Columns » Katherine Whitworth

Who should parent?

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Let me tell you about a friend of mine. He’s a guy who is unequivocally regarded as a wonderful person by those who know him. He’s kind, and caring, and conscientious, and compassionate. He’s smart, funny, and generous. He seeks joy and peace and knowledge, and delights in passing on to others what he finds. He’s passionate about music and literature and spirituality. He works in a church. He’s good with children. He is someone who I have no doubt will one day make an outstanding parent. He’s also gay.

When Gov. Mike Beebe was asked whether gay foster parents would be better for a child than having no home at all, his response was, “Usually you’re going to have to determine that per child.” This is the exact opposite of a blanket ban on any group of people becoming adoptive parents.

The bill before the legislature to prohibit adoption or foster parenting by gay people, like many legal issues, is all about semantics. Sit on your hands for a minute while I engage in a little destructive stereotyping.

I’d wager this legislation is designed in part with a particular “type” of homosexual in mind — the promiscuous, pleasure-seeking bar-crawler, portrayed in films like “The Boys in the Band” and “Party Monster.” Certainly this type of character exists; I wouldn’t want someone who brings a different person home every night to parent a child of mine. Funny, because lots of straight guys I know behave that same way, and I’ll bet they don’t go to bars looking for kids to adopt either.

What would be the difference between banning homosexuals and simply banning unmarried people? Such wording would eliminate the same subset of people, given that same-sex couples can’t legally get married (or even form civil unions) in this state to begin with. But of course, such a bill would sound ridiculous, because unmarried people are not (at least not yet) a politically viable target group for anti-anything legislation. And that’s what makes this bill hate legislation.

That married couples and single adults should have more claim to foster children than unmarried “cohabiting” couples — homosexual or otherwise — who may have been in a demonstrably stable relationship for decades only reinforces the unfairness and prejudicial nature of the bill. It’s contradictory, too. Most child-development specialists agree that two parents are better than one. So why the preferential treatment for single people? And does the simple fact of being married make one more qualified to be a parent? Arkansas has one of the highest divorce rates in the country.

One of the arguments in favor of this legislation says that children who are “already stigmatized” will have a harder time adjusting and growing up in an “atypical” (read: corruptive) family situation. Ignoring the lack of evidence supporting this claim, how many “normal” families do you know? Is it possible that an “already stigmatized” child could benefit from having parents who understand what it is to be stigmatized, and could perhaps better anticipate the particular needs of such a child? How can we eliminate stigmatization if we adhere to the shallow thinking that creates it? I want my children to grow up in an environment of tolerance, acceptance and open-mindedness. Growth happens when we push ourselves outside of our comfort zones, not when we limit ourselves to what we already know.

And what about lesbian women, who have the opportunity to become natural parents through in vitro fertilization (and various other less scientific means)? If the child’s welfare is the primary concern, and same-sex households are considered by the state to be detrimental to the positive, healthful development of children, will we one day see legislation barring lesbian women from becoming pregnant? It seems impossible even to imagine now, but I’m afraid it’s a slippery slope from here to there, and my brain is not the first to have been clouded with visions of a dystopian future where a woman’s role is dictated by her reproductive capabilities (see Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”). Nobody is stopping straight women from having children that may later be given up for adoption.

Of course, none of this really has anything to do with me. Or does it? The bill includes a clause that would circumvent the “umarried but cohabitating” restriction and allow such a couple to adopt a child to whom one of them is related by blood. I have a brother. Well, suppose one day I have a little niece or nephew. And suppose something happened to both my brother and sister-in-law, and I am by all measures the best person to step in. Even if I have a happy home, perhaps with children of my own, if I am living with someone to whom I am not married, I still would not be able to adopt my brother’s child. Why? Because my brother was adopted. And while that does not make him any less my brother (has been for almost 30 years now), his child and I would not be related by blood.

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