It must be unusual to find that somebody objects so much to your wedding that he has travelled half way around the world to do a series of media interviews criticising it. All the more so if you don’t know him and possibly have never heard of him.
This is the experience of the same-sex couples in England and Wales who married today. They are the first same-sex couples to have their marriages recognised under English and Welsh law. Pro-equality religious leaders have been among the first to welcome the news. My congratulations and best wishes to them all.
Professor Bobby Lopez, a right-wing US activist, arrived in Britain earlier this week to campaign against these people’s weddings. He is here at the invitation of “Gay Marriage, No Thanks”, a bizarrely named campaign backed by homophobic lobby groups such as Christian Concern and so-called Anglican Mainstream. These groups are so extreme that they tend to embarrass the more moderate opponents of equal marriage.
The particular emphasis of “Gay Marriage, No Thanks” is to claim that children are harmed by same-sex marriage. This repugnant tactic is Lopez’s specialism. He was brought up by a female same-sex couple and claims that the lack of a “male role model” hindered his personal and social development.
I cannot of course comment on Lopez’s parenting. I am sorry to hear it was such a negative experience for him. What I can say is that growing up without a father is not a new or unusual experience. I am not speaking primarily about single parents in the sense the term is now understood. I am thinking of the many places and cultures in which it has been normal for a father to travel a long way to find work, sending money back to his wife and children, who may rarely see him. During both world wars, millions of children were effectively brought up by single mothers, because their fathers were away fighting. The lucky ones had more time with their fathers when the war ended. Others had only a distant grave to visit.
It is typical of anti-equal marriage campaigners to portray modern nuclear families as the “natural” way for bringing up a child. This is misleading in the extreme. Those who claim to be defending “biblical values” are of course ignoring the fact that no-one in biblical times would have recognised a nuclear family. They also skip over the controversy that Jesus caused by challenging biological notions of family, insisting that all who do the will of God are his brothers, sisters and mothers.
Some would point out that wartime mothers or single parents involved other people in the bringing up of their child, such as a grandparent, neighbour, aunt or uncle. This is exactly the point. Children do not need to be raised solely by parents (whether one or two, whether biological or not). Throughout history, extended families and communities have played a much bigger role in raising children than they do in much western culture today.
I have doubts about the notion of “male role models”, a phrase that implies that children should be taught to conform to narrow and unhealthy understandings of gender. Nonetheless, I accept the point that it is helpful for children to experience a range of role models and encounter loving adults with varied personalities and views. If this is what Lopez and “Gay Marriage, No Thanks” really want, they shouldn’t be opposing same-sex marriage. They should be opposing the destruction of communities under capitalism, the narrowness of nuclear families and the shallow, commercialised approaches to relationships that lay down restrictive and unhelpful roles and pressurise parents to conform to impossible ideals.
This would promote children’s rights, and all our rights. But it wouldn’t satisfy those who confuse the needs of children with their own hatred of same-sex relationships.