomes for children.

We note that currently under the law a homosexual or transgender person may legally adopt a child, but same-sex couples may not. Such a position seems absurd. The amendments we recommend will ensure that married couples are eligible to adopt, regardless of the gender of the adoptive parents.

We note that many families already exist which comprise children and same-sex or transgender parents. However, both parents do not have access to the full range of legal rights that married heterosexual couples have. We consider that allowing same-sex couples to marry would grant an appropriate legal right to those families who are already raising children. [emphasis added]
There are two important points in this. First, GLBT individuals can already adopt children, just like single heterosexual people can. The second point is that, for couples, only married couples can adopt children and LGBT people are forbidden to marry, so such couples cannot adopt—and that's really all this is about. This matters not just for the absurdity of this weird legal second-class citizenship for couples but not singles, but also because it puts existing families on entirely different legal standing to families headed by a heterosexual couple.

None of this matters to our radical rightwing opponents because to them, LGBT couples can never be good parents—ever. Many of them try to link homosexuality with paedophilia (and those that do so are rightly classified as anti-gay hate groups). But most of our far right adversaries try to paint gay parents as essentially worthless, never as good as “real” (meaning heterosexual) parents. The trouble is, it’s a political position based on a stack of lies and distortions.

Today, the American Sociological Association filed an amicus brief in the US Supreme Court case seeking to overturn Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative that stripped same-gender couples of the right to marry. To prepare for their brief, the ASA reviewed all available research on parenting by gay people. “The results of our review are clear,” said ASA President Cecilia Ridgeway. “There is no evidence that children with parents in stable same-sex or opposite-sex relationships differ in terms of well-being. Indeed, the greater stability offered by marriage for same-sex as well as opposite-sex parents may be an asset for child well-being.”

The ASA brief demolishes the studies used by the rightwing—including here in New Zealand—to argue that gay people are bad parents and, therefore, should not be allowed to marry. It seems obvious to me is that what the ASA did was show that the radical right is promoting prejudice, not scientific fact.

Here in New Zealand, where single LGBT adults can already adopt children, the anti-gay prejudice of our opponents is even more obvious precisely because adoption IS possible already. It seems particularly cruel for the rightwing to try and victimise families of same-gender couples based on nothing but anti-gay prejudice.

But the thing I find most offensive about this “debate” is that we’re even having it. It’s not just the fact that of course LGBT couples make good parents, it’s that raising children is not a prerequisite for marriage! We don’t require heterosexual couples to produce children by a certain time, nor do we prevent people marrying who don’t have children because of choice or nature. Forbidding same-gender couples from marrying because radical rightwingers don’t like gay people and hate the idea of them raising children is not a rational reason for opposing marriage equality.

The radical right bases its position on their personal religious views, which is their right. They also are free to say they think gay people make awful parents. However, they are NOT entitled to pretend that science (which, let’s face it, most of them deny unless they want to use it against things or people they don’t like) backs them up. As I often say, people are entitled to their own opinions, but they’re not entitled to their own facts.

Yes, let’s think about the children. Let’s ensure that all families—straight and gay—have the same legal protections and stability provided by marriage. Let’s try to ensure that all children have loving parents, and stop worrying so much about the genders of those parents.

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