Look, there has been plenty of debate in recent months around the value of same-sex relationships and the impact they have on children. Which is silly – because, in case you haven’t heard, the debate is officially over. Yep, a new study published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics this month compares the children of same-sex parents with those of opposite-sex parents – and concludes that it doesn’t matter one-bloody-iota if children have two dads, two mums, or one of each.
Columbia Law School’s What We Know project has gathered data from 73 peer-reviewed articles, each reaching the same conclusion. We’re not talking about some half-arsed Family Feud survey – we’re talking about an international scientific consensus.
It’s time for same sex marriage (post continues after video):
And yet the ongoing game of political hot-potato that is our country’s fight for marriage equality continues. Already this year we’ve seen the independently produced documentary Gayby Baby cause an unprecedented uproar after being scheduled for national in-school screenings on anti-bullying Wear It Purple Day. Oh, and there was the small matter of the Safe Schools program, which was broken-down and unrecognisably reconstructed in the name of conservative compromise.
I get it, change is a pretty scary thing – for some more than others. But it doesn’t take much Googling and common sense to realise that marriage and child-rearing has been in a constant state of evolution for centuries. You only have to open the Bible to learn that King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines; a polygamous state which was adopted by countless cultural groups throughout the world, including China, Africa, and among American Mormons in the 19th century. In fact, according to Harvard historian Nancy Cott, “monogamous households were a tiny, tiny portion” of the world population until two centuries ago, found in “just Western Europe and little settlements in North America.”
So for starters, these ideals we’re grasping aren’t all that old or concrete.
Having cleared that up, I happen to be of the belief that – in this current state of growth – we can all learn a thing or two from families with same-sex parents. Obviously there’s no right or wrong way to build a family or raise a child (thus my writing this article), but it remains true that some of the most insightful, well-adjusted young people I know happen to have two parents of the same gender.
One of my friends, Matilda Douglas-Henry, a fab lesbian with fab lesbian mums, tells me: “When my sister and I were growing up there was a running gag that we were actually the most nuclear family that we knew. That still remains true - my parents have never really fought over the course of their 33-year long relationship (except over who should take the bins out). We have consistently operated within a beautiful bubble of respect and consideration, and, most importantly, we're all incredibly dear friends.”
The proof is in the pudding. Australian-conducted research suggests that not only are children raised by same-sex parents no worse off, but they can actually be healthier and happier than those raised by heterosexual parents. This probably has something to do with a lack of gender stereotyping, with University of Melbourne's Dr. Simon Crouch telling ABC News: "Previous research has suggested that parenting roles and work roles, and home roles within same-sex parenting families are more equitably distributed when compared to heterosexual families. What this leads to is a more harmonious family unit which therefore feeds on to better health and wellbeing.”
Surely it's fair to say, then, that same-sex couples aren't completely sucky at raising kids, but could in fact be a little good at it? And if so, what exactly can we learn from these glorious rainbow families?
1. Gender roles are so O-V-E-R
Yep, Daddy can stay at home ironing skirts and scraping the dried weetbix from the bottom of coffee mugs while Mumma-bear makes the big bucks in her killer heels and corporate get-up. Similarly, Daddy 1 might prefer to stay at home while Daddy 2 travels with work. Or Mummy 1 and Mummy 2 might split the bloody difference and both work part-time. Welcome to 2016! I reckon same-sex parents are particularly fabulous because they force the reconsideration of tired gender binaries that – let's be honest – belong in dusty taped-off museum displays, not in functioning modern-day societies.
2. Children are the bloody coolest
As a pleasant-surprise/accident baby myself, this isn't to say that unplanned children are made from any less love than those conceived with watchful precision. But same-sex couples really do have to put the time, planning, effort and money into making that tiny thing grow into something that vaguely resembles a miniature human.
It should serve as a humbling reminder that having children is one of life's most beautiful and meaningful experiences, and the opportunity should be treated as such – regardless of how exactly it comes about.
3. Love and Marriage can make for a rickety horse and carriage
It amuses me endlessly that the cranky Miranda Devines of the world can so fervently defend the traditional definition of marriage – but only so long as it suits them and their families/relationships. Let's not forget that we're currently living in a society that reports a 30-50% divorce rate. Whichever way you look at it, the Christian-defined sanctity of marriage is already battling social irrelevance in its current form – and you can't blame LGBTIQ people for the carnage. Above all else, same-sex parents prove that – married or not – the only ingredient required for a deliciously moist Happy Family Cake is a giant dollop of Love. And what better lesson to teach our young people today – that regardless of their living situations or sexual orientations, love is always enough.
At the end of the day, there are some universal truths that simply cannot be debated. Children are brought into this world under a myriad circumstances. Parents go through tough times and occasionally break up. There are single parents and god-parents and step-parents and grandmothers who play the role of mothers and uncles who play the roles of fathers. If we held so damn tightly to the cookie-cutter mould of a family – well, we'd all be pretty screwed. So instead of being threatened by the prospect of children being raised by two loving mums or two loving dads, why not look to see what we can learn from them?
“The only hard thing about having gay parents was the shame I was expected to feel - that was placed upon me by pop culture or an 'innocent' homophobic comment by a classmate.” Matilda tells me.
“Being raised by a gay couple was the best thing that ever happened to me, and it sucks that while I've never questioned that, I've always been encouraged to.”
Samuel Leighton-Dore is a Sydney-based writer and director interested in sexuality, relationships and mental health. He's the editor of HeapsGay.com and author of children's book I Think I'm A Poof.