Parenting

The cover article in the New York Times magazine this weekend was about a family in New York in which the two parents are gay women who have raised to now young adulthood two daughters (each conceived through male sperm donors and borne by the mothers, one each). I was particularly interested in the article because I worked for one of the mothers, Sandy Russo, when I was at Legal Services one summer. The thrust of the article was as follows: there is political cachet on each side of the debate over gay marriage and gay couples raising children as to the sexual orientation of those children as youths/adults. The body of social science research performed on families like this is small, as the possible sample size is still very small. However, there have been studies, as one might expect given the cultural issues at stake, coming down on both sides of the debate over the welfare of children raised in gay unions. Some evidence exists that the children of these unions are as or better socially well-adjusted as children of other unions on all the typical indicators for these things. Let’s take it as a given that gay unions turn out happy, productive members of society. What I am interested is the question, as articulated by the subjects of the article and exemplified by these two daughers: do openly gay parents who raise their children affect their children’s sexual development in such a way that those children are more likely to question their sexual orientation, act on homosexual impulses and/or identify as homosexual? In the Russo-Young family, one daughter is gay; the other is straight.

After reading the article, my conclusion was that these kids are influenced in their sexual development by their parents’ homosexuality. First of all, kids are influenced by everything their parents do; whether we adopt our parents’ attitudes, activities, or politics is something every one of us struggles with in the process of defining self and growing to adulthood. It is only sensible to me that sexual orientation is just like any of these other things. I also believe that our sexuality has both innate and cultural aspects, and, controversial as this is, I think women’s sexuality is probably more malleable than men’s. Given these assumptions together, gay parents’ sexual orientation will surely affect their children’s orientation, most likely insofar as those children struggle more consciously with sexuality as a choice between homosexuality as the norm and heterosexuality as the alternative. This was certainly expressed by the children profiled in the article.

So, my question is, what does it matter? As members of this church, we are taught that our sexuality should only be expressed in heterosexual marriage. But this standard doesn’t jibe with the reality of many people’s experience, particularly for those who don’t identify as heterosexual. I’ve heard more progressive members of the church say that given the assumption that our sexuality has both innate and acquired attributes, we should be accepting of homosexuality but not encourage it. Would that then mean that we love and support our homosexual friends but don’t encourage them to raise children.? I don’t think this is a tenable approach. At bottom it still marginalizes gays, lesbians and transgendered people because it still assumes that these modes of sexuality are wrong (and denies them basic human freedoms).
What is the church’s stance? Is it correct?

Comments

  1. “…simply recognizing that homosexual activity is wrong makes us bigoted?”

    It doesn’t necessarily have to translate into bigotry, but it easily can (and often does). Here’s the typical definition of bigot: “One who is strongly partial to one’s own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ.” Now, you tell me whether the Church’s teachings on homosexuality can lead us to be anti-homosexual bigots.

  2. “I’m not dismissing anything! I thought I was clearly stating that while such teachings are not necessarily bigoted, they can easily lead to such use. It’s not hard to imagine how, in a church that teaches that homosexuality is wrong, you can end up with a lot of homophobic and bigoted members.”

    Despite your insistence of clarity, you are still hedging. I would rephrase the above paragraph as such:
    “…while such teachings are not bigoted, they, coupled with natural infallibilities of those being taught, could yield bigoted members.”

    And again, despite your insistence that you’re blaming the members, not the church, the above quoted paragraph and your former statement that: “our church is pretty clear on both fronts” could easily lead one to believe otherwise.

  3. Rosalynde Welch says:

    “Lisa, Ros, AND I are all doing the same thing at the same time! Quel coinky-dinks!”

    Yeah, Steve, but only one of us is being paid $150/hr to do it.

  4. “Steve, you seem to be dismissing too easily an important point: if homosexuality is wrong, recognizing this is not bigoted…How can these teachings lead to bigotry (intolerance)? … are you really faulting the Church for teaching the truth?”

    I’m not dismissing anything! I thought I was clearly stating that while such teachings are not necessarily bigoted, they can easily lead to such use. It’s not hard to imagine how, in a church that teaches that homosexuality is wrong, you can end up with a lot of homophobic and bigoted members.

    “How can these teachings lead to bigotry (intolerance)?” The reason is simple — while our church does indeed teach tolerance and love, such commandments are more elusive and difficult to understand and follow than the simplistic ‘thou shalt not’ commandments. We place so much emphasis (deliberately or not) on obedience to these outward commandments regarding morality, WoW, and others, that it’s easy to think that we view them as more important. Sure, we all agree on paper (or on HaloScan commenting) that it’s more important to love one another, but in reality, we don’t spend most of our time thinking/preaching this way, and as a result we are all too often phobic, shallow people that preach love and tolerance but are just milquetoast paranoiacs.

    I’m not faulting the Church for teaching the truth. I’m faulting the members for disproportionately emphasizing some truths over others, with sad results.

  5. “That is, our church so shuns and judges people who identify as homosexual – whether or not they actively engage in homosexual acts – that they are unwelcome as worthy members. How can that be God’s way?”
    The Church does not shun homosexuals. Church members may do so, but not the Church. The Church does judge people who engage in homosexual activity as unworthy of certain privileges because it defines homosexual activity as immoral. It’s no different than judging adulterers as unworthy of the same privileges, which the Church also does.

    There are consequences to actions (which is why I think you are inaccurate to say that homosexuals who do not engage in homosexual activity are unwelcome are worthy members). That is God’s way, is it not?

  6. “Ugh. I’m nursing a baby and carrying on a conversation about Halloween costumes with a 3-year-old as I write.”

    Lisa, Ros, AND I are all doing the same thing at the same time! Quel coinky-dinks!

  7. “Ugh. I’m nursing a baby and carrying on a conversation about Halloween costumes with a 3-year-old as I write.”

    Wait, did I write that? Strange, I’m doing the same thing except the conversation is about the dog’s halloween cosume (Mojo Jojo).

  8. “while such teachings are not bigoted, they, coupled with natural infallibilities of those being taught, could yield bigoted members.”

    That seems pretty clear to me. I guess I am unclear as to your allegations of unclarity.

    As for the other para about leading one to believe otherwise or being unclear, well, how’s this: I officially blame the members, not the church, for being bigoted homophobes.

    Rosalynde, I’m glad you brought up the Sept. Ensign, because that was a particularly challenging topic and an interesting article. It seems, however, to be somewhat difficult to accept as official Church doctrine in light of the more recent family declaration, no?

  9. Actually, working at a law firm is like nursing a child. Or, more accurately: working at a law firm is like having an evil devil-child suck you dry.

  10. wolverine says:

    As far as transvestites and transgendered folks are concerned, I think , a person has to be severely psychologically flawed to be so out fo whack!!! And thus, ought not to be deemed legally fit to be given the responsibility fo raising children!!!! Call it bigorty o whatever, trannies are seriously messed up. In fact my friend Aubrey who is watching me type this agrees – and he was raised by a lesbian couple!!!!

  11. Both, unfortunately. Our church is pretty clear on both fronts, I think.

  12. CB,
    I completely agree that a stable home is much more important than the sexual orientation of the parents. My point is not that gay parents should be prohibited from raising children. I believe the opposite.

    I also agree that best evidence is that our sexuality is largely, as you say, hard wired. But I don’t think that means that environmental factors don’t also contribute. And, as I said, it seems to be more malleable for women than for men (a subject for an entirely different post). Lesbians, please feel free to call me out on this. What do I know, after all? In any case, my intent was to point up the next question that arises – what if parents’ sexual orientation influences their children? My conclusion is, it doesn’t matter, because homosexuality is not itself wrong. I’m sure many other active LDS member would disagree.

  13. Aaron Brown says:

    Christina said:
    “what if parents’ sexual orientation influences their children? My conclusion is, it doesn’t matter, because homosexuality is not itself wrong.”

    I’m not clear if you’re saying that homosexual inclination is “not wrong” or that homosexual behavior is “not wrong,” but let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that both are “not wrong” as a matter of morality. It seems to me that one could believe this and still conclude that the influence of a gay parent’s sexual orientation on a child’s sexual development (assuming it is more than a negligible factor) is cause for concern. For example, one might say:

    (1) “I don’t have a problem with homosexuals being who they are and engaging in homosexual intimacy, but I’m concerned that since children of homosexuals are more likely to turn out homosexual, they will consequently be subjected to a “sexual handicap” in a society that is homophobic and intolerant. I love gays, but I’d rather not facilitate the creation of more of them if they weren’t necessarily destined to turn out that way at birth.”

    (2) “I don’t have a problem with homosexuals being who they are and engaging in homosexual intimacy, and I object to the patronizing idea that we should regret anyone turning out gay just because society will be intolerant toward them. However, I’m not comfortable with the idea of gay parenting because, if gay parents are more likely to produce gay children, overtime a greater and greater proportion of the population will be gay, and I think there comes a point at which an inordinately large proportion of homosexuals in the population will have negative societal effects (think birth rates, etc.).”

    I could probably come up with other examples, but my point is that the question of whether one is in favor of gay parenting does not necessarily turn completely on the “Is homosexuality immoral?” question.

    Aaron B

  14. john fowles says:

    Christina,

    (1) Is there any constellation in your view in which homosexuality is both wrong and we are not bigots for accepting that fact? Is God a bigot? What about the clear biblical condemnation of homosexuality, both in the OT and the NT? It seems to me that in order to claim that acknowledging that homosexuality is sinful equates to bigotry requires a dismissal of any real value in the scriptures as literal words/revelations from God and reduces them to mere cultural expressions–world literature if you will, perhaps vaguely inspired but certainly “old-fashioned” in their traditional morality or their suggestion that the natural family and natural sexuality is God’s way.

    (2) What does your query here achieve? What is the answer that you are fishing for? An admission that we are all bigots for believing the scriptures? Or perhaps a commitment that we will all treat homosexuals better? Or a surrender of the scriptural position altogether and a reversal in which we decide, in contradiction to scripture, that homosexuality is not wrong?

    It is interesting to note in the same vein as your observation that the Church seems to be ameliorating its position/rhetoric on those who suffer from same-sex attraction, that at the same time that this is occuring (if it is occuring), the rhetoric on the other side is stepping up. Suddenly, those who hold to the view that homosexuality is a sin are straight-out bigots. I didn’t sense a middle position in either your post or your comments. Which other sins are next? It literally seems to be the case that you have decided for yourself that homosexuality is okay (because apparently you subscribe to the theories that people are hard-wired either way) and thus it shouldn’t be a sin anymore.

    I guess what I am confused about here is what you are trying to achieve with this discussion.

  15. Christina,

    I’m not an expert (are any of us?), but, from the reading I have done, homosexuality appears to more hard-wired, and not as malleable as you imply. Consequently, parenting may have very little effect on the sexual orientation of the child.

    This is important to note because I believe strongly that children are much better off in stable homes, even if the parents are homosexual, that in foster homes or orphanages. Jeremy’s previous post was very valuable in pointing this out.

    A lot of LDS people would object to allowing gay people to adopt because they assume the kids would have the same sexual orientation as the parents.
    However, I am not convinced that is the case.

  16. Rosalynde Welch says:

    Christina, I agree that, speaking collectively, we need to expect much more of ourselves as Christians: gay members need to be embraced and supported and integrated into the ward. There may be structural measures that could be adopted, as well; I’m intrigued at the suggestion that D. Fletcher has on occasion that some sort of special auxiliary be developed for celibate members.

    I think this will happen with time; I think it’s already happening now. In my ward the bishop called a couple to be a special “liaison” to the gay members, of which there are a number, with the responsibility to fellowship and support. (The calling wasn’t mentioned over the pulpit, not surprisingly.) And in my home stake a gay man dying of AIDS (who had repented and renounced gay lifestyle, of course) was granted a temple recommend and was endowed before his death.

    (By the way, thank you for charitably overlooking the inelegance of my phrasing, “I have to believe, based on religious beliefs.” Ugh. I’m nursing a baby and carrying on a conversation about Halloween costumes with a 3-year-old as I write.)

  17. Rosalynde Welch says:

    Christina, note that I did not assert the validity of the Freudian view.

    As for homosexuality as the consequence of social experimentation: it’s likely that the emergence of a gay subject position into mainstream society (not an unprecedented experiment–other cultures, such as ancient Athens, also accommodated homosexual behavior, although not homosexual “identity” as currently formulated) will in fact have the “consequence” of greater gay-identification in the total population. But it’s homosexuality as *cause*, not consequence, that’s more concerning to me–specifically in its effects on children, as I implied above.

    If you’re asking simply whether or not homosexual behavior is an undesirable outcome, then my answer is yes. I have to believe, based on religious beliefs, that, in some way, heterosexual unions will produce greater happiness for greater numbers of people both here in mortality and in eternity. I’m not dismissing the enormous personal costs to certain people of this position, and I’m certain that God doesn’t either.

  18. Cristina, I think that Rosalynde has a good point. You may be oversimplifying when you imply that you don’t think that Freud was right. I think that Rosalynde is pointing not to Freud’s specific Oedipal/Electra theories, but to the methodologies that have been abandoned in favor of accomodating the poltical goals of the homosexual lobby.

    While we may disagree with the actual theoretical models that Freud developed, many of his methodological concepts are still widely accepted and the idea that the early childhood experiences between Husband-Wife-Child have a significant influence on the development of children and how they understand and interact with society is an important, and widely accepted concept.

    This might relate to the October First Presidency Message written by President Monson where he sites Dr. Glenn Doman:

    What is placed in the child’s brain during the first six years of life is probably there to stay. . . . If you put misinformation into his brain during [this period], it is extremely difficult to erase it.

    My views on this matter tend to line up with the ideas expressed in this article:

    Gay Marriage vs. American Marriage

  19. Rosalynde Welch says:

    Ed, see the September (?) issue of the Ensign for an article that makes it clear that same sex attraction, when experienced involuntarily, is not in and of itself sinful.

  20. Even the most anti-gay-biased studies I’ve seen suggest only a slight increase in the number of children who self-identify as gay if they are raised by gay parents (something like 9-12%). Since there aren’t any good numbers about what %age of the general population is gay, it’s hard to know how dramatic that increase is. Still, the percentage of children of homosexual-but-heterosexually-married adults who self-identify as gay is higher, which suggests that the hereditary component may be more significant than the environmental one. My suspicion is that environmental factors are significant for some small fraction of children who are somewhat bisexual–not strongly homo- or heterosexually oriented. Still, since peer influence is so strong at adolescence, I think it’s awfully hard to make a case that having gay parents would (by itself) really have a decisive impact on a child’s sexual orientation.

  21. wolverine says:

    Here in Ann Arbor, there are alot fo homo and lesbian couple who are or have raised children as homo/lesbian couples. I dont know what a properly run study will find, but, i do know a few people who were raised in such families. All, I can say, based on personal observation is this – seems most of the me raised to adulthood by same sex couples seem to have problems dealing with being and acting like a normal male does. Plus, quit a few of my friends seem to be in therapy or seem to be a bit maladjusted – not bad enough that they cant function in society, but they all are a bit weird in some way, and have problems in striking up relatioships or maintaining relationships with women. A couple are really conflicted over whether they are straight or gay, and they dont know if the “should be” gay, on account of that being their parents orientation. based on my very small sample, I’d say that being raised by a homo/lesbian couple is an experience, that probably is best avoided if possible. that is what my friends who grew up i such families seem to indicate.

  22. I agree Christina, certainly homosexuals are treated differently than fornicators/adulterers and I think that is sad. But how is that the crux of the issue? How does the fact that some Church members treat homosexuals poorly prove that homosexuals should be afforded adoption rights?

  23. I guess I’d find the teaching that homosexual orientation is nothing to be ashamed of more convincing if it wasn’t delivered by somebody called “name withheld.”

  24. Rosalynde Welch says:

    In my view it’s far too early to expect any degree of accuracy from social-scientific literature, and the anecdotal approach is bound to channel the biases of the authors (as is “pure” social science, for that matter).

    With the empirical method all but useless (at this point) for assessing the effect of homosexual parenting, one is left to deduce from some prior principle, be it political, religious, or theoretical. What is astonishing to me is the haste with which the academic left has abandoned both venerable psychoanalytic models of subjectivity based on heterosexual parenting (think Freud, Lacan, Chodorow here) and constructionist models of gender and sexuality that strenuously resist biologistic reductionism (think Foucault, Judith Butler, Adrienne Rich here) in order to accommodate the gay movement’s political expediencies.

    In my own view, as I’ve stated before, I think that the children of homosexual parents (at least those that are raised by a gay couple sometime after the first few years of life; I’m far less sure of the effect of motherlessness or fatherlessness on very young children) will probably sort out along socioeconomic lines. The children of upper and middle class gay families will probably do no worse than the middle class children of divorce, single parents, or other non-violent dysfunctions–who tend pull out okay, by and large. But the negative effects will of much greater magnitude in the least advantaged families; as with all of the major cultural upheavals over the last four decades, it’s most vulnerable segments of the population who will suffer most, in ways that are unpredictable from our historical vantage point.

  25. Rosalynde Welch says:

    John, you wrote, “the natural family and natural sexuality”, etc.

    I am frankly not addressing the questions you brought up, but just want to footnote something here. John, we share a lot of common ground on this issue. But if you’re interested in building bridges of understanding with people like me (let’s say we weren’t related, and thus didn’t have shared experience to draw us together)–that is, faithful feminist-minded sisters–then you (and not just you) might consider not using language like “traditional” or “natural” to describe the ideal family. The “traditional” family has been an decidedly mixed bag for women over the long haul of history, and “natural” sexuality would undoubtedly not include delaying intercourse until marriage and thereafter engaging with a single lifetime partner.

    I’m not attacking you, John; I’m sincerely trying to help you see my view, and see how you might more effectively communicate your ideas to differently-minded people without compromising the content. And that sounded incredibly patronizing, which it wasn’t meant to be. Hopefully you can discern my friendly, reasonable tone. :)

  26. a random John says:

    Kristine,

    Can you point out a study of children of homosexual-but-heterosexually-married? From your description I don’t know that you could rule out evironmental factors, since the environment such a child would grow up in is bound to be different from that of a child of two heterosexual parents.

  27. Rosalynde Welch says:

    No, CB, I’m the oldest, actually. But five years in one of the left-est literature grad programs in the country has made me a master of, if nothing else, sweet-talking disagreement.

    Thanks for the compliment, though!

  28. Rick, is it not true that those who have heterosexual sex outside of marriage are treated differently in the church than those who have homosexual sex? I’m not talking about temple recommend interviews but rather social norms. I’ll tell you, the young couples I knew as a teenager who had sex before they got married or who fooled around a little in college were not treated with the stigma that those adults who identify as homosexual are. This is the crux of the issue — we decide in the church that certain sins are worse than others, and then we judge people based on that. I don’t care if President Hinckley never told people to judge gays; it happens, and it happens widely, to the point of exclusion (and I’m not even bringing up the damaging counsel that church leaders would give to their members up to very recently).

  29. Rick, part of the issue here is that when a lot of church members act in a certain way, it becomes difficult to assert that it’s the members, not the Church. You could argue that even if 100% of church members shunned homosexuals, it’s still just the members, not the church. But what would be the practical benefit of such an argument?

  30. Rosalynde mentions “enormous personal costs,” which is an entirely appropriate way to describe the effect of prohibitions on homosexuality. They run very, very personally for people, much more so than other sorts of prohibitions in our church. Christina is right to question whether the costs are ultimately too great. I’m not sure myself, but I do have confidence in church leadership and hope that we can all find ways to obey commandments in this regard while not forgetting to obey the two greatest commandments.

  31. Rosalynde,

    Are you a middle child or something?

    The role of peacemaker seems to come very naturally to you.

  32. Rosalynde, I think that is logical but it brings up an interesting question. Could a perfected being experience involuntary same-sex attraction? If not, how could it not be considered a sin? Is it too simplistic to define sin as any deviation from perfection? I tend to agree with you but find these to be interesting questions.

  33. Rosalynde, I, as a believing LDS member, also am forced to accomodate myself with something like your statement, “I have to believe, based on religious beliefs, that, in some way, heterosexual unions will produce greater happiness for greater numbers of people both here in mortality and in eternity” in order to believe that the church’s position has any validity and to believe in a just God. However, while this reconciliation works on the level of the society, I think it is so handicaps the individual that the cost is too great. That is, our church so shuns and judges people who identify as homosexual – whether or not they actively engage in homosexual acts – that they are unwelcome as worthy members. How can that be God’s way?

  34. Rosalynde, if I thought Freud were right about our sexuality, I would be very concerned. I do agree that social experimentation has consequences, sometimes very severe consequences. But is homosexuality necessarily a bad consequence (assuming it can be influenced in some cases)?

  35. Steve,

    You’re not saying that simply recognizing that homosexual activity is wrong makes us bigoted are you? I could see an angle for answering “both” as you did but not in this fashion.

  36. Steve,
    Is homosexual activity in fact wrong behavior? Or are we just bigots? Both?

  37. Steve, you seem to be dismissing too easily an important point: if homosexuality is wrong, recognizing this is not bigoted. Period. Having knowledge or understand is not the same as being intolerant.

    The Church teaches that homosexuality is immoral. It also teaches us to love our neighbors as ourselves, to not judge others, love the sinner, not the sin, etc. How can these teachings lead to bigotry (intolerance)? If the first teaching is true, are you really faulting the Church for teaching the truth?

  38. The church teaches that homosexual behavior is wrong. It’s not clear to me whether the church teaches that same sex attraction itself is wrong or sinful, although it certainly presents a problem for those who experience it. It might be considered bigotry to be intolerant of those who have homosexual inclinations, even if they don’t act on them.

  39. The practical benefit of the argument is to answer the question posed: How can that be God’s way?

    The answer is that to shun people is not God’s way (although it is the way of many of his imperfect children). To judge according to one’s actions is God’s way.

  40. Aaron Brown says:

    The question of distinguishing between the “members” and the “Church” is further complicated by the fact that many Church members’ actions and attitudes are in part the product of historical General Authority rhetoric on the evils of homosexuality, even though that rhetoric isn’t identical to the tone and substance of current counsel. This is the problem in a Church where past counsel is never repudiated, and where everyone knows that much of the membership seems to view every General Authority pronouncement as timeless.

    I don’t mean to suggest that the Church has pulled a 180 as to its views on “loving the homosexual” (it hasn’t), but if you look at how Church rhetoric used to read, it didn’t focus on the moral distinction between acts and inclinations, and it was often characterized by the author apologizing profusely to the reader/listener for subjecting him/her to such an extremely distasteful topic.

    Aaron B

  41. To piggy-back on John’s question: one of the kids cited in the article identified as heterosexual, but noted his difficulties in inititating with dating and sexuality with women. He was raised by his parents who were married to each other, but his mother came out much later in the marriage as gay. As he said (paraphrasing), what’s imprinted on me is, Dad likes to kiss Mom, Mom hates it, Mom pushes him away.

  42. Um, I think this is germane to the conversation re: female sexual malleability. Last monthÂ’s Discover had an article about the brain chemistry of sexual arousal, and (paraphrasing) one of the discoveries was that (hey look a squirky and scientific use of p0rn) when men watched arousing videos their brains and blood flow acted much as you would expect: men who identified as hetero were aroused by watching hetero sex acts, men who identified as homo were aroused by watching homo sex acts. More interesting however was the fact that no matter how women identified themselves they were all pretty much equally aroused by either.

  43. wolverine, with sentiments like those, I can see why you wouldn’t want to use your real name. Besides the embarrassing unkindness, you are no doubt aware of the pitfalls of drawing such conclusions from the limited sample that forms your personal experience. I can tell you, from my personal experience, about several wonderful, well-adjusted happy kids who are being raised by gay parents. And I’m sure you can think of a few friends raised by heterosexuals who are in therapy or “a bit maladjusted.”

  44. Wow, Christina, great post, and some really challenging questions. You raise issues similar to Jeremy’s prior adoption-related post, I think.

    What does it matter? Clearly, sexuality and identity are HUGE issues in LDS doctrine, and not just because we are socially very repressed. We associate procreation with the Divine, and so the stakes are seemingly very high in this respect.

    However, equally as important to giving birth to children is the ability to be a good and loving parent. This too is a godly attribute. So, this explains the Church’s contradictory approach, as you put it: “accepting of homosexuality but not encourage it.”

    Can we love each other and take care of each other, while at the same time being able to discourage behavior that revealed doctrine has shown to be wrong? This is, I think, the challenge of following the Savior, who did this his entire life.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,669 other followers