John Roughan 's Opinion

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan: Men no substitute for a mum

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Protesters have called for gay adoption to be legalised but there is a dearth of data on male same-sex adoption. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Protesters have called for gay adoption to be legalised but there is a dearth of data on male same-sex adoption. Photo / Mark Mitchell

When I suggested here that adoption by gay males might not be fair to a child I was fiercely condemned by an overwhelming majority online and advised to do some reading on the subject.

I did. I have received an 88-page report circulated by National MP Nikki Kaye who has been preparing a legalisation bill. I think it is the report cited by an Auckland lawyer, David Friar, in an article last Friday that rubbished mine.

It is a review of the available research with potted summaries of numerous studies, published by the American Psychological Association under the title Lesbian and Gay Parenting.

Lesbian parenting didn't worry me, I needed information on how children fare when brought up by two men.

The review paper by Charlotte J. Patterson summarised what is known of the effects on children under four headings: gender identity, gender-role behaviour, sexual orientation and social relationships. I suspect there would be more sources of psychological stress to consider but those will do.

On gender identity, she writes: "There was no evidence in any of the studies of any difficulties among children of lesbian mothers. No data have been reported in this area for children of gay fathers."

On gender-role behaviour: "The research suggests that children of lesbian mothers develop patterns of gender-role behaviour that are much like those of other children. No data are available regarding gender-role behaviour for children of gay fathers."

On sexual orientation: "In all studies the great majority of offspring of both lesbian mothers and gay fathers described themselves as heterosexual."

On social relationships: "Young adult offspring of divorced lesbian mothers did not recall being the targets of any more childhood teasing or victimisation than did the offspring of divorced heterosexual mothers ... No data on the children of gay fathers has been reported in this area." So it goes on.

Practically the entire report is built on comparisons of the children of female couples and heterosexuals. (Google it and check).

Yet when she comes to writing her conclusions Ms Patterson says: "There is no evidence to suggest lesbian women or gay men are unfit to be parents ..."

That's quite a leap. On three of her four chosen criteria there was no data for men either way.

Nevertheless, she continues, "Not a single study has found children of lesbian or gay parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect. Indeed, the evidence to date suggests that home environments provided by lesbian and gay parents are as likely as those provided by heterosexual parents to support and enable children's psychosocial growth."

This sort of thing makes me reach for the salt when sociological findings are cited on any subject. Researchers in this "discipline" seem to think that having done the hard work they have a licence to make their data, or lack of it, mean whatever they want.

Their desired conclusion becomes the accepted knowledge to be used not just to discredit other views but to suppress their publication.

And it all usually proceeds on public grants.

Researchers on this subject haven't found it necessary to ask why there is a dearth of data on gay male adoption. They simply conclude that everything discovered about lesbian parenting will hold good for males, presumably on the premise that there is no inherent difference between the genders as parents.

But ordinary everyday behaviour says there is a difference.

When marriages break up children nearly always stay with their mother. In custody disputes the Family Court is more likely to favour the woman. When I hear the odd man complain about that I can usually sense the court's wisdom in his case.

"Sexist" it may be but there is sensible discrimination in adoption law, too.

Our present Adoption Act, as critics of my previous column pointed out, already legitimises adoption by single adults. They didn't mention that single men can get an adoption order only for boys.

The act (section 4, subsection 2) expressly excludes adoption of a female by a sole male applicant unless there are exceptional circumstances.

I suppose the legislators had heterosexual men in mind. It will be interesting to see what Ms Kaye and co-reformer Kevin Hague will do with that clause if they produce a bill to include male couples.

I don't for a moment think gay male parents would abuse a child, nor do I imagine his upbringing would influence his sexual orientation. My concern remains what happens when he is young, goes to school and begins to realise what he is missing.

The innocent curiosity of other children, not necessarily teasing, could make life difficult. Nothing adverse need be said for him to know the meaning of a mother in their lives.

Death, desertion, a borrowed womb or a private adoption might deprive a child of a woman's care but in my lonely opinion the law should not.

- NZ Herald

John Roughan

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald. A graduate of Canterbury University with a degree in history and a diploma in journalism, he started his career on the Auckland Star, travelled and worked on newspapers in Japan and Britain before returning to New Zealand where he joined the Herald in 1981. He was posted to the Parliamentary Press Gallery in 1983, took a keen interest in the economic reform programme and has been a full time commentator for the Herald since 1986. He became the paper's senior editorial writer in 1988 and has been writing a weekly column under his own name since 1996. His interests range from the economy, public policy and politics to the more serious issues of life.

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