Gay parenting and the law

By Legal Eagle

The Age reports that a Victorian court has allowed a gay man to adopt his foster child, a first in Victoria:

A judge has allowed a gay man to adopt his foster child in what is believed to be a first for Victoria.

The man, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, is in a gay relationship but has adopted the child by himself to comply with Victorian laws that make it illegal for gay couples to adopt a child together.

The 11-year-old boy told The Sunday Age he was overjoyed at the decision.

‘I’m really glad that I’m adopted. They always play with me and they do fun activities with me like going to the park and watching me play footy. It’s a really good thing.”

One of the men had to choose to be the adoptive parent because Victorian law does not allow gay couples to adopt jointly.

Apparently when the men first fostered the boy, they thought he had a speech impediment but then realised that his speech difficulties arose through neglect. He is now thriving under their care (oh dear, I’m getting teary here).

I am really glad that the court allowed one man to adopt the child. I only wish that they’d allowed both men to adopt (NSW has just passed legislation which allows this). Clearly the boy is much happier and better off living with this couple.

I can’t help thinking of the controversial “tweet” by Wendy Francis, Family First’s lead candidate in the Queensland Senate, during the 2010 election campaign: “Children in homosexual relationships are subject to emotional abuse. Legitimising gay marriage is like legalising child abuse.”

Can anyone seriously tell me that this boy is subject to emotional abuse, or that he’s not vastly better off with his new adoptive parents? I really wonder if Francis has ever seen families where the parents are same-sex. I have a number of friends in same-sex relationships who have kids, and they are fantastic loving parents.

Indeed, when one looks at the moral objections to same-sex parenting, often the same critcisms can be applied to heterosexual parenting, and these objections just don’t stand up:

1. A child should not be brought up by parents of only one gender. This objection also applies to children of single parents, and children whose father or mother has died where the parent has not remarried.

2. It is problematic that often, only one parent in a same-sex relationship is genetically related to the child. This objection also applies to blended families, heterosexual adoptive families, and families where children have been conceived by egg or sperm donors. No one says that they can’t form loving relationships with a child who is not related to them.

3. It is problematic if neither of the parents are related to the child. Again, this applies to heterosexual adoptive families.

4. Break-ups and custody disputes can be very messy (see, for example, the custody battle between lesbian parents and gay parents in the news lately). Break-ups and custody disputes are messy in all families, regardless of the sexual orientation of the parents.

5. Children of same-sex parents might be teased by their peers. This is a very poor reason for preventing same-sex parenting, and a very sad indictment on our society. And hey, I didn’t desist from having red-headed children, even though I know that they are highly likely to be teased at some point by their peers.

Of course, not all same-sex parents are going to be great, just as not all heterosexual parents are great. But you have to judge parents on a case-by-case basis, not according to a blanket slur about sexual orientation. And the evidence is against the likes of Francis, anyway: as regular commenter Lorenzo says here, recent research indicates that the children of same-sex parents do just as well those of heterosexual parents, if not slightly better. Lorenzo also notes that the latter is probably accounted for by the ‘selection effect’: same-sex parents tend to be middle-class, well educated and economically secure, because they’d be unlikely to be able to take on the care of a child otherwise. Same-sex couples often have to jump through bureaucratic hoops which prove their worth and ability to be a good parent, or they have to expend considerable effort, dedication and financial resources so as to have a child.

Anyway, I applaud this case, and I wish this boy and his dads all the best.

28 Comments

  1. Patrick
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    As crustily conservative and prejudiced as I may be on issues like marriage and abortion, I have to admit that I just cannot sensibly oppose gay unions nor gay adoption. It is not something that fills me with warm and fuzzy feelings, nice (but largely irrelevant) stories like this notwithstanding, but as I just cannot think of a coherent argument against I would vote in support of a bill like NSW’s.

    Good luck to them.

  2. Posted September 13, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    child + two loving parents, what’s not to like about that? If Family First really were for Families first and foremost then they would support this.

  3. Peter Patton
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    I suppose when the issue was purely theoretical, opposition to/prejudice against probably made intuitive sense. But like a lot of prejudice, which relies on no more than intuitive sense, the empirical reality, which has unfolded, has reduced that intuition to baseless bigotry.

    Good move NSW Labor. Now if only there could be TWO good moves to show for their 537 years in power. 😉

  4. Posted September 13, 2010 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    Just on the selection effect, my understanding is that once you control for income, then there is a much stronger link between low income and poor outcomes than there is between single parenthood (of whatever sort) and poor outcomes.

  5. Matt
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    No doubt this comment will see me tarred as a homophobic bigot but here goes anyway …

    I am an atheist, I could not care less what two (or more!) people get up to in their own time, etc. but … (the dreaded but)

    I can’t help but see the move towards gay marriage, gay adoption, gay families as a large scale natural experiment in child raising and family relations and no one has any idea where it will end up or what we do if it ends up as a disaster. Merely to ask the questions is to be damned as a homophobe. I have no idea what the end result will be from all of this but nor does anyone else but the advocates do not seem to care. I read about the huge societal changes that the large scale acceptance of single parenting has had in some communities, here and in the US and Britain and I wonder what may have been done differently if we had our time again

    As opposed to the basic rights to life and liberty, a right to have children and a right to marry anyone regardless of your own personal circumstances seem to have been created out of thin air. Note how these rights are rights for adults, a child doesn’t get a right to a mother and a father out of all of this. We have taken the outliers of the basic family arrangement and now hold them as a norm and just as viable as the family arrangement that has served our culture for centuries and again, without any idea as to what the results will be.

    Now my concerns may all be unwarranted and it will all turn out swimmingly. Certainly some children will be better off. But no one seems to care if this experiment will actually lead to better outcomes overall because some new “right” is much more important.

    Anyway, good luck to the prospective parents and the child. What seems like a great idea when a child is young may lead to heartache all round in years to come. I hope not.

  6. Peter Patton
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    Matt

    These things might have been ‘experimental’ decades ago, but in 2010 a lot of those ‘experiments’ are now grown up; so we have increasing reams of data that do not support the ‘kids will be rooned’ intuition from decades ago.

  7. Peter Patton
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    Though I do agree with you about herding these issues into the increasingly packed corral of “rights”.

  8. Posted September 13, 2010 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    SL @4. Yes, Harris’s The Nurture Assumption cites the studies (though I am rather less impressed by her main thesis). It is a bad idea for low socio-economic status people to be single parents. Apart from that, it is down to the qualities of individuals.

    Matt @5. There are a growing number of studies of the effects of same-sex parenting. The results are that, if anything, the children of same-sex couples manage somewhat better on various emotional/cognitive development indicators than average. I suspect there is a selection effect (it is harder for same-sex parents, so they are more committed on average) but the matter is really not all that “experimental” any more.

    As for folk not caring about the children, yes and no. Those who oppose it on first principles seem to be completely uninterested in the empirical evidence. There are also activists who seem want to put it in rights language. (I prefer putting it in terms of equality before the law and the simple practical reality that same-sex oriented people ARE parents, myself.) But, when one seriously examine the facts and evidence, then regard for the welfare of children is precisely why equality before the law should be the principle. For all sorts of things, including taking kids to doctors and hospital, for example. (If the law does not recognise you as a parent, that becomes a potential minefield.)

  9. Posted September 13, 2010 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    And I must be tired, since I have managed to repeat what was already in LE’s post.

  10. mel
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    Matt says: “Merely to ask the questions is to be damned as a homophobe.”

    Well, no, I condemn you for being uninteresting. As others have noted, many kids have been raised by same-sex couples over many decades now and this has been researched and written about and docos have been made etc etc etc and the evidence indicates there is no need for nanny-state alarm.

    I also condemn you for your intellectual dishonesty in that you reel in horror at those who prejudge you homophobic in one breath, then in the very next breath prejudge the rest of us as uncaring.

  11. Posted September 13, 2010 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    I think we have to be realistic about the fact that you can’t make people accept other people they don’t like. I do think, however, that it’s possible to achieve tolerance. In other words, you can’t make someone give up racist/sexist/homophobic attitudes or beliefs, but you can at least stop them from bringing those attitudes to work etc.

  12. kvd
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    Well Matt, I am a single parent and, like you, I wonder what may have been done differently – if my wife had not died. Believe me – I don’t see myself as part of some large scale social experiment; I’m more of a “why me” kind of person.

    I just think it’s good that some children, who may not have otherwise, get to have caring adults around them. And I think it’s sad that LE felt the need to remark upon such an undisputed thing as a child’s right to that environment, because of the particular adults involved. A comment more upon the reader than the writer.

    Said with sadness, although I do agree with Mel.

  13. Posted September 13, 2010 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know whether there are many kiwi readers, but I’m reminded of that wonderful show “Gormsby”, the jawdroppingly politically incorrect teacher, and what he’d say:
    “All right boys, pens out, blue ink, those two parents are screaming homosexuals… and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

  14. Peter Patton
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    Apparently NZ television is pretty poor, but the two programs I have ever watched were both excellent – Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby and Outrageous Fortune

  15. Peter Patton
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Gormsby: I wasn’t going to Roger you – this isn’t a Catholic school.

  16. Henry2
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    Hmmm. Dips his toe into a minefield.
    I have some beliefs I want to share. No data to back them.
    Whatever some of the horror stories from hetero families in the past may be, I honestly think they were a miniscule percentage of the total.
    Matt, I think the ‘large scale natural experiment’ is the change in societies separation and divorce rates.
    I am separated, (her choice) and have the care of 2 of my 3 daughters.
    I am so happy that we are still both able to care and participate in all of our daughters lives.
    As a single father of daughters, I need a womans influence in their lives.
    There was something on TV last week that suggested a woman/girl raised without a significant male presence was more likely to reach puberty earlier and to breed earlier.
    Steve Biddulph also regards the father/daughter relationship as one that can have a large positive influence on her later life.
    Regards,

    Frank

  17. Posted September 13, 2010 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

    There was something on TV last week that suggested a woman/girl raised without a significant male presence was more likely to reach puberty earlier and to breed earlier.

    This is the first time I’ve tried to find data on the above phenomenon but there has been plenty of evidence for significant hormonal differences to be occurring in childhood – puberty as a result of the presence of males and I expect female adult figures in the child’s world. This below study indicates that the absence of the father increases estradiol in young girls.

    I suspect other changes also occur, there is a great deal here that is not understood. I wouldn’t put this down to phermones or other chemical messengers, I suspect a behavioral component is also playing a part in this endocrine shifts. What research like this does point out is how subtle selection pressures and subsequent adaptations can be.

    1. Invest Clin. 1992;33(4):137-45.

    [Effect of the father-daughter relationship on the morphological development of
    the mammary glands]

    [Article in Spanish]

    Rísquez F, López-Herrera L.

    Cátedra de Psiquiatría, Universidad Central de Venezuela, Caracas.

    The puberal development of the mammary glands is the result of a final increase
    of serum estradiol. Having observed that the relationship with the father can
    affect the concentration of estradiol in the serum, the authors studied the
    relationship between the intensity of that interaction and the morphological
    development of the breasts, a standing witness in a woman’s body of the
    concentration of estradiol in the serum during the pubertal stage. The study had
    two parts: 1) The review of the clinical histories of 145 nulliparous women
    between 18 and 25 years of age. 57.3% lived with their fathers, while 42.6% had
    no father, either because of death or separation. The difference between both
    groups in breast size as well as in the width of the areola was significant.
    There was also a significant difference depending on whether the separation
    occurred before or after the girl was 9 years old. 2) The administration of a
    questionnaire to 90 nulliparous women between the ages of 18 and 25, to establish
    the intensity of the father/daughter relationship. The results showed significant
    differences between the intensity of the father/daughter relationship, breast
    size and width of the areola. There was no significant correlation between the
    intensity of the relationship and the pigmentation of the areola in either of the
    two phases.

    PMID: 1303673 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

  18. PAUL WALTER
    Posted September 14, 2010 at 1:10 am | Permalink

    Yes, if it was demonstrated that outcomes were worse with gay couples than with hetero couples, there would be an argument.
    But domestic violence and abuse cases demonstrate that hetero parenting is also problematic, maybe even more so than within the totality of the gay parenting community, on the figures.

  19. Posted September 14, 2010 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    Henry2: Good luck with the single-dad of daughters – although if as you say both parents are still active, then some of the difficulties I had with practicalities of puberty’s onset are avoided.
    One problem of confirmed bachelor single custodial dads of daughters, that may cause analogous issues with two gay parents, is the trap for girls who assume all males are as kid-oriented as dad, which is why mine has had to return home with my grandson (nice for me).
    As to “woman’s touch” – there are dynamics again here confirmed by my girl’s friends with similar history – but that’s off topic, and sl/le can give you my email address if you want to take such conversations offline.
    It’s a post-nuclear-family age, and if the kids feel secure that they are deeply loved, who should care what the parenting setup might be?

  20. Peter Patton
    Posted September 14, 2010 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    I was under the impression that it was the presence of a step father, which led to girl’s menstruating earlier?

  21. Posted September 14, 2010 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Peter, that was my impression as well. There is quite a bit of empirical evidence for it, too.

  22. Peter Patton
    Posted September 14, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    SL

    It makes sense to those of us whose knowledge of biology is largely informed by Richard Attenborough docos and Big Cat Diaries; 🙂

  23. Peter Patton
    Posted September 14, 2010 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Less flippantly, said docos also clarify the significantly higher rates of child abuse among step fathers. Note to any offended step fathers: even the available data in no way suggests this is common.

  24. Henry2
    Posted September 14, 2010 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    Peter and SL,
    I wish I could recall the program I saw the item on …maybe Catalyst. I think that the working went that if a female child had a period of no male parent for a length of time, access to any male brought on puberty.
    Regards,

    Frank

  25. Posted September 14, 2010 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    H2: Increased divorce and separation rates are, in large part, about a change in the economic balance of power between men and women, which we are still working through (from both sides).

    Stephanie Coontz argues that we live in an era of successful marriages, because people are less willing to put up with anything less than a successful marriage. The separation & divorce statistics are, in fact, somewhat misleading because they are concentrated. Lots of people get and stay married until death do them part, a smaller proportion of people have more than one marriage, which ramps up the statistics.

    A sad point of intersection between the two trends is that divorced men have an extraordinarily high suicide rate. Often, they have effectively delegated managing their emotions to their wife, and suddenly the person they have done said delegation to is now the centre of their pain, and they fail to cope.

    (Of course, engaging in said delegation may have a significant amount to do with WHY they are now divorced.)

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