Tag Archives: queer families

The Social Value of Gay Marriage

The standard pseudo-religious argument against same-sex marriage is that “conventional” marriage between a man and a woman offers value to society that same sex marriage does not. Quite the most impressive counter to that argument, written by a straight woman, is “Why Gay Marriage is Good For Everyone” which I found at “Casaubon’s Book “on Science Blogs.

In Wisconsin last week, a court ruled that a lesbian mother who had been a stay-at-home mom to raise two adopted children with her partner, had no status as parent because only the other mother could be recognised in law as an adoptive parent. (“In Wisconsin, Not All Parents Are Equal“). It is to find ways around complicated legal difficulties such as these that so many queer families are forced into complex, sometimes imaginative, legal solutions of their own.

Introducing her piece, Casaubon writes about two Washington men who fell in love during WWII, and finally wed after a “62 -year engagement”. (“Wow, What A Long Engagement That Was“) But this is not just a cosy, feel-good romantic tale – although it is that, too. Along the way, as these two men aged after decades sharing their lives, they realized that in the absence of  the legal protections offered by marriage, they would need a plan of their own – so they settled on adoption!

When Henry was 69, he legally adopted Bob, who was 70. It gave them legal protections, offered an advantageous inheritance tax rate and made the pair into a family.

She also tells of another legal device used by her own mother. Casaubon and her younger sister were themselves raised by two Moms after her biological parents divorced. Her (biological) Mom realised that if anything should happen to her, her partner would have no standing in law to continue in a parental relationship over the children. To get around this, she too used a legal ploy.

My youngest sister, Vicky, is 7 years younger than I am, and because my parents divorced when she was an infant, she remembers no time in her life when Sue, my step-mother didn’t stand in a parental relationship to her. Within a day or two of my turning 18, my mother sat me down to tell me that she was changing legal documents to leave her share of Vicky’s guardianship to me if my mother died.

Realistically, this is bizarre: the law was able to accept a girl of just eighteen as Vicky’s legal guardian, but not the mature woman who had already offered care and co-parenting for the child’s whole life to that point.
These examples illustrate what Casaubon describes as the very real social value that the arrival of same-sex marriage has brought:  recognition that marriage is  not only about romantic love, mushy feelings and living happily ever after. (If it is only about the first two, with no consideration of the mundane practical matters, the chances are there will be no happy ever after.) Gay or lesbian couples, she notes, really do not need marriage only for the symbolism or social approval it supposedly brings, but also, very consciously, for the practical and legal protections it offers. With or without marriage, same sex couples are forced to think hard about the financial and legal foundations of their relationships, in a way that opposite sex couples should do, and used to do, but no longer do. She quotes John Boswell on the changes in “traditional” marriage:
In premodern Europe, marriage usually began as a property arrangement, was in its middle mostly about raising children, and ended about love. Few couples in fact married ‘for love,’ but many grew to love each other in time as they jointly managed their household, reared their offspring, and shared life’s experiences. Nearly all surviving epitaphs to spouses evince profound affection. By contrast, in most of the modern West, marriage begins about love, in its middle is still mostly about raising children (if there are children), and ends – often – about property, by which point love is absent or a distant memory. (Boswell, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe xxi-xxii)
Far too often, the modern idea of  “traditional” has placed so much emphasis on the romantic fantasy, the movie or fictional version of what it is, and the “perfect wedding”, that there is insufficient emphasis on building secure foundations for the marriage – and with it has come high rates of marital breakdown and divorce. This leads her to a discussion of the record of marital success and failure in her own family. Her own parents, and their parents before them, had seen their “traditional” marriages end in divorce. However, her mother’s lesbian relationship has endured 31 years, and provided a strong example for the children:

There are two generations of divorce in our family to model on – two generations of failed marriages and steps and sundered relationships. And yet my sisters and I are all stably and happily married after some early romantic errors. Eric and I have been married for almost 12 years, my sisters for six and five years respectively, and they look good to last. The single best and most lasting partnership in our immediate family is my mother and step-mother’s, 31 years and counting. It is on this all three of us base our (heterosexual) partnerships, and the model is sturdy and set to last a lifetime (technically Eric and I have the deal that after 75 years of marriage, we can discuss dating other people – he’ll be 103 and I’ll be 101 and we figured by then we might need a change ;-)). In our case, at least, these three traditional, heterosexual, nuclear family models rest firmly on a foundation created by gay marriage. It is a sturdy place to rest.

This is the irony of “traditional” marriage in her family: the theory that opposite-sex marriage alone can provide a suitable context for raising children. Instead, she and her sisters were raised by two moms in a stable, sound relationship – and are now modelling sound relationships for their own offspring. Sound and healthy “traditional” families have been successfully nurtured
by an untraditional one. Children are not necessarily better off, or better prepared for their own marriages, when raised by opposite sex parents, or by same sex parents: the test is that they are raised by parents who have understood and successfully negotiated the challenges of  living lives in committed partnership. Some of these will be opposite sex couples in conventional marriage (as my own parents were), some will be same sex couples in unrecognised, but equally committed partnerships – as Casaubon’s were before the law changed.
It is for this reason, she says, that the “happiest day of her life” was not her own wedding, good hough that was, but the day when the law changed in Massachusetts, and her two Moms were finally able to marry.

It was the first legal day of weddings in the state of Massachusetts, and the day before, as the news was filled of stories of weddings, my phone rang off the hook. Friends, neighbors, exes – everyone who knew me or had known me wanted to know one thing “were they going to do it?” Everyone I knew was delighted in absentia that my mothers would get to marry. Even people I knew who were ambivalent about gay marriage, or even personally opposed to it in general called me to congratulate me and ask me to extend my congratulations to them.

And so, she says, the day that gay marriage becomes legal across the US will likewise be a day of celebration for all.
In drawing attention to the practical arrangements that should lie behind marriage, she is not in any way decrying the religious or sacramental elements. Instead, she points out quite correctly that   the sacramental value derives in part precisely from the value that religion places on the material protection that marriage gives to wives and children.  Marriage is by no means only about these material protections, but it is equally not only about warm feelings, romance, and perfect June weddings. The great social value of gay marriage, she says, is that it reminds us all to think again about a proper balance of motivations in preparation for marriage:

Here, I think, the salutary example of gay marriage may actually be helpful – by forcing the conversation to focus on the rights and legal protections of marriage, on the ways that marriage is fundamentally an economic and family institution – not to the exclusion of love, as we sometimes postulate it, but as part of love – as the expression in mutual support and dependence of the material realities of what love actually is when lived – they begin to present marriage as an attainable and achievable accomplishment. If love is not just a feeling, but a state in which you preserve and protect one another, merging strengths and assets for the benefit of partners and any children, and for the support of one another and extended family, this is something that might be achievable, rather than a diffuse idea of unending bliss and constant happiness.

Read the full post. It is much longer, and and far more thoughtful, than I could possible do justice to here – but definitely worth reading and thinking about – and then re-reading.

Queer Families' Challenge for Catholic Church.

Catholic Church Must Learn to Deal With Children of Gay Parents.

Last month, there was a brief flurry of outrage when a Boulder Catholic school, under pressure from the parish priest and the local bishop, told a couple of lesbian parents that their children were no longer welcome, and should look for another school elsewhere.  Like so many news stories, this one has died down, and for all the full, has been all but forgotten,except for those directly affected.  Meanwhile, an Arkansas judge this week ruled that a state ban on adoption which voters approved in November 2008 was invalid; a series of court rulings in Florida have approved three specific applications for adoption by gay parents, in spite of the state’s constitutional ban; and in Argentina, the Lower House of parliament will soon be considering legislation to approve both gay marriage and gay adoption. What the stories from Boulder completely overlooked, is how very many children are already in Catholic schools.  That number is sure to rise, as increasing public acceptance around the world encourages more Catholic couples to declare their relationships openly, and as some of those in turn seek to adopt, or to retain custody of their own children. A good proportion of these, like any other Catholic couple, will seek to have their offspring  educated in Catholic schools.
Gay Parents, Gay Pride Paris 2007

This is not new.  One of the parents who were interviewed by National Catholic Reporter for their series on responses to the exclusion, says that she was herself raised by lesbian mothers, but was educated in a Catholic school without any problems being raised.  That was a generation ago. There are assuredly many more such children in Catholic schools today.

One lesbian mom’s experience of acceptance by a Catholic school

In a long and thoughtful piece at dot Commonweal, one lesbian and deeply committed Catholic mother tells of her very different experience in enrolling her children.  There are many important features in this piece that I would like to dig into further, but for now I want to focus specifically on the question of her success in having her children accepted by a Catholic school.  In particular, I was struck by two parts of the response by the local priest when they went to see him, not about schooling, but just about attendance in church as a family: he asked them if they would be sending their sons to the Catholic school; and that he believed they already had other children with gay parents.
From Dot Commonweal:

We didn’t want that reality just sprung on him, a thoughtful and decent man who, we expected, might get an earful from a few parishioners in the ensuing days and weeks. We asked if our coming to church like that was OK with him. Our priest said he appreciated the heads-up. “Just come, just come,” he insisted, expressing considerable relief that we had nothing else to discuss (“When I saw your names in my appointment book, I was afraid you might be asking me to bless your union”). He then inquired as to the boys’ names and ages and, hearing that the eldest would be almost six, asked, “Will you send him here, then, for school?” My partner and I shot a glance at each other. We said we hadn’t figured that was a possibility. We’d been struggling with the school question a bit. Sending the kids to the village public school in the very rural district where we lived was out of the question. We wanted a more demanding education for them. Sending them to our parish school in the small city in which we worked was, we had thought, equally out of the question. The priest raised both eyebrows. “No, not out of the question. Not at all. Send them here. In fact, I don’t even think you’d be the first same-sex couple to do so.” We’d had no idea. He thought a bit, came up with the family’s name, and said he thought all three of the girls were still enrolled and doing fine.
Was this remarkable, or unusual? Probably not. With the increasing visibility of gay and lesbian couples, and with  improving legal and administrative procedures  for approving gay adoption and custody applications, there are today many thousands of children being raised by same sex parents, as couples or as single parents.  Those children will go to school just as any others, and it is entirely likely that a high proportion of schools will include on their rolls children from such families. There is no reason to suppose that Catholic schools are fundamentally different and entirely free of gay or lesbian parents (although the incidence may well be lower).

The Challenge:

Catholic teaching is clear that the Church has a fundamental responsibility to all children who have been baptized and so accepted into its fold, so it is entirely correct that these schools should be accepting these children, whatever Fr Bill in Boulder might believe. I suspect that this is issue of responding appropriately to queer existing queer families is going to be in increasingly important challenge to the Church,  as the number of openly gay and lesbian parents continue to grow, in the US and elsewhere around the world. The actions in Boulder got the news, but they were exceptional and in conflict with clear teaching on the responsibility of the Church to the child.  As an increasing number of children from queer families are accepted and educated in Catholic schools, so their friends and classmates will grow up knowing at first-hand the reality that diverse family patterns exist. Just as earlier generations of children knew and understood that some children had only one mom and no pop (or the other way around), so a new generation is learning that some kids have two moms. At the same time, kids are coming out themselves at ever earlier ages, and it is widely recognised that today’s children do not have the same hangups about “homosexuality” that their parents did. Already, the majority of  US Catholics do not agree that homoerotic relationships are immoral. Young people educated in Catholic schools with friends who openly identify as queer, or whose parents do so, will be even less inclined to simply accept Church teaching.

Earlier posts:

Boulder School Exclusion: Other Parents’ Reactions

Boulder Parents: “They told Us in School To Love Everyone”

Lesbian Parents, Boulder Catholic School (3)

Lesbian Mums, Catholic Schools: The Voice of Experience


Garner, Abigail: Families Like Mine: Children of Gay Parents Tell It Like It Is

Newman, Leslea: Heather Has Two Mommies: 10th Anniversary Edition (Alyson Wonderland)