“No sex! No sex was used to produce this child!” That was the proud proclamation made by one of the girl’s two “fathers” as she was hoisted up high and shown off to a group of us at the sexuality studies conference I was attending.
When I first heard declarations that “all children have a right to a mother and a father,” I admit that I was momentarily puzzled. Since every child necessarily has a mother and a father, what does it mean that they have a right to one?
Actually, children have been denied the right to be raised by their mother and father for decades through the implementation of laws and norms that make child abandonment easy, beginning with no-fault divorce. From there, the denial of this basic right has expanded in numerous ways. A poignant example of this is seen in the demands for same-sex marriage “rights” and marriage “equality.” Included in those demands is that equal access to acquiring children be provided to adults that are involved in romantic arrangements inherently incapable of producing offspring. The children’s rights are forgotten, buried, or ignored.
And in the midst of it all, I cannot forget that one child.
The Intentionally Motherless Child
It was many years ago, but I can still see clearly the tiny bundle of blankets being lifted up and hear her father’s voice. I do not know whether the man was biologically her father or only socially so. I do know that I watched and wondered how that baby girl, only a few months old, was faring without her mother. And as more and more research shows, the answer is overwhelmingly clear for both her infancy and growing up: not nearly as well, on average, as she would have fared in her mother’s arms. This is an uncontroversial statement to all but those with a personal or a political investment in the reordering of all things sexual and familial.
I myself am an adopted child, raised from infancy by a wonderful couple that stayed married and provided a loving, stable home with both a father and a mother. I am grateful for them beyond words. And yet I know well the strange tension of having love for an adoptive family that I would not trade, coupled with a lifelong grief for the biological family I lost.
As Katie Davis has put it, “Adoption is a redemptive response to tragedy that happens in this broken world.” It is a tragedy for any child to be separated from his or her biological family, the father and mother that are the source of that child’s being. Overall, adopted children have more difficulties than children raised by their biological families, even in married mother-father scenarios such as mine. Adoption serves to provide what was lost or not possible where there has sadly been a disruption of the natural family order.
But in cases like that of the “father” described above, the loss of a mother is not viewed as a tragedy at all. Rather, this motherlessness is deliberately sought; it is viewed as a triumph of technology to be celebrated. Who can deny that the child is being viewed only from the perspective of the adults’ wishes? No one considers the rights of the child who is deliberately deprived of the love of a mother.
A New Kind of “Children’s Rights”
Ironically, it was at that same conference on sexuality research that I began to hear about a different kind of “children’s rights.” No, there was no mention of a right to a mother and a father. Nor was there any discussion of rights such as those spelled out by the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child, which asserts that children’s best interests must always be the foremost consideration in dealing with decisions that affect them.
Rather, it was a whole different conception of rights—rights for children that aligned with and paralleled the interests and research of those present in the room; namely, children, as sexual beings, who have rights to sexual agency and expression. Thus, one speaker highlighted a study on boys as young as age ten forming “consensual” sexual relationships with male adults (without the knowledge of or interference from their parents) and affirmed the boys’ “rights” to do so. To further the discussion, another researcher mentioned a situation where an entire school sports team of teenaged boys received fellatio from a group of twelve-year-old schoolgirls. According to the speakers, this was perfectly good and healthy, as long as neither the girls nor the boys were coerced but rather were exercising their own rights to sexual agency and fulfilling their sexual desires. The only real problem was how a buttoned-down society reacted to it.
Keep in mind that many of the conference attendees were from the medical health branches of sexual behavior research, a crowd that ought to be familiar with the real physical consequences of sexual action. One speaker mentioned NAMBLA (North American Man-Boy Love Association) and the difficulty with public perceptions about being associated with them. Several attendees and speakers agreed that such groups must be publicly disavowed but privately accepted. In their view, such groups of course have a place at the sexuality research table because “man-boy love,” “intergenerational intimacy,” and “age-discrepant sexual relations (ADSR)” are legitimate aspects of male homosexual history, culture, and desire.
Although this conference was my first introduction to such a conception of children’s sexual rights, such views have become increasingly common. Not surprisingly, the International Planned Parenthood Foundation has signed on to these kinds of rights for children wholeheartedly, in the name of Youth Rights and Equality.
The Great Divide
In my earlier years, back when I identified as a lesbian, I shared some aspects of the worldview present in the sexuality research of which I speak. But when I heard children’s rights discussed in this way, I felt the distance between my worldview and that of my colleagues cleave into a chasm, a divide that could never be bridged.
At the end of the conference, we were told that we, as sexuality researchers, were the hope of the future. Never mind that the human body was, and I quote, “simply not designed” for the immunological challenges that come from the introduction of bodily fluids from multiple partners. We were given the charge to find ways to overcome the “limitations” of our design so that people everywhere might enjoy the full range of sexual experiences available to us. We were also called to combat and stand against archaic institutions (read: Judeo-Christian organizations) that seek to limit our sexual freedoms or stigmatize our sexual expressions.
In that final address—and in the display of that beautiful baby girl, made in the image of God but produced by means the Creator never intended—I saw Humanae Vitae’s warnings play out in living color. Those researchers indeed spoke as if we had “unlimited dominion” over our own bodies and their functions.
Now, whenever I see the yellow and blue equal sign that has become the emblem of support for same-sex marriage, I think of that great divide—the divide between two irreconcilable worldviews about what human sexuality is and is for, two fundamentally incompatible visions of children, family, and equal rights. Certainly not all supporters of same-sex marriage advocate a sexualized version of children’s rights. I know I didn’t. But the quest for same-sex marriage “rights” privileges adult sexual desires over all else, appealing to emotion rather than to reason. Queer theory is simply more forthcoming about the logical ends of removing traditional boundaries around sex and redefining the family than is the mainstream. For children most of all, this is the wrong kind of equality.
In our brave new world, it seems that adults and children will have equal rights to the “freedom” of sexual agency and gender-identity expression. But any who would dissent from the glowing narrative of the new family order, including the children of LGBT families, will have only the right to remain silent.
For the sake of the children, now is the time to speak.
Jean Lloyd, PhD, is a teacher and a happily married mother of two young children.