With Gay Pride coming up this weekend and the same-sex marriage ban having been abolished in England and Wales, we explore how having two dads is not as unusual as it used to be. Increasing numbers of gay couples are choosing to have children, undeterred by what they have to go through - financially, legally and socially - to make it happen.
On 23 September 2012, Tom Ford and Richard Buckley announced the birth of their son, Alexander John Buckley Ford, who was born to a surrogate mother. Alexander is the first child of the couple, who had been together for 25 years. Tom and Richard are just one example in a string of same-sex couples in the public eye raising children of their own. Elton John and David Furnish announced the arrival of their son Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John, also born through a surrogate mother, five years ago on Christmas day. They have since welcomed baby number two. “You can’t begin to understand the difference that little ball of pure innocence has made in our lives,” Furnish told the press not long after Zachary’s birth, with Elton adding, “Fatherhood has been the best thing that’s ever happened to us.”
The rise in lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) families having children has been affectionately labelled the “gayby boom”. Ricky Martin and partner Carlos González Abella became the happy fathers of twin boys, Valentino and Matteo, in 2008 with the help of a surrogate mother. While Cynthia Nixon, best known as the frazzled Miranda in Sex and the City recently became a mother once more when her long-term partner Christine Marinoni gave birth in 2011. A glossy bi-monthly magazine entitled Pink Parenting even launched in May last year, featuring everything same-sex couples need to know about adoption, fostering and surrogacy. Yet despite the rise in statistics, same-sex couples still face challenges in creating and protecting their families. As Elton explained to The Guardian, “I think it’s difficult to be an only child, and to be an only child of someone famous. I want [Zachery] to have a sibling so he has someone to be with. I know when he goes to school there’s going to be an awful lot of pressure, and I know he’s going to have people saying, ‘You don’t have a mummy.’ It’s going to happen. We talked about it before we had him. I want someone to be at his side to back him up.”
The role of the ‘mother’ in gay parent relationships is in many ways unchartered ground. What happens if you fall out with your donor, and how and when do you tell your child where he or she really came from? While it is inevitable that some adopted or surrogate children may want to find their biological mother at some stage in their lives, being a parent is certainly not about bio-ownership of a child. It’s about loving, caring and providing for someone else, and giving that person everything you can to set them out on the right path in life. “Our kids all know their surrogate mums and we visit them in the US,” says Barrie and Tony Drewitt-Barlow, Britain’s first gay parents who made history in 1999 when they travelled to California to bring home their twins conceived via donor eggs and carried to term by a surrogate mother. The twins, Saffron and Aspen, were the first British children to be registered as having two fathers. The couple have since gone on to have four more children by surrogate and have even set up a surrogacy centre of their own that caters to the needs of same-sex couples across the UK and Europe.
“If you can provide a child with the love and security to enable them to grow into a confident, well-rounded individual then it doesn’t matter whether you are gay, straight or bisexual. The success of bringing up a child comes down to one thing and one thing only, unconditional love. Sexual orientation doesn’t enter into it.”
The nation’s ever growing acceptance of same-sex parenting saw British actor Rupert Everett slammed for statements he made against gay parenting in The Sunday Times last month. In the interview, Rupert stated that he couldn’t think
of “anything worse than being brought up by two gay dads.” Adding that gay men don’t “make good parents.” Ben Summerskill, Chief Executive of the gay rights group Stonewall, said of his remarks: “Rupert should get out a little bit more to see the facts for himself. There is absolutely no evidence that the kids of gay parents suffer in the way they are being brought up or in how they develop.”
As the majority recognise; if you can provide a child with a loving home and the security to enable them to grow into a confident, well-rounded individual then it doesn’t matter whether you are gay, straight or bisexual. The success of bringing up a child comes down to one thing and one thing only, unconditional love. Sexual orientation doesn’t enter into it. Recent research by The Child Welfare Organisation agrees: children raised by LGBT parents do not differ in any key areas of adjustment, neither is quality of parenting and level of family functioning related to the sexual orientation of the parents. Their research also states that adults who have been raised by LGBT parents report feeling more tolerant of all types of human diversity. Which is perhaps something Rupert could learn from?
According to research by Birkbeck College, London University, gay couples that actively seek to adopt or have children via surrogacy are likely to be committed, loving and financially stable parents. They cannot conceive naturally, so they have made an active decision to adopt or find a surrogate mother. While a growing number of adoption agencies in the UK have been proactive in welcoming LGBT families, in many parts of the country the LGBT community still remains a largely untapped resource. Out of the 3,200 children adopted in the UK in 2010, only 4 per cent were adopted by same-sex couples. Robert Triefus, a close friend of i-D’s, from PPR Luxury Group, was one of the first same-sex couples to adopt very early on, with his partner Caleb Negron in 1999. “The two year journey we travelled before finally completing the adoption of Matteo was a rollercoaster ride,” Robert told i-D. “We experienced every emotion from anguish to exultation, and from deep depression to intense joy. Above all, we found unconditional love in a little boy who is now part of the fabric of our lives and who makes every waking day and sleeping night a cause for celebration. We hope that others who have dreamed of adoption will be encouraged,” Robert continues. “There are so many beautiful children out there in need of loving parents.” Robert and Caleb have since gone on to adopt their second child.
“We welcome more applications from LGBT foster carers and adopters,” Hugh Thornbery, Strategic Director of Children’s Services at Action for Children says. “The main thing is that you are able to give children and young people the care and support they need to be happy and fulfilled.” A person’s sexuality plays no part in how they function as a parent, yet bias and a lack of understanding still present the greatest obstacle in same-sex adoption.
Perhaps the greatest challenge for modern parenting is determining what is more important, a father or a dad? As someone who grew up with an absent father, I’d be the first to argue in favour of the dad. After all, how important are genetics if you don’t have someone to provide the love, guidance and support you need to grow into the person you know you really are. Being a parent isn’t about a rudimentary phone call every once in a while, nor is it about a guilt-ridden £20 note in the post. An absent parent can’t help you with your maths homework on a Sunday night, nor give you a hug when you are feeling down. A father ‘fathers’ a child, as simple as that, but a dad is there for his child 24/7. He actively participates in their lives, helps them grow, raises and nurtures them. And you don’t have to share genes to do that.
Potty training, tantrums, runny noses and wars over bedtimes aren’t any different for gay or straight parents. The level of personal commitment kids require is challenging. As a parent you are responsible for someone else. Their life is in your hands and the choices that you make everyday will affect them. It is up to you to build their future and show them right from wrong. A child expects you to feed them, clothe them and take care of them and they trust in you to make the bad things go away. Gay, straight, rich, poor, tall or short, you are the most important person in your child’s life. It’s your duty and responsibility to return this huge compliment and ensure they know that they are the most important person in yours. All parents worry about their children’s future, but if a child is raised with enough love and affection then you have a pretty good chance that he or she will be ok. Children often have a difficult time growing up, but in today’s world that is very unlikely to be because their parents are gay.