My daughter was about 2 1/2 when she looked up halfway through her porridge one day and asked, "Why don't I have a daddy at home, like Steven does?" Steven is the boy next door, and I am a single parent.

It was the first time she'd ever said anything like that, but not the last; and every time I struggle to answer.

It's not as if she never sees her father. She stays with him regularly for several days at a time and in between he calls and sends postcards.


He takes her fishing and kite-flying and they have their own private jokes and songs. He makes a big effort to nurture the relationship. But it's still not the same as having a daddy at home.

I feel vaguely uneasy whenever I read the statistics for kids growing up in single-mum households: they're more likely to live in poverty, do poorly academically and end up on welfare.

The boys are more prone to violence and the girls to promiscuity.

Of course there are many exceptions and I'm doing my best to ensure that my daughter is one of them, but I can see already that she suffers from not having a main man in her daily life.

Just a mum or just a dad simply doesn't cut it from a kid's point of view. And two mums or two dads wouldn't, either.

The main problem with same-sex matrimony - be it by civil union or any other label - is that it legitimises same-sex parenting.

The issue is not whether gay couples can love and care for each other or be loving parents. Of course they can.

It's whether two men or two women can give kids what they really need.


Two gay dads can't make up for not having a mum around; and neither can the very best lesbian mothers make up for missing out on a father.

I suspect same-sex parenting is more about adults' wants than children's needs.

Take a comment made by gay comedian Rosie O'Donnell in a recent interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer.

O'Donnell, who is bringing up three children with her partner, said her 6-year-old son often asks, "Why can't I have a daddy?"

She tells him, "Because I'm the kind of mommy who wants another mommy."

Similarly, in these pages last week, a gay Wellington man talked about how his mother worried about him never having children.

"For her, and me, whakapapa [genealogy] is important but it's amazing what technology can do these days. I'm sure we can work that out."

Just because we want something - and have the ability to make it happen - doesn't mean it is good for our kids.

I want another baby, for example. So I thought about following the advice from some quarters to "just go out and get pregnant" either the fun way or the turkey-basting way.

But in the end I figured there was a difference between getting pregnant "by accident" and deliberately setting out to bring a child into a fatherless home.

Creating a child simply because I wanted to, and permanently depriving it of a biological parent, would be selfish.

(Actually, getting pregnant by accident was also selfish for me who is living a lifestyle in which I knew I could get pregnant, without thinking about what would be best for any resulting child.)

I get rather tired of the oft-heard argument, "I have the right to do whatever I like as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else."

But even if that were valid, it surely doesn't apply to same-sex parenting, given that depriving a child of either a mother or a father is damaging.

As Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney told the US Congress last week, adult rights are the least important issue at stake here.

Of the decision by the courts in his state to allow gay couples to wed in his state, he said: "[The judges] viewed marriage as an institution principally designed for adults. Adults are who they saw.

"Adults stood before them in the courtroom. And so they thought of adult rights, equal rights for adults. But the children of America have the right to have a father and mother."

On Massachusetts marriage licences, the words "bride" and "groom" have already been replaced with "Party A" and "Party B".

How long before the words "mother" and "father" on children's birth certificates are replaced with "Parent A" and "Parent B"?

What does the research say about children brought up by gay parents? Depends on who's talking.

Some studies show they're more likely to suffer gender-identity confusion, experiment with homosexuality and be promiscuous.

Other studies found children in gay households are as emotionally sound as any others and that, in fact, they're more empathetic.

So research aside, my view of same-sex parenting comes mainly from what I observe as a single parent.

I love my daughter with all my heart and don't regret having her for an instant.

But I do wish I'd had her in different circumstances. She pays a price for my choices; and I fear children with two mums or two dads would, too.

Better to live with good gay parents than bad heterosexual parents? Highly likely. But surely as a society we should be figuring out what's ultimately best for children and then aiming for it.

And that means aiming to give them all a mum and a dad as much as it means wiping out abuse and poverty.

* Sandra Paterson, a former Herald reporter, is a freelance journalist based in Tauranga.