Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Gay parenting

Just over a month ago, a regular reader sent me an email asking me a couple questions. Back then I didn't have time to answer him properly, partly because I was preparing to go on holiday, and partly because I wanted to think about my answers. One of the questions was about gay parenting, and the section of his email relating to that was as follows:

Do you think that steady gay and lesbian couples should have kids together? I'm guessing it would take some very unconventional dates for the couples to determine whether they would make suitable parents together and want to "consummate the relationship".

If they decide to go ahead and have kids, in the most muddled situation suitable for a Hollywood film, they could "cross match" so that with four children each could have a maternal and paternal half-sibling and a step-sibling! But really, in a setting like this, surely each man should stick to the same woman because there are so many extra complications for both parents and children e.g. each biological parent/child would have a biological child/parent living away from them (unless all four parents and kids are under one roof). And should the arrangement fall apart, each pair of parents would have combined responsibilities over three instead of two children, and there is also a higher risk of having to raise a child (whether step or biological) of an ex! (step or biological depends on whether the split is between the same-sex or opposite-sex couple or both)

Confused yet? That's why I shall stick to the scenario of not "cross matching" to make things simple, which would be the more plausible scenario in real life anyway!

I can foresee how the couples could cultivate platonic love for the mum/dad of their children through shared parenthood. Is that part of the solution for gay/lesbian relationships to prevent the relationship from breaking down as the sexual desire withers? Even if one or both the same-sex couples split there will still be the opposite-sex "partner" to enjoy a platonic relationship with, not to mention the children. I for one know that my siblings and I have helped tide our parents through periods of strain in their marriage.

Or maybe adoption is still the best solution? As I understand it, marriage/civil-partnership status and sexual orientation cannot be grounds for approving or rejecting an adoption application but a gay person can't just look for a random man/woman whether gay or straight and say "There...we both want to raise a child together and would like to adopt please".

Do you think having children helps cement gay relationships? Do you know of any (unmarried!) gay men who have successfully adopted? I really like the idea of adoption since I think the world is over-populated and that humans are brought into the world without any apparent purpose anyway or worse still, are here only to plunder Earth. The only thing a biological child can do that an adopted one can't is to satisfy my curiosity of what he/she would look like!

Certainly an email full of fascinating thoughts and questions, and it is a subject that's been at the back of my mind for several years. I've said before that I'd like to be a father, but I'm no closer to achieving it than when I did the post eighteen months ago on that subject. Actually, I feel that when I was a bit younger I would have made a terrible father because I didn't have sufficient maturity, but at this stage of my life I think I'd actually do a reasonable job.

I've always thought that the idea of finding a lesbian couple for a parenting arrangement would be a sensible way of doing it, but for me the problem is that I have very few lesbian friends. However, both boyfriend S and boyfriend P have more lesbian friends than I do, particularly boyfriend P who knows lesbian couples both in the city where he now lives and in the city where be grew up. So I guess there are still some distant possibilities for me there.

The reader seems to be suggesting that the gay guys and the lesbians would be able to "cultivate platonic love" for each other through this arrangement. However I don't think that things would work out like that because gay women love women not men, and gay men love men not women! So I reckon the relationship between the men and women would start out and remain as friendship only, and also that insemination would definitely not be via sexual intimacy. In any case, I think the reader is right that the cross-matching idea with four children is probably best avoided, for all the reasons he gives. But does any reader know of any couples who've actually done that?

When I think about the adoption/biological issue, for me a biological connection is important. I can even recall hearing about a case where a child became convinced while they were growing up that their father wasn't actually their biological father simply because they couldn't connect properly with each other, and eventually during the child's late teenage years it was proved that there had indeed been a mistake made at the hospital after the teenager's birth! I think it's also best if a child knows where they've come from, so that they can understand the origins of their family. It's also important so that when they've grown up they'll know if there are significant family medical histories that could affect them.

In my circle of friends in London I don't actually know of any gay parents, biological or by adoption. But I do know a fellow blogger who's a gay father in New York, namely Lavi Soloway. Last September he said in an email to me that "...I get the sense that all this gayby revolution stuff is very New York and L.A. and not-so-much London. Not yet." Indeed, I'd never heard the word "gayby" until I got that email, but I guess he's right and that there will be more gay parents here in London in the future.

I also think that raising children should help cement any loving relationship, whether gay or straight, as long as both people in the relationship commit to the task at the outset. If one person in a relationship is keen and the other isn't then it could destroy the relationship. But whether it's children or other shared interests, I'm sure it's a good idea to have some common interests as one grows older together :-).

Do any other readers have any thoughts on this subject?


Anonymous said...

We want to have children someday when we're in our thirties. We've been together for over 6 years and have wanted to do this for some time.

We're not sure how it'll actually happen either, but I'm hoping a situation will fall on our laps. I'm not sure about adoption, I kind of want my own children. I also feel that a child would benefit from having a mother/mothers around too. How complicated!

Having a gay Dad myself I don't see the problem with gay parenting in any form and look forward to it someday.

However, We need to be sure we can look after ourselves before we bring anything else in. Young Londoners have enough difficulty getting onto the property ladder these days, before having to worry about the expense of a child. Scary stuff.

Soul Seared Dreamer said...

I'm confused with the whole sibling, half-sibling, step-sibling, half paternal, half maternal thingy.

I'm gonna have to come back to that later.

I think its a fab idea for gay & lesbian couples to come together to have kids.. but I think its slightly naive to think it wouldn't have major complications.. and I fear that the kid born into such a situation would undoubtly find himself in a very confused situation and environment.. making finding an individual identity very difficult and worse the impact of such a scenario woould have in his/her schooling years.. kids are very cruel when they don't understand or find other kids different.

Lavi Soloway said...

Since I wrote to you last, GB, so many of my friends have started down the journey of parenthood (almost all gay male couples, and none of them involving lesbian friends). One couple is adopting from abroad, another just adopted from Central America, several single gay men have started the surrogacy process. My social circle involves keeping up with so many gay couples and their children (this past weekend two-year-old Hayes and his dads Greg and Brad, three-year-old twins Luke and Emma and their dads, Ed and David) it was almost hard to keep up. And I just realized that it's been at least a month since I saw Jonas and Stefan and their adorable little boys Trusten and Gamble. Manhattan is full of these families. In fact I watched the Superbowl with about 30 gay men at a party and many of them talked about their eventual intentions to have children as though it were the most natural next step... you reach your twenties and have a good time you reach your 30s and hopefully meet someone. You look at 40 on the horizon and start to settle down and have kids. Most of the parents started out in their late 30s. Oh, and I was at the neighborhood diner when I ran into the best friend of my law firm partner who is a lesbian. She was walking down the street with her cute four year old Jamie (his 8 year old sister, Rory, and his other mother were at home). Then it started to snow and Sunday was over.... Gay men are having children, surrogacy organizations in the US are helping gay couples from Canada, Europe and as far as Israel to match them with egg donors and surrogates, especially as foreign adoptions (Latin America, Eastern Europe and Asia used to be much more common) for unmarried couples has become more and more difficult. In the meantime, I hear Lily waking up and asking for her Daddy to give her that delicious morning bottle. It's 7:30 a.m. and time to get on with my day. Ten years ago I heard much more about gay men co-parenting with their lesbian friend(s) but now I rarely hear of that, and known only one case, a very happy six year old named Evan, who does not seem to mind having four parents :-)
Check out Lily's Sunday:
Or, if you are in the least bit interested in US presidential politics take a look at Lily, Barack Obama's youngest supporter!

Masturbedroom said...

Gay and lesbian couples should avoid having kids who share their father or mother. It's great that the children will have a half sibling but it makes it trickier for everyone if a couple decides to part ways.

A mate once said that artificial insemination can be attempted with a shot glass (funnel optional!) as long as both parties are fertile. Wonder how many women would agree to subject themselves to that to save some money though. It does come across as a degrading act if performed outside the doctor's office.

Sir Wobin said...

It is technically possible right now for lesbians to have a child that is genetically just the two lesbian parents. A similar feat is on the scientific horizon for two gay men to have a child that is genetically just the two male parents.

Our science has progressed to the point were it is possible to create stem cells from a simple skin cell (Cell 131:861–72. We also know how to cause meiosis in stem cells (Science 318:1917–1920) and this full process from skin cell to gamete (egg or sperm) was successfully conducted in 2007 at a Japanese lab.

There are still some important limitations in the use of this treatment with humans. These experiments were conducted on mouse cells and the cellular manipulation techniques use viruses that could generate tumors or other undesirable mutations. Just this year there was successful work done here in the UK to turn human eggs into sperm (Telegraph article) by a very different technique to the ones I mentioned earlier.

I'm all for good friendships but the really complicated mess described between 2 couples feels impractical to me. I'd not mind adopting but the idea of having kids that are a blend of me and the Husband... well that just makes me all gooey inside. Actually, remembering what a terror I was as a young'un, maybe the world should be spared such a debacle. :-)

Anonymous said...

Interesting comment Sir Wobin, and from your research I think you would have come to understand that male couples will in theory be able to have children of both sexes while female couples will be able to have daughters only.

I have a gut feeling however that this is not a good idea, at least not until we are able to fully master gene therapy and handle its implications. Wiki genomic imprinting and uniparental disomy for more information.

Belle said...

It's so good to hear that there are gay parents out there, even if they are across the pond!

Living in London, there are not that many lesbian/gay parents out there which had me a bit worried for the future and child rearing but hearing that it's there and happening in NYC gives me hope for the future and the comlications which are bound to arrise from being gay and having kids.

Lavi Soloway said...

When the neighborhood school in Manhattan has little Chinese girls adopted by lesbian moms and twins with two dads conceived by surrogacy and Mother's Day and Father's Day have been carefully called Parent's Day so that all families of different kinds are acknowledged it tends to feel a bit like one's is living in Utopia. I am so excited about my daughter's adventure: to live in a world where so many barriers have been broken down for women, gays and lesbians and people of varying nationalities, ethnicities, religion, and race. It really is quite an incredible spectacle here to see how many gay dads are out for a stroll in the park with their kids. Who could have imagined?

Superchilled said...

In the USA/Canada you're lucky to have legal surrogacy, in Australia the options are more limited, and co-parenting is a much more likely option. Lesbian mums obviously have it a lot easier in terms of choice, but for a gay couple it's very limited. There are Australian Gay couples who do the whole surrogacy thing in the States, but it is prohibitively expensive once all the costs are added up, and they frequently make headline news...

Anonymous said...

i am a gay father who adopted a baby with my husband and i would say that yes, a child does help "cement" the relationship. both of our names are on the birth certificate of our son.

i think that here in the States since we don't have national recognition of marriage between same sex partners that there is a certain feeling of "it's not really real" in a committed relationship. there is nothing legally binding two gay/lesbians together and i think that lack could cause a self-fufilling prophecy.

now, i am not saying that everyone needs to run out and get a baby just so you have something legal on paper. but if you and your partner have been together for a while and know deep in your hearts that you want children, having one does really give that feeling of long-term stability because now you are both bound to this child. it's amazing and scary and beautiful all at the same time. i love my husband more than i ever thought i could and i don't think there are any words that could ever explain the amount of love i have for my son.

Anonymous said...

This has been very interesting. The advancements in science have enable gay parents to have children...but still needs work. I have a boyfriend and we are both teenagers. It would be cool if marriage could be define between two people instead of a man and a women. Self-fulfilling prophecy comes into play on an individual level. The notion of a domestic partnership does have that feeling of not being really real. That's why I gonna vote for Hillary Clinton. She's gonna leave marriage a state decision while Obama will keep the defination of marriage between a man and a women at a national level. I like the idea of having a child that is genetically mine alone with my boyfriend or husband. Things are changing and nothing is really normal anymore. But Victor...hopefully one day I will experince what ur feeling. I can tell that ur the happiest person that I know of...and wish more happy moments for your family.