ST Insight - Can Mum, Mum and Kids Make a Family? (July 7, 2007)

Sunday, July 8, 2007

July 7, 2007
Can mum, mum and kids make a family?
By Janadas Devan

I HAVE a good friend who is a lesbian. She believes she was born one, not having experienced any heterosexual inclinations since she became sexually conscious in puberty.My friend has a partner. They are not legally married, since the state they live in in the United States does not recognise gay marriages. But their partnership was solemnised in a Quaker ceremony, witnessed by family and friends, including myself. To all intents and purposes, theirs is a stable marriage.

It is also a fruitful marriage, for my friend has two children, both biologically hers. She conceived them by means of artificial insemination, the sperms having been donated by suitably screened men.

Apart from the fact that there is no father in the picture, my friend's family is normal and exemplary in every way.The two children are healthy, cheerful, intelligent and well-behaved. They have two loving parents. My friend and her partner are highly educated, with five university degrees between them.

They own the home they live in, they pay their taxes, they save for their children's education, they are charitable, they never fail to vote, they attend church every Sunday. They are model citizens.

Of course, there are any number of other model citizens - in the US and Singapore, in China, India, Indonesia and elsewhere - who would think my friend's family is anything but normal. Homosexuality is against the laws of God and Nature, they would say. Artificial insemination is all well and good for heterosexual couples - but not for homosexual ones. A family must consist of a husband, a wife and children - not same-sex parents with children. I find all these assertions incomprehensible.

If homosexuality is against the laws of God and Nature, how come there are so many homosexuals? What sort of iron-clad laws can these be if they can allow for so many exceptions to the rule?

The demographics on sexual orientation is hazy, but it is evident that a fair number in any population is either homosexual or bisexual. Alfred Kinsey's famous studies of sexuality in the 1950s claimed that as much as 10 per cent of American males were homosexual. Most experts today believe this was an over-estimation.

Recent studies suggest 3 to 6 per cent of adult American males, and somewhat fewer adult females, are homosexual. Surveys in other countries reveal similar or somewhat lower proportions. It is possible such surveys underestimate the number of homosexuals, since homosexuals are often reluctant to admit to their sexual orientation.

Whatever the correct figure, it is impossible to believe God (or Nature) is of the view that Socrates and Alexander the Great, Walt Whitman and Ludwig Wittgenstein, W.H. Auden and E.M. Forster, are all somehow deformed versions of humanity simply because they were gay.

'Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

'It is astonishing the number of people who profess to be religious who manage to forget this most momentous of statements in Christ's Sermon on the Mount. (There are similarly powerful statements in all the major religions.)

As for the belief that there is an ideal family unit - father, mother, children - and that any straying from this model is somehow dangerous, it is worth remembering that the nuclear family as we know it was not always considered the norm.

Till recently, the norm in many cultures was the extended family. Some cultures are matrilineal, with the line of descent and inheritance being determined by the mother, not the father.

No single model of the family has dominated throughout history. The traditional nuclear family just happens to be a structure that contemporary society finds stable and workable - and it too is changing, as women become more educated and have careers. And even among today's supposedly ideal nuclear families, how many live up to their billing?

One in two heterosexual marriages in the US ends in divorce. Are the children of divorced heterosexual couples better off than the children of my lesbian friends?

How about the children of single mothers or of constantly bickering heterosexual couples locked in loveless marriages?

No matter how happy and well-adjusted the children of lesbian couples may be, they are always, by virtue of their parentage, morally suspect in comparison to the products of broken heterosexual marriages?

The only problems the children of my lesbian friends would face derive, not from the circumstances of their birth, but from the nature of the wider society in which they may find themselves. Fortunately for them, they are growing up for now in a university town, a liberal and tolerant milieu. If they were growing up in Utah, say, it would be a different story. 'You've two mothers and no father? You're a freak.'

One can imagine the taunts they might face in school if they were growing up in Utah or Alabama instead of Massachusetts or California.

What about Singapore?
It is probably closer to Utah than to California in this matter. Despite none other than Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew saying 'homosexuals are mostly born that way, and no public purpose is served by interfering in their private lives', there is considerable social resistance to accepting gays as equals.

Male homosexual acts remain, officially, crimes under Section 377A of the Penal Code. The Singapore Government has in effect adopted a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy where homosexuality is concerned. And as for gay marriage, Mr Lee himself, despite his progressive views on homosexuality, has said: 'We cannot go that far. We are a more conservative society.

'What are homosexuals in Singapore to do?

They really have no alternative but to accept the somewhat larger scope the Singapore Government has now afforded them and work to change society. That is not going to be easy, given the deep-seated views - the prejudices, actually - of the majority.

The fact that the Government - usually never shy of forcing through a policy, no matter what the public resistance to it might be, if it believes the policy is correct - finds it necessary to give way to public sentiment in not officially decriminalising male homosexual acts, indicates the depth of the prejudice against gays.

On the hopeful side, two factors would favour homosexuals in the long run: One, the growing evidence that homosexuality has a genetic basis. And two, the growing cosmopolitanism of Singapore.

What will those who hold that homosexuality is against the laws of God say when it is definitively established that homosexuality has a genetic basis? That God deliberately made a mistake with the DNA of gays - and wishes us to persecute them for his mistake?

And what will they say when they discover homophobia renders Singapore a less attractive place to the talented and creative, both local and foreign? There is a reason why some of the most creative cities in the world - San Francisco, Boston and London - are also among the most accepting of gays.

Clever people cannot abide intolerance.