Tag Archives: queer families

The Queer Holy Family and the Return from Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15,19-23)

The Sunday after Christmas is traditionally celebrated as the Feast of the Holy Family – an occasion which all too often is used in homilies as an excuse to commend the modern nuclear family – thereby leaving the substantial proportion of Catholics who are single, divorced, married but childless, gay, lesbian, trans or otherwise queer distinctly excluded. How are LGBT people of faith to respond to this, how can we truly participate in a great feast which so leaves us excluded?

I have reflected on this twice before. The first time, in “Christ’s Queer Family”, I noted that the Biblical Holy Family was not, as it is usually presented, an example of the “traditional” family beloved of the Christian right, but in fact has much more in common with queer families.

holy-family-with-st-john-the-baptist-297x3001 Continue reading The Queer Holy Family and the Return from Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15,19-23)

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Same-sex adoptions nod for Tasmania

“TASMANIA will allow same-sex couples to adopt local and overseas children under proposed changes to the state’s adoption laws.
At present, only married couples have full rights under adoption laws in Tasmania.
The proposed amendment has angered the conservative Christian Lobby as the group deems a mother-father relationship the best for raising children. Gay and lesbian rights advocates, however, argue a loving and secure family is best for children regardless of the gender of parents.
The move will allow same-sex couples and de facto couples who are registered under the Relationships Act to adopt an unknown child, whether locally or from overseas.

 

-full report at The Mercury

At present, the law only allows same-sex couples to adopt children who are “known” to them such as stepchildren or relatives.

The amendment will allow same-sex couples to adopt “unknown” children who have been relinquished by their birth parents and are available for adoption to suitable parents.”

‘via Blog this’

Census: More same-sex couples in more places

“Researchers from Alfred Kinsey to local nonprofits have tried for decades to count the United States’ gay, lesbian and bisexual population, and still, there were no hard numbers.

But for the first time, the decennial census results report counts of same-sex partners and same-sex spouses, regardless of whether same-sex marriage is legal in their states.
Headlines from across the country reveal common themes: There are more people who identify as gay, and they’ve dispersed to more places.”
-full story at  CNN.com

‘via Blog this’

A look at gay adoption

“It has become almost impossible to get from cover to cover in an LGBT magazine without being confronted by advertisements that claim to assist the community in creating a family. Countless services declare their ability to make the process not only seamless, but also, in their glossy spreads, glamorous. Photographs of cute, giggling babies veil the serious side to starting a family.
And what are these advertisements offering? Rarely adoption. These agencies want to make money. Purchase a womb in the form of a surrogate, purchase some sperm, purchase a turkey baster (or rather, ‘insemination kit’); purchase pretty much anything one needs to create a baby. What gets forgotten, however, is the option of starting a family with a child that already exists. There is a danger of people who read these magazines getting the impression that adoption no longer happens. The gay press undoubtedly has a responsibility to recognise the fact that, due to their need for revenue, they are in danger of becoming responsible for a trend in expensive surrogacy and co-parenting arrangements when there are a great many children in care who need to be adopted. It is a particularly important issue to address, when the process is now simpler than ever for gay people.
Read the full report at So So Gay

Oz State Premier Stands Up To Cardinal Pell, Secures Gay Adoption for NSW.

Breaking news today is that the New South Wales state assembly has narrowly approved a bill to put LGBT and heterosexual couples on an equal footing for adoption procedures. There are still a few hurdles to clear before this becomes final, but (as far as I can tell), with this one, the biggest has now been cleared. This is big news for queer Catholics. The formidable Cardinal Pell made clear his strong opposition – but the equally strong support of the Catholic NSW Premier, Kristina Keneally, appears to have been decisive in providing just enough resistance.
Kristina Kenneally, Catholic and Advocate for Adoption Equality

Perhaps it was the full-fledged backing given to the Bill by New South Wales Premier Kristina Keneally, a devout Catholic, which took the wind out of the sails of opponents. “In forming my position on this Bill, I have considered my experiences as a mother, my responsibilities as a parliamentarian and my conscience as a Christian and member of the Catholic faith,” she told lawmakers. Instead of proving divisive, it served to unite New South Wales’s main political outfits with Opposition Liberal Party leader Barry O’Farrell also voting in its favor.

This is an important reminder to all of us that the “Catholic Church” is far more than the bishops and cardinals who claim to speak for us. They are fully entitled to speak on behalf of the Vatican and Vatican doctrine – but when they claim to speak on behalf of “the church”, research evidence consistently shows that they deceive. On numerous issues of sexual ethics, ministry, and papal authority, the evidence is that right across the globe, most Catholics simply do not agree with orthodox Vatican doctrine.

This decision is also important as another indicator of an Australian paradox. In the global march to family equality, Australia stands out as an oddity. Although surveys have shown that a strong majority of Australians support full marriage and adoption rights for same sex couples, there is still no national provision for either, and both of the major political parties opposed full equality during the recent election campaign. Below the surface, however, there have been increasing signs of a gathering groundswell of support that could soon force the issue. The election result, which produced a hung parliament with increased influence for independents and a stronger Green Party, may show the major parties how mistaken they were – and may pave the way for a major rethink. It is significant that the NSW result came after a “conscience” vote in the assembly (that is, members were permitted by their whips to take their own decisions, rather than following a party line). It is believed that a conscience vote on marriage in the national parliament could attract significant support.
Meanwhile, even as Canberra dithers, there are regular advances at state level, with the adoption decision in New South Wales just the latest of several.   Earlier this week the Tasmanian lower house voted to recognise same sex marriages conducted elsewhere, which means that Tasmanian couples will be able to secure secure legally recognised marriage easily enough – provided only that they are willing to travel abroad for the wedding. (Several countries which currently recognise marriage equality do not have residency requirements. Nepal could soon be another.)
Gay adoption is already recognised in Western Australia and the Australian Capital Territory, which is also the only state to conduct formal civil partnerships. (New South Wales and Victoria maintain less formal domestic partnership registers, which makes it easier for same sex couples to achieve the de facto recognition that in principle they are entitled to – but which in practice can be difficult without suitable documentary evidence of the relationship.)
Each separate move at state level inevitably leaves the population that much more accustomed to the idea of family equality, and queer families increasingly visible as ordinary members of society, deserving equal treatment before the law, just like everyone else. Each advance bring the next one closer, eroding still further the resistance. Even before the vote in last month’s election, the Greens were promising to introduce a bill to provide for national gay marriage. When they do, they and the newly influential independents in the hung parliament will aim to secure a conscience vote. I suspect that even if they get one, it is unlikely that gay marriage will pass just yet. However, it is clear that Labour at least lost votes as a result of their stand against equality. The coming vote on a Green bill for marriage equality will not be the last. Sooner or later (and probably the former), the politicians will realise they are on the wrong side of history, and stand up for justice.
Cardinal Pell will soon have a lot more to worry about than adoption equality in one more Australian state.

Albatross Same- sex Parents

A key part of the argument against homoerotic relationships, fundamental to the Catholic Magisterium, to the religious opposition more generally, and to the supporters of so-called “traditional” marriage, is that same sex relationships are somehow “unnatural”, “against natural law”. This claim is entirely without foundation. What these groups have in common, apart from their conclusion, is a total disregard for the evidence.  Some research into the Laysan albatross neatly illustrates this.  The disregard of the need for evidence does not only apply to claims for natural law: exactly the same charge can be made against Vatican claims that “homosexuals” are motivated solely by  -indulgence, and that homosexual “acts” lead one away from God – claims that likewise do not stand up to scrutiny. For now, though, I am concerned only about the problem as it applies to the argument from natural law
All albatrosses are large birds nesting in isolated colonies free from natural predators, which makes them easy to study (the birds are trusting and allow researchers to get up real close and personal). Much of their behaviour is well-known. For instance, in one colony at Kaena Point, Hawaii, there are about 120 breeding pairs, who gather for mating every November. They form long-term partnerships, and after copulation, lay a single egg, which they incubate in shifts, taking turns to leave the nests for weeks at a time to feed at sea. They form long-lasting, often life- long pairs, and were praised by former US first lady Laura Bush for their commitment to each other, and the example they offered as icons of monogamy. The obvious assumption that these monogamous pairs represent one male and one female in a neat nuclear family, though, turns out to be false. One third of the pairs are female couples, some of whom had nested together every year since right back to the start of data collection – 19 years.
Ornithologist Lindsay C Young  has been studying this albatross colony since 2003, as part of her doctoral dissertation.  She says that the discovery of so many female pairs forced her to question assumptions she didn’t even know she was making.  This in itself was something of a breakthrough: observations of same sex behaviour or relationships in the animal world are not new, but too often in the past, biologists have simply ignored them, or attempted to explain these observations as aberrations.
Joan Roughgarden quotes one notable scholar who claimed in 2000, at the end of a long and distinguished career,  that  “When animals have access to members of the the opposite sex, homosexuality is virtually unknown in nature, with some rare exceptions in primates”.
But just the previous year, Bruce Bagemihl had published a book reviewing published academic research into over three hundred vertebrate species which engage in same-sex courtship and genital contact. In some of these, homosexual activity is even more frequent than heterosexual intercourse.

In the case of the albatrosses though, the female pairs Young studied displayed same-sex relationships – not same-sex activity. They were female couples, conscientious parents, and engaged in just about all the activities together that other couples do – except for physical sexual intercourse. Instead, they would find a male albatross purely for copulation so that they could produce a fertilized egg.

As female pairs, these couples were physically capable of producing twice the number of eggs that other pairs could. Each bird is capable of producing only one egg each year, and so most nests hold only one egg. Yet obrsevers have frequently noted  that some nests contain two eggs, in what the biologists call a “supernormal clutch”. Early attempts at explanations speculated that perhaps some individual brds were after all capable of laying two eggs, or that some inexperienced younger females were inadvertently “dumping” their eggs in the wrong nests.. Harvey Fisher, he researcher who proposed this dumping hypothesis in 1968, after seven years of daily observations, justified his conclusion in part with the observation that “after all, promiscuity, polygamy and polyandry are unknown in this species”.
It simply had not occurred to anyone to consider that the nest might hold two females.
That was until Brenda Zaun, a biologist studying Laysan albatrosses forty years later, observed that year after year, it was the same nests which yielded double eggs. When she sent feathers from a sample of the two-egg breeding pairs and sent them to Lindsay Young  for laboratory DNA sex testing, Young simply disbelieved the finding that every brd was female, and assumed she had erred in the testing procedure.
She repeated the tests, and got the same result.. To be sure, she then went back to the field and sexed every bird in the colony, and found that 39 of 125 nests were of female – female couples: 19 where double eggs ahd been seen, and an additional 20 with single eggs.
This example is not about “lesbian” birds, or about avian “homosexual” intercourse. However, it does illustrate how easily even professional observers have in the past mistakenly applied heterosexist assumptions to their observations, which have led to completely false assumptions. Testing these assumptions against evidence leads to  very different conclusions.
The albatross female couples also illustrate how in the natural world, procreation and pair –bonding can be quite distinct. Albatross pairs, including female couples are monogamous, mutually devoted couples and careful parents: but in some cases, the physical act of copulation is only about fertilizing an egg and nothing more.
Although these albatrosses do not show signs of sexual activity by the female couples, many other species do. Bagemihl listed over three hundred such species in 1999, Joan Roughgarden and, Vasey and Sommer, have since listed many more, across all branches of the animal kingdom.  The evidence is clear: in the animal kingdom, same sex relationships and homoerotic sexual activity are no less “natural” than left-handedness.
This does not in itself make homosexuality morally “right”, but it does show that “natural law” cannot be used to argue that they are wrong. On sexual ethics, the “law of nature” is simply neutral.
Sources:
Can Animals be Gay?” (New York Times)
Books:

Bagemihl, Bruce: Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (Stonewall Inn Editions) Roughgarden, Joan: Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People Sommer, Volker and Vasey, Paul: Homosexual Behaviour in Animals: An Evolutionary Perspective Also See Additional QTC Posts: The Wildlife Rainbow Queer Bonobos: Sex As Conflict Resolution Lesbian Lizards Bisexual Snails Exclusive Heterosexuality Unnatural?

The Social Value of Gay Marriage

The standard pseudo-religious argument against same-sex marriage is that “conventional” marriage between a man and a woman offers value to society that same sex marriage does not. Quite the most impressive counter to that argument, written by a straight woman, is “Why Gay Marriage is Good For Everyone” which I found at “Casaubon’s Book “on Science Blogs.

In Wisconsin last week, a court ruled that a lesbian mother who had been a stay-at-home mom to raise two adopted children with her partner, had no status as parent because only the other mother could be recognised in law as an adoptive parent. (“In Wisconsin, Not All Parents Are Equal“). It is to find ways around complicated legal difficulties such as these that so many queer families are forced into complex, sometimes imaginative, legal solutions of their own.

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Introducing her piece, Casaubon writes about two Washington men who fell in love during WWII, and finally wed after a “62 -year engagement”. (“Wow, What A Long Engagement That Was“) But this is not just a cosy, feel-good romantic tale – although it is that, too. Along the way, as these two men aged after decades sharing their lives, they realized that in the absence of  the legal protections offered by marriage, they would need a plan of their own – so they settled on adoption!

When Henry was 69, he legally adopted Bob, who was 70. It gave them legal protections, offered an advantageous inheritance tax rate and made the pair into a family.


She also tells of another legal device used by her own mother. Casaubon and her younger sister were themselves raised by two Moms after her biological parents divorced. Her (biological) Mom realised that if anything should happen to her, her partner would have no standing in law to continue in a parental relationship over the children. To get around this, she too used a legal ploy.

My youngest sister, Vicky, is 7 years younger than I am, and because my parents divorced when she was an infant, she remembers no time in her life when Sue, my step-mother didn’t stand in a parental relationship to her. Within a day or two of my turning 18, my mother sat me down to tell me that she was changing legal documents to leave her share of Vicky’s guardianship to me if my mother died.

Realistically, this is bizarre: the law was able to accept a girl of just eighteen as Vicky’s legal guardian, but not the mature woman who had already offered care and co-parenting for the child’s whole life to that point.
These examples illustrate what Casaubon describes as the very real social value that the arrival of same-sex marriage has brought:  recognition that marriage is  not only about romantic love, mushy feelings and living happily ever after. (If it is only about the first two, with no consideration of the mundane practical matters, the chances are there will be no happy ever after.) Gay or lesbian couples, she notes, really do not need marriage only for the symbolism or social approval it supposedly brings, but also, very consciously, for the practical and legal protections it offers. With or without marriage, same sex couples are forced to think hard about the financial and legal foundations of their relationships, in a way that opposite sex couples should do, and used to do, but no longer do. She quotes John Boswell on the changes in “traditional” marriage:
In premodern Europe, marriage usually began as a property arrangement, was in its middle mostly about raising children, and ended about love. Few couples in fact married ‘for love,’ but many grew to love each other in time as they jointly managed their household, reared their offspring, and shared life’s experiences. Nearly all surviving epitaphs to spouses evince profound affection. By contrast, in most of the modern West, marriage begins about love, in its middle is still mostly about raising children (if there are children), and ends – often – about property, by which point love is absent or a distant memory. (Boswell, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe xxi-xxii)
Far too often, the modern idea of  “traditional” has placed so much emphasis on the romantic fantasy, the movie or fictional version of what it is, and the “perfect wedding”, that there is insufficient emphasis on building secure foundations for the marriage – and with it has come high rates of marital breakdown and divorce. This leads her to a discussion of the record of marital success and failure in her own family. Her own parents, and their parents before them, had seen their “traditional” marriages end in divorce. However, her mother’s lesbian relationship has endured 31 years, and provided a strong example for the children:

There are two generations of divorce in our family to model on – two generations of failed marriages and steps and sundered relationships. And yet my sisters and I are all stably and happily married after some early romantic errors. Eric and I have been married for almost 12 years, my sisters for six and five years respectively, and they look good to last. The single best and most lasting partnership in our immediate family is my mother and step-mother’s, 31 years and counting. It is on this all three of us base our (heterosexual) partnerships, and the model is sturdy and set to last a lifetime (technically Eric and I have the deal that after 75 years of marriage, we can discuss dating other people – he’ll be 103 and I’ll be 101 and we figured by then we might need a change ;-)). In our case, at least, these three traditional, heterosexual, nuclear family models rest firmly on a foundation created by gay marriage. It is a sturdy place to rest.

This is the irony of “traditional” marriage in her family: the theory that opposite-sex marriage alone can provide a suitable context for raising children. Instead, she and her sisters were raised by two moms in a stable, sound relationship – and are now modelling sound relationships for their own offspring. Sound and healthy “traditional” families have been successfully nurtured by an untraditional one. Children are not necessarily better off, or better prepared for their own marriages, when raised by opposite sex parents, or by same sex parents: the test is that they are raised by parents who have understood and successfully negotiated the challenges of  living lives in committed partnership. Some of these will be opposite sex couples in conventional marriage (as my own parents were), some will be same sex couples in unrecognised, but equally committed partnerships – as Casaubon’s were before the law changed.
It is for this reason, she says, that the “happiest day of her life” was not her own wedding, good hough that was, but the day when the law changed in Massachusetts, and her two Moms were finally able to marry.

It was the first legal day of weddings in the state of Massachusetts, and the day before, as the news was filled of stories of weddings, my phone rang off the hook. Friends, neighbors, exes – everyone who knew me or had known me wanted to know one thing “were they going to do it?” Everyone I knew was delighted in absentia that my mothers would get to marry. Even people I knew who were ambivalent about gay marriage, or even personally opposed to it in general called me to congratulate me and ask me to extend my congratulations to them.

And so, she says, the day that gay marriage becomes legal across the US will likewise be a day of celebration for all.
In drawing attention to the practical arrangements that should lie behind marriage, she is not in any way decrying the religious or sacramental elements. Instead, she points out quite correctly that   the sacramental value derives in part precisely from the value that religion places on the material protection that marriage gives to wives and children.  Marriage is by no means only about these material protections, but it is equally not only about warm feelings, romance, and perfect June weddings. The great social value of gay marriage, she says, is that it reminds us all to think again about a proper balance of motivations in preparation for marriage:

Here, I think, the salutary example of gay marriage may actually be helpful – by forcing the conversation to focus on the rights and legal protections of marriage, on the ways that marriage is fundamentally an economic and family institution – not to the exclusion of love, as we sometimes postulate it, but as part of love – as the expression in mutual support and dependence of the material realities of what love actually is when lived – they begin to present marriage as an attainable and achievable accomplishment. If love is not just a feeling, but a state in which you preserve and protect one another, merging strengths and assets for the benefit of partners and any children, and for the support of one another and extended family, this is something that might be achievable, rather than a diffuse idea of unending bliss and constant happiness.

Read the full post. It is much longer, and and far more thoughtful, than I could possible do justice to here – but definitely worth reading and thinking about – and then re-reading.