Leading Article: Lesbian mothers can be better

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The Independent Online
THE question of whether lesbians make good parents may not be the stuff of everyday debate, but once raised it tends to divide opinion sharply. Such was the case, as we report today, when the social workers of Hampshire County Council recommended that a lesbian couple should be allowed to become foster parents - only for their advice to be rejected by a social services committee on grounds that look like pure prejudice. There was food for vigorous discussion, too, in Hunter Davies's interview in the Independent two days ago with a lesbian couple who had raised their own child.

There seem to be four ways in which lesbians can acquire children: by artificial insemination (as in the case of the couple interviewed); by adopting or fostering; by submitting themselves to a one-night stand with a man; or - probably much the largest category - by raising children in a heterosexual relationship before 'coming out'. In the latter case, gaining custody of young children can be difficult, should the mother adopt an overtly lesbian lifestyle.

A wide range of objections is routinely raised to lesbians acting as parents (most apply equally to male homosexuals). At the general level, they are seen as a threat to the traditional concept of the family. By that logic, it is subversive of established values for local authorities to facilitate lesbian parenting, even though the law on both adoption and fostering does nothing to exclude homosexuals. Another set of arguments concerns the child's emotional wellbeing. There are fears that children raised by lesbians will suffer from the lack of a father figure. At worst, it is suspected that they will be indoctrinated with homosexual values, or even (especially where male couples are concerned) sexually abused. Another claim is that children with homosexual parents will be stigmatised socially, especially at school.

Such arguments would carry greater force if conventional heterosexual marriages or child-blessed relationships had a better record of promoting well-balanced, emotionally stable and well-motivated children. The father, mother, children family remains the ideal. But of course, a huge number of conventional unions break up in great bitterness, sometimes after much mental, physical or even sexual abuse of the children.

It is not only children brought up by lesbians who lack a father figure. To become a father is easy. But many fathers either fail to acknowledge their responsibilities, or abandon them. The number of single mothers rises inexorably. As for brainwashing: research suggests that the sexual orientation of parents does not dictate that of their children. Virtually all homosexuals, after all, have heterosexual parents. And there appears to be no difference in the quality of friendships of the children of lesbians and of single-parent households.

Clearly some militant and man-hating lesbians are likely to make bad parents: they would be tempted to use their children to prove something. But unprejudiced common sense suggests that it would be vastly preferable to be brought up by a stable and loving lesbian couple, whose sexuality is a personal matter, than by a heterosexual couple suffering from any of many home-wrecking characteristics. In this field, as in so many, the best should not be the enemy of the good.