You don’t have to be a bishop to find yourself in two minds about lesbian parenting. Of course, the bishops, and the newspapers that publish their opinions in moments like these, are really in one mind. It’s bad. It leaves the children at a disadvantage. It cuts an un-fillable, father-shaped hole in the fabric of family life, one which no amount of (female) love can sew back together.
For organisations that see themselves very much in the role of "father to society" – the church, The Daily Mail – the impulse to talk down “mother-only” family units seems to be motivated in part by a self-preservatory instinct. You need us, they say. How can you run a family without a man at its head? In the words of Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali “the role of fathers in the nurture of their children is unique and cannot be replaced by an extra 'mother'". Cut out the father in a family and, as a sociologist might call it, you kick the legs out from under the patriarchy.
But even for someone who thinks the patriarchy remains far too steady on its feet, support for lesbian parenting might not be your preferred method of attack. You can back gay marriage, lament workplace inequality, blow a blood vessel at Everyday Sexism and still pull up short at the idea of a child being raised by two mothers. Nearly half of British people do, according to the latest survey (far, far more than oppose gay marriage).
Here’s what I imagine the thought process would be on the part of a mildly curious man considering donating his semen to the national sperm bank, which will open in October this year, and at which, we’re told, around a quarter of the clients will be gay women.
Would the kid get bullied at school? Would it be unhappy? I may believe that a child doesn’t need its biological father to prosper (otherwise I wouldn’t be holding this cup), but isn’t the role of paterfamilias an important social construct, at the least?
And here’s the pep talk I’d give, if I spent any time hanging around sperm banks. There’s no doubt that the child will have to take a certain amount more rough than smooth. The “gay”-as-an-insult thing will be a problem. When “micro-agressions” starts to mean something to the kid, probably sometime during secondary school, they’ll notice a hundred of them a week.
But it’s not all bad. You can check the studies (they say, unequivocally, that children of same-sex couples do not suffer for it). You can listen to parents themselves (my daughter is “certainly more oriented towards social justice, and truly empathic about people who experience prejudice”, said one to the i). And you might come to accept that hardships can not only be overcome with the support of loving parents (of any mix of genders), they can, once worked through, bump you into a happier and possibly kinder mode of existence.
So shake a leg, son.