Thomas Sutcliffe: Why defend families by attacking lesbians?

How thrilled prospective lesbian parents must be to have learned this weekend of their extraordinary potency. Not procreative potency, you understand. Despite continuing advances in the science of fertility, they still need a man to be involved in the process somewhere. It’s their socio-cultural potency that we’re talking about. Because if Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor and a group of MPs from the two main political parties are to be believed, lesbian parents have it in their power to overturn several millennia of engrained and even instinctive social arrangements.

In a letter to The Times, opposing changes to IVF regulations which will make it easier for lesbians to acquire legal parenthood for test-tube babies, the cardinal writes that any such move would “radically undermine the place of the father in a child’s life”. It isn’t entirely clear whether it’s the specific biological father in each case that he means or a more general abstraction. But his fellow protester Iain Duncan Smith was more explicit. The proposal, he was quoted as saying, would “drive the last nail in the coffin of the traditional family”.

So an institution which has doggedly survived many utopian attempts to extirpate it and which, the last time I looked, appeared to be up and walking around quite cheerfully in my bit of north London, is apparently to be laid in its grave by the legal entitlement of a lesbian couple to be counted as the parents of a child conceived in vitro. And all this despite the fact that the institution in abstract, and real living children in particular, have already survived numerous instances of families in which both parents are women.

It seems a little far-fetched to me. In fact I think I have a lot more faith in the durability of the traditional family than the cardinal does. I’m a little puzzled too as to why his anxiety on behalf of the life-chances of as yet non-existent children should crystallise around this relatively small group of families. Because even if you agree that a father (or father figure) is necessary to the wellbeing of children, there are a lot of areas you might worry about before you got round to lesbian couples. After all, heterosexuals have a far-from-unblemished record of supplying children with the stable, Janet-and-John model of parenthood that the cardinal wishes to uphold.

In his letter he writes that making “the natural rights of the child subordinate to the desires of the couple” is “profoundly wrong”. But, wrong or right, such subordination happens all the time. Indeed the Catholic Church’s teaching on contraception and the nature of marriage pretty much guarantees that it happens more often than it might otherwise. Of the children now growing up without fathers in Britain I would guess that many more can be laid at the doors of the Catholic Church (and often literally have been) than are the product of lesbian couples. The latter are likely to have thought quite seriously about their prospective duties before embarking on a pregnancy that requires persistence and determination, rather than just carelessness or a drunken impulse.

And I suspect quite a lot of lesbians would make better fathers than many men anyway. This is not a callow joke, simply a recognition that love and dependability and readiness to keep up one end of a good cop/bad cop partnership should weigh far heavier in the scales of parenthood than a pair of testicles. If the Cardinal were to prevail, not a child would be made happier by his victory. His is a punitive and prejudiced argument masquerading as a protective one – and Parliament should ignore it.

* The Independent
* Complete article at: http://comment.independent.co.uk/commentators/thomas_sutcliffe/article3177032.ece

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