FSG: Faith, Sexuality and Gender

On the margins of orthodoxy

Gay Marriage and Adoption: the best possible for children in this less-than-best-possible of worlds 27 March 2008

My gay half-brother recently came out to our mutual father. I was very glad for him, as I think this was a healthy thing to do. Our father took it quite well apparently, claiming that he wasn’t disappointed and even stating his view that no one’s sexuality was ever totally clear-cut. Perhaps at some level, this opinion – which corresponds to Freud’s theories about inherent bisexuality – influenced my own.

On the other hand, my brother’s ‘confession’ to our father again saddened me, as I was reminded that I myself have not come out as bisexual to my family – not even to my brother. This is not (only) out of cowardice – moral or otherwise – but related to the fact that I’m in a long-term straight relationship. I know that my partner, who knows about my sexual ambiguities, would have a great deal of difficulty in coping with me deciding to announce to the world I was bisexual (which, of course, I’m doing here but in an anonymous form), and this might well end our relationship. I honestly don’t think that would be the right thing for us to do at the moment; nor do I think God wants me to do it.

I am concerned, however, that my half-brother’s affirmation of his sexuality appears to have hardened his attitude towards Christianity and the Church. It doesn’t help, perhaps, that he currently lives in Spain, where the positions are so polarised: the Catholic Church strongly backing traditional morals and family values, as well as (far-) right-wing politics, and the socialist party that was recently returned into power pushing through a secularising, liberal agenda. In the government’s last term in office, they legalised gay marriage (civil, not religious, marriage but called marriage nonetheless); and in their new four-year term, they plan to legalise adoption of children by gay couples. My brother would like eventually to get ‘married’ and to have children, potentially through adoption.

In the UK, where I live, gay ‘civil partnerships’ (effectively, gay civil marriage but just avoiding the use of the term ‘marriage’) were introduced about three years ago, I think. Gay adoption was legalised some while back, too; but at the end of 2006, there was a lot of controversy about an Equality Bill – eventually passed into law – that insisted that gay couples be given equal, non-discriminatory treatment by adoption agencies assessing their suitability to become parents. This provoked the Catholic Church into saying they’d have to close their numerous and highly valued adoption agencies, as they would otherwise be forced to take gay potential adopters onto their books, which would go against their religious principles. Subsequently, I believe that some Catholic agencies have indeed closed.

These are difficult, complex issues; and while on principle, as a Catholic Christian, I feel I should wholeheartedly agree with the Church’s condemnation of gay marriage and adoption, I have to balance such a stand – built on a would-be mature understanding of the profound basis of Christian teaching on sexuality and marriage – with acceptance of and compassion towards the feelings of the people involved, including my own. Do not condemn the wish of gay persons to marry and have children without considering whether I, too, under different circumstances, might not feel I wanted to get married to another man and maybe adopt children with him; do not judge the splinter in the other man’s eye without first removing the plank in my own.

It ultimately comes down to the injunction to put the needs of others ahead of one’s own. The need or wish of gay couples to have children – whether genetically theirs or adopted – can be seen as quite natural; indeed, this is the most commonsense, humane way to view it, despite the fact that the Church might label it as ‘unnatural’. It’s an (almost) universal human attribute to want to have children, or at the very least feel twinges of longing or regret about not having children, at some point in one’s life; being gay, straight or indeed bisexual changes nothing about that. But what one always has to bear in mind is that it’s the children that should come first – not chronologically or causally in this instance, of course, but in our thinking about what ultimately is in the mind of God for his children, as ‘our’ children have lived in his mind for all eternity. Does he want our children to be born of a father and a mother, and to grow up in the love of their father and mother? There can be no doubt, from the perspective of Christian faith, that the answer to this question is ‘yes’.

Put from a more human-centric point of view, this means that children need a father and a mother, rather than the indeed ‘unnatural’ combinations of father and father, or mother and mother. I am reminded of this every time I see my nephew and niece, whose parents have just split up. The little boy and girl are missing their daddy dreadfully, and they undoubtedly transfer onto me, and onto other male family figures and friends, some of the needs for a loving male parent and role model they would otherwise invest in their father. Better, in an ideal world, for children to have loving parents of both genders around them. But then, clearly, we don’t live in such a world, at least not yet; and the love of two new parents of the same sex can in some cases be the best alternative. In a world where so many straight people are so selfish with respect to their children’s needs, maybe it is a God-given blessing, including for children, that some gay people conform their lives to a greater extent to the loving pattern of Christ.

But gay families and gay marriage? We live indeed in a broken world. But before condemning gay people who seek, however imperfectly, to mould their lives around a template of love and commitment that owes much to the inspiration of Christian tradition and teaching, we Christians must consider the flawed patterns of our own lives from the perspective of faith. Let us not judge others for wanting to make life-long commitments to each other and to children if we are not prepared to do the same. And whereas, for a gay person, it might be morally a better thing to renounce adopting children by putting the children’s needs for a father and mother before their own need for children, it is better that those children know the love of a gay household than that they never experience a loving family home as a result of the selfishness or dysfunctionality of their biological parents.

(Originally posted on http://btcp.wordpress.com on 25 March 2008.)

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