George Bernard Shaw once described straight parenting as having “no test of fitness.” LGBTQ parents are beyond the “test.” In recent scrutiny by representatives of the Catholic Church and a group of authors speaking at the Heritage Foundation, LGBTQ parents received a raking which was entirely unfounded, ridiculous, untrue and frankly, bizarre. At best, it is bitterly unfair. At the Heritage Foundation, authors Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson and Dr. Robert P. George compared LGBTQ parenting to straight parenting and declared, “We should get rid of the idea that mommies can be good daddies and daddies can be good mommies.” They declared the heterosexual sex act sacrosanct, and placed it at the core of the parenting structure. It is the same theory that the Pope and his team espouse, that the ability to physically make a baby is directly related to one’s ability to effectively parent it. They would have us believe that the act most parents fear their sexually-able teens might do irresponsibly is somehow transformed into the very factor that would define them as knowledgeable and responsible parents.
The theme of straight parents being innately better was also the basis of a study a number of months ago by Mark Regnerus, a sociologist at the University of Texas, who called biological straight parents “the gold standard” of parenting. His study was incredibly weighted and biased in favor of attempting to make straight parents look superior, to the point that even he himself had to acknowledge, “I’m not claiming that sexual orientation is at fault here, or that I know about kids who are presently being raised by gay or lesbian parents. Their parents may be forging more stable relationships in an era that is more accepting and supportive of gay and lesbian couples.”
As a gay dad in the real world, I can assure Mr. Regnerus: Of course we are! To compare stable hetero-normative families of the last 20 years to families in which gay members were persecuted, vilified, ostracized and rejected is obviously unfair. It was unfair to attempt to construct a comparison. In the present time, motivated gay people, thrilled with the opportunity we thought was denied us, are becoming parents. Higher percentages of us are adopting needy kids than our straight counterparts. A comparison between gay and straight parents of today will only make straight parenting come off badly. There are ten factors that make this so:
1. We have to live up to scrutiny. We are not seen as “just” parents. We are the LGBTQ parents. Any mis-step is an indictment on all LGBTQ parents.
2. Prospective LGBTQ parents have less external pressure. Straight newlyweds apparently start getting pressure to baby up within months, weeks and hours of their nuptials. Most LGBTQ couples do not. We are given the freedom to decide on kids when we feel we are ready.
3. LGBTQ parents step up to challenges more readily. I know many heroic parents, LGBTQ and straight. One lesbian mom couple took responsibility for a foster baby girl whom they had to rush to emergency and spend sleepless nights a dozen times in her first weeks of life. The birth parents asked just to be informed on how it all went. Meanwhile, as I held my newborn son and chatted with an acquaintance, she remarked, “My sister almost adopted, but it did not work out. The baby was ethnic, you know, and there was drug exposure involved.” She then looked down, and her face went red. She had just described the son that I adored beyond measure who was asleep in my arms. LGBTQ parents step up, and we invest more than biological parents do.
4. LGBTQ parents are not tied to pre-determined roles. There are a million things that need to be done in the course of parenting. In straight households, these are often divvied up by gender, tradition and assumed roles. In the LGBTQ household, they are generally done by the parent best equipped and interested.
5. Maturity. LGBTQ couples tend to come into parenting later in their adulthood, often in their 30s and 40s. Parenting can be emotionally, financially and intellectually challenging. I know that I was not as prepared for it in my 20s as I was in my 40s. Personal wisdom is a handy asset.
6. LGBTQ parents more readily invest in their children’s uniqueness. We know what it is like to be forced into someone else’s pre-conceived box.
7. We are compelled to communicate more with our kids. We prepare them for what they might hear, what the truth is, and how they might respond.
8. We are compelled to communicate more with our co-parents. We talk about who does what, as we blaze new trails.
9. LGBTQ parents plan for children. It Is virtually impossible for there to be an “unplanned” gay “pregnancy.” This is an important factor according to Dr. Irving Leon, PhD, University of Michigan. He states, “More than half of all pregnancies are unplanned. While unplanned does not inevitably mean unwanted, when parents are not prepared or motivated to parent, their children suffer. … One study (Golombok et al., 1993) suggests that adoptive parents and biological parents who experienced infertility demonstrated significantly greater parental warmth, maternal emotional involvement, and parental interaction than their peers… Parenting is such a daunting task and such an important responsibility, not having sufficient motivation is a recipe for disaster. Adoptive parenthood chooses and wants to parent first, a propitious beginning for all parenthood.”
10. Children in LGBTQ families are wanted. While the traditionalists decry gender “role models,” they obscure the single most important factor in raising a physically and emotionally well-equipped children: whether or not that child was WANTED. In straight families, at least 34% were mistimed and accepted, and 5% were unwanted. LGBTQ parents want their children, and we are willing to fight a barrage of indignities in order to have them.
Adriano Pessina, director of bioethics at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart recently stated that no one has the “right” to children. He was misguidedly trying to compare LGBTQ and straight parents due to physical procreation standards. This is not only unfair, it causes him to miss the bigger point. He is correct that no one has the right to children. The US foster care system represents several million children whose procreating straight biological parents are learning that fact first hand. They do not have the right to abuse and neglect the children they have made.
Rather that demonizing the gay families looking to help, he should be praying for more families like ours to come forward. Love not only makes families, it sometimes saves lives. It is only fair to recognize that fact instead of spending time on insipid comparisons that help no one.
ROB WATSON is Director of Partners and Alliances Communication for Hitachi Data Systems, and blogs at evoL= . He has served as the president of the board of directors for Santa Cruz AIDS project, is a dedicated activist for the LGBT community, and a frequent contributor to the Huffington Post. He is the proud father of two sons he first fostered then adopted. They reside in Northern California.