Same-Sex Parenting: Child Abuse?

Public Discourse 8 July 2013
After having spent the last year involved in the debate about same-sex parenting, I can say the following with great confidence: both sides of the same-sex marriage debate are afraid of naming child abuse by same-sex couples. The issue is so raw and painful that even critics of same-sex parenting are scared to go there.

Pro-SSM people say gays have been unfairly stereotyped as child abusers, so any discussion of gay child abusers is adding to their oppression. Anti-SSM commentators generally don’t want the added fuss of showing up on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of homophobes. So a general pattern emerges: even when you critique same-sex parenting, you must never do so in terms that sound accusatory or equate homosexuality with child abuse.

Let’s be clear: I am not saying that same-sex parents are automatically guilty of any kind of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse to the children they raise. Nor am I saying that LGBT people are less likely to take good care of children.

What I mean is this: 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. (Though my mother raised me with the help of a lesbian partner, I do not feel I was abused, because I always knew that my mother didn’t intend for my father to divorce her.)

This holds true not only for same-sex parenting, but for any choice to parent a child in a less-than-ideal setting for a less-than-grave reason. It’s abuse, for example, for a single parent to adopt a child when many other equally good two-parent homes are available. It’s abuse for parents to divorce simply for reasons related to their own emotional happiness. It’s abuse for LGBT couples to create children through IVF and then deprive them of a mother or father.

Media Tip-Toeing Around Abuse

Two recent pieces in the Washington Post and the New York Times last month are noteworthy, because both broke the silence on the downsides of same-sex parenting but still carefully avoided the word “abuse.”

After months of presenting a whitewashed portrait of same-sex parenting, the Post finally ran a letter from Tommy Valentine of Alexandra, Virginia, warning the proponents of homosexual adoption that “A child is not a commodity to be coveted, like the car or house,” and “Even with an ‘open adoption’ arrangement with his birth mother, Kyler [the adoptee] is being deprived of the unique, irreplaceable impact of a life with a mother and father.”

Three days later the New York Times ran a self-reflective piece by Frank Litgvoet, a gay man who is raising two adopted children with his male partner, titled “The Misnomer of Motherless Parenting.” Litgvoet deserves tremendous praise for being willing to name the integral flaw in same-sex parenting, despite how promising it looks to gay adults:

Being a “motherless” child in an open adoption is not as simple as it looks, because there is a birth mother, who walks in and walks out of the lives of our children. And when she is not physically there, she is—as we know from many accounts of adult adoptees—still present in dreams, fantasies, longings and worries. . . .

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 out in the first place.
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