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The one group ignored in the marriage debate – children

The question of what children might want has been largely ignored in the debate over marriage

By on Friday, 19 July 2013

Children need mothers and fathers

Children need mothers and fathers

On Wednesday this week the Queen gave Royal Assent to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act. It will now come into effect in mid-2014. Because the Church of England opposes the Bill, the Coalition has forced her Majesty to go against the institution of which she is the head – something that was not envisaged when she took her Coronation oath to uphold the national Church. Whatever the Queen’s private thoughts on the matter, as a constitutional monarch she could hardly refuse this assent.
Archbishops Vincent Nichols and Peter Smith, the president and vice-president of the Catholic bishops’ conference, have stated, among other things, that “With this new legislation, marriage has become an institution in which openness to children, and with it the responsibility of fathers and mothers to remain together to care for children born into their family unit, are no longer central.”

I tried to put this intrinsic aspect of marriage to a woman I accidentally happened to share a table with during lunch in the crypt of St Martin-in-the-fields a few weeks ago. I had gone to London for the Vermeer exhibition at the National Gallery; it turned out that this was the same day as the London Pride event. As I sat down with my tray of food the woman – I discovered during our conversation that she was a grandmother in her mid-70s, originally from South Africa and now living in America – asked me to join her in a toast to the victory of equality in marriage for same-sex couples. Feeling very awkward, I declined. She was both astonished and horrified at what seemed to her my obvious bigotry. I briefly wondered if she would complain about me to the police. Fortunately, being two mature and older women, we managed to have a polite argument on the subject.

Like the Archbishops, I tried to put the case for children, that they need a father and a mother. She pointed out that many children were brought up in single parents very successfully. I said that even though divorce and the death of a spouse happened, they were sad events, not planned in advance, and that governments should support and protect the ideal: traditional marriage with a father and mother as the best and most balanced environment for raising children. She countered with cases of abusive opposite sex parents and loving same-sex ones. And so it went on, me defending the right of children to a father and mother and she attacking it, until I excused myself and returned to Vermeer.

I mention this encounter because of an article I read this week on LifeSiteNews about same-sex parenting, written by an American academic, Robert Oscar Lopez who was himself raised by his mother and her female partner. He writes, “Even the most heroic mother in the world can’t father. So to intentionally deprive any child of her mother or father, except in cases like divorce for grave reasons or the death of a parent is itself a form of abuse.” These are strong words so I emphasise that Lopez is not saying that individual same-sex parents are abusers; he is pointing out that children are denied a fundamental right when government legislation deliberately deprives them of a father or mother.

Lopez quotes a reflective article in the New York Times, written by Frank Litgvoet, who is raising his two adopted children with his male partner. Litgvoet is honest enough, in Lopez’ words, “to name the integral flaw in same-sex parenting” when he writes, “Being a ‘motherless’ child in an open adoption is not as open as it looks, because there is a birth mother, who walks in and out of the lives of our children. And when she is not physically there, she is… still present in dreams, fantasies, longings and worries…” Litgvoet continues, “When the mother walks into the lives of our kids it is mostly a wonderful experience. It is harder for them when she walks out, not only because of the sad goodbye of a beloved adult, but also because it triggers the difficult and painful question of why she walked in in the first place.” Lopez adds his own reflection to this: “Every child has a mother and father, and when that figure is missing, there is a narrative that is experienced as pain, loss, and at times shame.”

I, too, was moved by the courage of Litgvoet, in breaking ranks from his own powerful constituency, to write as honestly as he did. It is certainly the only commentary from this perspective that I have found (and I have only quoted a small part of the whole article.) I don’t think for a minute that his observations would have cut any ice with the grandmother I argued with over lunch that Saturday. But they should be taken seriously. We need to focus on children: what environment they need to flourish best and how government should support it.