I live in Washington, DC, where same-sex marriage is legal. I find it odd that as the Supreme Court weighs the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), DOMA’s defenders keep insisting on procreation as the purpose of marriage–as if there were no overlap between gay marriage and baby-making. I had mixed feelings when I heard Elena Kagan countering such arguments with her comment that in marriages of heterosexuals over fifty-five, “there aren’t a lot of children coming out of those marriages.” Her heart is in the right place and this eminently quotable comment, replayed over and over again on NPR, reminds us that the legal bond between two men or two women should be recognized by the federal government regardless of whether the partners intend to have children. However, the truth is that many same-sex couples and gay single people do have children, whether through procreation or adoption. It may be a little more challenging when procreation involves sperm donors, surrogates, or other “partners in procreation,” but in my opinion, that’s a good thing.
For many people, including teenagers, having a baby is too easy. The evolutionary instinct to reproduce is at odds with cultural changes that have extended children’s dependency on their parents. Modern parenting requires less physical stamina nowadays, but greater financial resources, emotional maturity, and problem-solving skills. We live in a complex world and children need parents who can do more than just feed, clothe, and shelter them. Parenting is a tough job—one that is all too easy to short-change or resent if one does not have a genuine desire to raise children. This is why I think gay parents have an advantage over the larger heterosexual population. Unless they are coming out of the closet after having children with an opposite-sex partner, gay parents have typically chosen the job of parenting. And more often than not, they have had to work hard to become parents—perhaps undergoing multiple rounds of in-vitro fertilization or subjecting themselves to the invasive scrutiny of adoption agency screening. While gay parents would undoubtedly appreciate an easier path to parenthood, I think it’s a good check on overpopulation to have an increasingly large segment of the population approach parenting slowly and deliberately. Although I am no expert on evolution, it almost seems as if homosexuality could be an evolutionary adaptation that will help our species survive and thrive.
Here in Washington, DC, we are fortunate to have many same-sex parent families in our community. From the time they were babies, my children went to playgroups and playgrounds where they met families with two moms, two dads, or single gay parents. We belong to a babysitting coop, in which parents, including many dads and moms in same-sex relationships, watch each other’s children. Same-sex parent families belong to all of the small, overlapping communities—school, pool, and everything else—to which we belong. Our children have never considered this strange or “unnatural” even if they have wondered at times about the logistics. I remember my daughter at age two thinking it was completely normal for two women to have a baby because pregnant bellies were such a common sight in her world, but she wanted to know “Where’d the mommy go?” when she found out that the child of two dads was adopted. We explained that not all mommies are ready or able to take care of children, and that concept is more surprising to kids than anything else because they just don’t understand why people wouldn’t want to raise children! We are close to two married but childless gay men with spare bedrooms in their house and a big back yard perfect for soccer, so my daughters think they need some kids to help fill up the space. My daughters are getting the message that they can love and marry whomever they want, but the reality is that not all communities are as inclusive and tolerant as ours, and the same-sex parents we know could certainly tell us of prejudice and awkwardness they have encountered here in DC. I hope that will change quickly over the next several years, and legal recognition of gay marriages throughout the US would certainly help to speed up the process.
Because gay parents belong in our communities, they also belong in our stories—in films, on television, and in books. Among the many characters in my novel, Au Pair Report, about au pairs and host families in Washington, DC, there is a two dad family with an Argentine au pair. They play a pivotal role in the drama that undermines Senator Carolyn Quiver’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. One reader commented that this gay couple is almost too perfect. It’s true that they come off as ideal host parents who respect and get along with their child’s caregiver. Considering the low expectations some Supreme Court justices (and I don’t mean Kagan) and social conservatives have of gay parents, I think it’s worthwhile to depict such admirably stable relationships. My admirable gay dads are complicit in an act some would consider unethical (while others would consider it justifiable in the name of fighting homophobia), so they are not exactly perfect, but imperfections are what make characters more interesting. As gay parents become more visible in our communities and in our stories, we will learn to perceive them above all as unique individuals rather than as people belonging to some special category. And now we just have to wait until June to see if the Supreme Court will help to nudge us in the right direction.