Nick Malherbe
Nick Malherbe

Nuclear, single or same-sex family structure does not matter, healthy parenting does

This week Australia’s Victorian government introduced legislation granting same-sex couples equal adoption rights. The passing of this legislation has been duly celebrated across the world. In addition to this, the US Supreme Court’s legislation of same-sex marriage in June this year was lauded as a triumph of equality, and also saw an enormous celebratory response. Certainly, there were many reasons for such celebration. Firstly, with regards to the pillars of non-discrimination and freedom upon which the respective US and Australian constitutions are apparently founded, such legislation was long overdue.

With respect to the American ruling, there are a number of benefits which partners incur once married — benefits associated with banking, travel, and adoption — which are bound to make many lives easier. The Victorian legislation has been welcomed as a means of addressing the critically low adoption rates in Australia.

Developmentally speaking, children raised by gay, married, divorced, lesbian, and/or multi-partner parents (whereby a number of people — some homosexual, others heterosexual, some married, others not — are involved in childrearing) are as cognitively, socially and psychologically sound as those raised by married heterosexual couples. This has been confirmed by numerous studies and appears to no longer be debatable. A child’s development is therefore not hinged upon the family structure in which he or she is raised. Rather, what remains important in this regard is the quality of childrearing.

With this in mind, the respective rulings of the US Supreme Court and Victorian parliament should perhaps not be regarded as undiluted victories. Indeed, such legislation appears to solidify the value and essentialism placed on very particular (and increasingly uncommon) family forms. Where equal rights for all should be commended (and in fact expected), rigid heteronormative ways of conducting family life should not.

Societal views of marriage, or two-parent families, as the ultimate and most beneficial family forms must be dismantled if we are to develop a truly progressive ideal of healthy parenting. Acting to legislatively furnish marriage and traditional families with an apparent “progressive” underpinning, these rulings adhere to the notion that the nuclear family is the most essential, or beneficial, family form to which one should subscribe if he or she wishes to conduct family life in a “healthy” manner. The ruling therefore does little to advance the much more important notion of healthy parenting relationships. For instance, same-sex marriage has been legal in South Africa for almost 10 years, but there are still alarming rates of familial violence and parental absence across the country. Indeed, marriages all over the world are marked by stark violence.

A common criticism of, what are considered to be, “alternative family forms” is that children are likely to face a particular kind of stigma. But this argument shifts blame from problematic behaviour onto the individuals to which such behaviour is directed. It is therefore damaging and should be dismissed. Rather, it is the style of parenting that must be emphasised.

Marriage as an institution — gay, heterosexual, or otherwise — does not call for a celebratory response. People should buy into the family form that they wish, and should be able to do so in a context which does not value one family structure over another because, frankly, this does not matter.

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    • Voldemort Rupert

      Yeah yeah – thanks. I had an issue with my daughter’s absent father many years ago and although he abandoned me as soon as it was too late for an abortion, saying “I’ll see you in court.” (He admitted he only got involved with me because he wanted a child) – The court insisted that the family unit was myself, him and ‘his’ daughter. He, himself admitted to me that he would never be a part of my family, and I insisted that the family unit was myself, ‘his’ daughter plus my other two older daughters. But under the law they did not count as part of my family where ‘his’ daughter was concerned. ???
      There are even adoption agencies that will give the biological father first option when a pregnant woman decides to give her baby up for adoption. This means a man can take advantage of some poorer young girl and then legally remove the child from her. Creation gives the children to the mothers for good reason. In my mind, for a man to deserve to be a father he needs to prove himself supportive to the mother.
      When my lawyer asked me “Don’t you think he has a right to know his child?” I told her that under the circumstances I don’t believe he has any rights, but that my daughter has a right to know her father.

    • Pierre Aycard

      I doubt any SA court would agree to legally remove a child from the mother. She would have to either abandon the child first, or to be a danger to the child. I have had to fight with police on that issue, as they tend to listen to fathers against mothers, or to take bribes. But courts do not deny a mother’s bound with her child.

    • RSA.MommaCyndi

      It is only stigmatised because it is seen as an oddity. Not that many decades back, being divorced was stigmatised. It is only once it was seen to be both ‘normal’ and better for the child that it became acceptable. As we get used to unconventional families, and see how children thrive in them, that stigmatism will subside. Unfortunately, it is a long and tiresome process