Mini note: I agree with Stella Duffy that if we believe in equality we shouldn't talk about 'gay marriage' and 'gay families' but marriage and families. I hope that that day comes soon. But because we aren't there yet, and because I am talking about homophobia around gay people marrying and having children, I am using the terms gay marriage and gay families.
Look - it's got a sub head and everything:
The biggest harm to children of gay parents is your homophobia
What with David Cameron declaring he is pro gay marriage because he is a Conservative, and the passport people swapping 'mother and father' with 'parent 1 and parent 2' on their forms, there's been a little flurry of overt homophobia in sections of the right wing press at the moment. And it has made me rather cross.
Two articles in particular caught my eye, an editorial piece in the Daily Mail by Rev Peter Mullan, and an editorial piece in the Telegraph by Charles Moore, both of which you can read here:
Both blogposts rely heavily on homophobic stereotypes and try to define what is normal and what is not normal in particularly hateful ways.
Lets take the Mullan piece first. The Reverand writes:
'That “mother” and “father” should be replaced on our passports by “parent one” and “parent two” is a social atrocity approaching blasphemy'
A social atrocity? You will guess I am going to disagree. Lets get this straight. Writing parent 1 and parent 2 is not just to the benefit of children raised by gay parents. It also is better for single parent families, families where children have legal guardians who are not their mum and dad, families where one parent has been widowed and married again, and the step parent has taken on the role of legal guardian, and gay families too. The issue may have been raised by the so-called 'gay lobby', scourge of the Mail and apparently running the show according to their paranoia, but it is to the benefit to many, many more children from many, many different kinds of families as well as gay ones.
This man full of Christian charity goes on to say:
'I am against prejudice of all sorts. But there has to be some sort of normality according to which minorities can be tolerated. I was in favour – still am – of the reform of the law on homosexuality in the 1960s. It cannot be right that a person be criminalized for his sexual orientation. But the point is that the law was eased out of a sense of magnanimity and natural tolerance...Now, however, the vicious activist tail is wagging the docile tolerant dog'
Anyone who says i am against prejudice of all sorts, but...is clearly not against prejudice. This paragraph tells us something very clear about what Mullan and those who agree with him feel about gay people and their families. The idea that we have to have a 'normality' against which minority groups should be tolerated suggests not that gay and straight and poly and bi and asexual people should be treated equally, but that they are somehow second class citizens that the 'normals' graciously allow space to. Mullan's statement patronises gay people by saying that homosexuality was legalised not because everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, but because some magnanimious individuals allowed a form of equality - and they get to decide how that equality is defined. He argues that so-called normal people (and Mullan doesn't care to specify by what he means by normal) should put up with minority groups, but that is it. They should be 'tolerated' but not afforded equal rights. They should be put up with, so long as they stay quiet and keep themselves to themselves and - for God's sake - don't try and pretend to be 'normal' or be recognised in public forms.
The idea that gay people, straight people, bi people, poly people, asexual people, all people of all different sexualities should be treated equally with respect is, to Mullan, some symbol of social blasphemy. This man does not believe in equality. He believes in state approved homophobia. He believes that gay people should be grateful and that the day-to-day, little discriminations and formalised other-ing of gay people and their families is ok because it is 'normal'.
The article closes with what is perhaps the most offensive thing in an offensive article:
'It is a blasphemous scandal and the sort of thing which is destroying our society and whole way of life. No society can last very long when it redefines normal to mean abnormal'
Just in case we've forgotten, Mullan believes that having 'parent 1' and 'parent 2' on passport forms is going to destroy society. Where do we even begin? What Mullan is saying here, without embarrassment, without even seeming to realise that he is showing his prejudice, is that homosexuality is abnormal, and that mother and father is what's normal. He claims that the state recognising that not all families look the same, that not all families are made up of a mother and father, is a blasphemy, that it is sending the UK towards destruction.
What upsets me so much is that actually the change to the forms is a great idea. Asking people to write mother and father when they don't have a mother and father is a form of discrimination. And it's this kind of quotidien boring discrimination that invisible-ises gay families that can cause upset, harm and confusion. Of course it isn't on the big scale of violent homophobia, but it is one of those small snubs that serve to remind gay people and their children (and all the family types I mentioned above) that their families are 'other', that they are not the 'norm' as prescribed by the Mullans of the world, that they are invisible. And in 2011, this institutionalised level of homophobia is simply not acceptable. The passport office should be praised for recognising that its previous prescription of what a family looks like is out of date. They should be celebrated for pro-actively looking to be inclusive and family friendly.
I was once told on a feminist discussion board about polyamory and children that 'we all know what normal is' when talking in a family context. This is Mullan's argument too. That 'normal' is a married mum and dad, with children, and anything outside of this is abnormal. But this was not normal to me, as a 7 year old, 10 year old, 15 year old, 27 year old. My normal was two mums who I lived with, and a dad and stepmum who I didn't live with. My parents were divorced and this was my normal. For my friend's little girl, her normal is two mums. For my friend's little boy, his normal is a mum and dad who aren't married but live together. For more of my friends, their normal is a mum and dad who are married and live together. None of these normals are the 'right' or 'real' ones. None of these normals negate the other. For children their family is their normal, and if that environment is happy and healthy and nurturing and loving, then that is what counts.
On to the second article, titled 'Gay marriage is a step too far'.
Like Mullan, Moore crams his article with straw men arguments and homophobic stereotpyes as if they are going out of fashion. He begins:
'For the entire history of civilisation, marriage has been defined as being between a man and a woman. Throughout that history, almost all civilisations have regarded marriage as central to their survival.'
A lot of things have been said throughout the whole of civilisation. Just because something is old, doesn't mean it is right. Like homophobia.
He goes on to make homophobic stereotype statement number one:
'The homosexual lifestyle, they may reason, is often even more chaotic and lonely than the heterosexual one.'
Jan Moir klaxon anyone? The idea that the gay lifestyle is chaotic and lonely is nothing more than a homophobic stereotype. Some straight people are lonely and chaotic, some gay people are. Lots aren't. People are chaotic and lonely, and people aren't. There isn't any evidence to back up the idea that gay people are more chaotic and lonely than anyone else. All relationships have ups and downs and most people nowadays have more than one sexual partner in their lives and go through a period of being single. Neither of these things means chaotic or lonely by the way, but I think this is what Moore means by the words.
The article then makes some stupid fag hag aside and goes on a detour into cat-flap, before arguing that human rights that seek to protect people from prejudice are in fact preventing people from behaving in homophobic and prejudiced ways:
'The word “tolerance” is used, but it is not what is actually being proposed. Anything that the authorities call “homophobic” will be treated – is already being treated – with the same intolerance that was directed, half a century ago, at anything that was called homosexual.'
Of course, a Christian couple being 'discriminated' against because they broke equality law in refusing their B&B to a gay couple is EXACTLY the same as a gay people being denied equal rights to stay in a B&B that welcomed straight couples. It makes me so cross that the very vital laws that protect people from discrimination and homophobia are criticised when they hold intolerance and homophobia to account. Because it is simply not the same. It is simply not the same to tell would-be gay parents that you will refuse to let them adopt a child because you have made a uninformed 'moral' decision about their sexuality and family life. It is simply not the same to tell a gay couple that you won't let them into your business because you are homophobic. There is a history and a present of homophobia and vicious persecution of gay people and there is simply not this discrimination against straight people. To claim otherwise is to blatantly ignore and trivialise the institutionalised and violent homophobia that has existed and still does exists.
Anyway, the article goes on and on in this vein for a while before saying that we're all too obsessed with defining people by their sexual desires (irony much?) and that we really need to be concentrating on:
'The need for men and women to have children, bring them up and look after one another'
And so we're back to families again, which brings me nicely to tonight's Channel 4 news where a Catholic commentator made some terrible points about marriage being the biological link between men and women and how marriage is all about having children (sorry child free married folks).
It's a lot of public and proudly spouted homophobia to take in a week. It's a lot of people pontificating about what is 'normal' and what is 'abnormal and who gets to define it.
And it's a lot of people speaking nonsense about how a marriage between a man and a woman is the right and only and best way to raise children.
But I believe this simply is not true.
The best family to raise children, in my view, is a family of love, respect, care and encouragement. A stable environment where the child grows up knowing that he or she is loved. That is the normal way. It isn't about being a man and a woman, being married, being single, being gay or straight. It can be any kind of family set-up you can think of so long as the child is loved and cared for.
As a child, I think the hardest thing about growing up in a gay family set up was other people's homophobia. And that is what has made me so angry about these news commentators. Because they are the ones causing the harm, they are the ones creating a situation where a child may feel othered. They are the ones trying to normalise homophobia and therefore homophobic bullying, and they are the ones who are acting as if their right to be homophobic is more important than a person's right to live without fear of homophobia. They are the ones who want to encourage and maintain a world where a child's reality is made invisible, where a child's reality is not respected or validated. Not the gay parents. Them and just them.
I have heard people express concern that children of gay parents may be bullied at school because they have gay parents. Well, guess what. That is not the fault of the gay parents. That is the fault of the parents of the bullies, and often of the school. Gay people shouldn't be made responsible for other people's hate, for other people's homophobia. If you're not challenging homophobia, if you're allowing homophobic bullying to happen, then the problem is with you.
In my experience, the biggest harm to children of gay families is other people's homophobia. Because you know what? Homosexuality is normal. Pairs of mums and pairs of dads is normal. Single mums and step parents and single dads and mums and dads and married mums and dads - all of these are normal. What isn't normal is homophobia. Your homophobia is the abnormal thing here Peter Mullan, your homophobia is the chaotic thing here Charles Moore. You are the odd ones, not my family.