A few people have emailed me with this article in which a gay male couple is seeking access to a girl who is not biologically related to either of them. One of the men was a donor for the girl in question’s older sister, and the two mothers invited the two men to be part of both children’s lives.  Now the mothers have separated, and the men still want to be in contact with the younger sister.

It shows just how messy our families can get in the absence of legal recognition (or established community norms – if we lived in a culture where things were ‘done this way’ for millenia, that would help – but we don’t). This whole parenting thing is quite new for the gay & lesbian community. By quite new, I mean twenty or thirty years since gays and lesbians started having families on their own . Of course parents have always brought children from previous straight relationships to their newly gay lives, but as far as actually creating families goes,  we’re pretty much making it up as we go along.

One of the things I love about the glbti ideal of family is this concept that biology is not absolute. We can create powerful, nurturing networks in the absence of legally binding marriages, without legal recognition of parenthood, with no religious framework for identifying godparents, and so on. I think it’s a wonderful idea that a child could have many parents – many role models, many ways to be…

However, I know I couldn’t create a family like that. Elisabeth and I have arguments discussions enough about how much tv the children should be watching, how to respond when they’re crying, and whether allowing them to eat chocolate cake is starting them down the road to addiction and obesity.  We’ve already started the schooling discussions (I’m tempted by home schooling; Louise is horrified). I can’t imagine how we would incorporate other parties into these daily negotiations.  I like to think we know our limitations.

I imagine that people start off with wonderful ideals. “We all love each other dearly, and a child needs a lot of love – let’s do it together.” From that point, all parties are committing to be in close contact for at least the  first eighteen years of the child’s life.  Eighteen years in which all have to know each other’s incomes, debate each other’s deeply held and unarticulated beliefs, and eighteen years to not fall out with each other. And eighteen years where no party will make major geographical moves without input from all the others.

According to the article, the men were named as “fathers” at the girl’s naming ceremony. I wonder if the women would have thought differently about that if they had been signing a legal document? As a “father”, I would expect to have some financial responsibilities; I would also expect to have a deep and ongoing relationship with the child. As it turns out, even without a legal document, their claim to “fatherhood” is being heard seriously.

A smart lawyer friend pointed out that there may also be something in their claim as “fathers” that gives their case legitimacy – that our culture sees it as a great disadvantage to not have a father, that even a non-biological one is better than nothing. She wondered whether they would be treated with more consideration than another “mother” would.

However, I am spending all my time at the moment arguing that biology is not everything – that it’s the intentions we make at the creation of a child’s life that create family. We need to take our commitments seriously. It’s tricky, I think, wanting to create wonderful new communities – we have the ideas but not always the interpersonal, social & conflict resolution skills to carry them through.

Same sex headed families are deeply radical. Day-to-day we may feel mind-numbingly normal, but we are not. Everything we do, we do with thought, and with limited stories of those who’ve gone before to build on. Often, we do spectacularly well. Our kids are gorgeous and content. But sometimes we muck up. We need to think beyond the utopian dream, to acknowledge our foibles and weaknesses and the immense complications involved in forging a new way of family.

This case, I think , is an example of why, in the absence of community reinforcers, we need legal recognition for our families. Whether a child has one or two or ten parents, they deserve to know, right from the start, who is making a commitment to be there for them for their whole life. And that is no small commitment – we, the adults, need to take this seriously when we are planning our families.