Yes, gays `deserve' to be parents

Gay and lesbian people who become adoptive parents could never, ever, take children for granted

VERA, MY mother-in-law, who lives in Shoreham-by-Sea, Sussex, has been finding modern life more than usually taxing this week. First her paper, The Mail on Sunday, ran a screaming front-page story on a "Gays' baby factory" in Regent's Park where gay and lesbian people who want children can link up and become parents through self-insemination kits supplied by the clinic. The world's gone mad, said Vera. Wouldn't have happened in her day. Pause. What did I think?

I had no problems with what was going on, provided that these were people who were prepared for parenthood, I said. But this was all unnatural and wrong, she persisted. Anyway, would I be happy to let these people adopt my children? Longer pause. I am not sure, was my shameful answer.

I thought I knew what I thought, or ought to think, but in fact I needed time to consider the implications. And I was worried that my hesitation indicated unconscious homophobia. We are all capable of bigotry and it is important to confront this, however uncomfortable the process.

Then bang in the middle of this inner turmoil came news that the Children's Society, which is closely linked to the Church of England, has decided to consider gay and lesbian parents for adoption and fostering, and that magistrates are being trained to treat such parents with empathy. Since then I have had an unpleasantly triumphant call from a Muslim acquaintance who said that Christians were now surely assured a place in hell; and a moving letter from a gay Asian teenager who feels desperately dislocated. "I wish I was white," he writes. "Whites treat gay people as normal. They even allow them to adopt children."

Both of these have helped to clear my own mind. I believe that even though I find it emotionally disturbing (this may be due to my background; we Asians have no word for homosexuality and there is a pretence that it is a Western disease that does not "afflict" us), it is absolutely right that gay and lesbian people should be given the opportunity to parent children of their own and those who are in care.

The many cases of the torture and abuse of children by heterosexual fathers and mothers should, by now, have cured us of the myth that these are "normal" or "natural" parents. Where is the justice in applying such prohibitive standards to gay parents? And, more importantly, where is the real evidence that children are damaged by being brought up in such households? In the last 20 years there have been a number of studies evaluating the effects on children raised by gay and lesbian parents. Most have found the children to be well-adjusted. I find it extraordinary that the Tory MP Julian Brazier, of the Conservative Family Campaign, thinks that giving children to gay parents is denying them "the best possible upbringing" when there are men in his party who have clearly never recovered from the pain of being shunted off to boarding school at some unspeakably young age by their own traditionally married parents.

I am not suggesting that it is all apple pie and Judy Garland. There are problems that do need to be tackled. The household that the child enters must have stability, where the couple have long-term commitment to each other. My understanding is that in the gay and lesbian community there is an increasing number of couples who are settled, and that they resent the idea that to be gay is to be promiscuous.

Then there is the issue of confidence. Again, gay pride has ensured that fewer homosexuals now feel a disabling sense of shame that could damage children in their care. But some do. Some gay men have dreadful prejudices against women, attitudes that are mirrored by militantly anti-men lesbians. I would be wary of such people getting care of vulnerable children. With social norms still so tied to images of the traditional family, children would need to be taught to survive bullying, taunts, and that terrible sense that they are not like everyone else.

But what the children would get is that unique love and care which comes out of knowing that having a child is not a right but an extraordinary privilege. Gay and lesbian people who put themselves forward for adoption could never, ever, take children for granted.

Until relatively recently, choosing a gay life (as if it were a choice) meant giving up on parenthood. Now new possibilities have opened up, which means not only that a few more of the 10,000 children waiting for a home will find one, but that they will be valued beyond their widest hopes. I think I can now tell Vera that, yes, I would let my children be adopted by a suitable gay or lesbian person, and that it was only senseless prejudice that stopped me from saying this in the first place.

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