Uncomfortable with the image of two men and a toddler – Homophobia or plain old sexism?

Seeing a back and forth on twitter last night about the softness of support for the upcoming marriage referendum, I saw a comment that illustrates a problem for the YES Campaign. A problem that if dealt with incorrectly will do considerable harm to the YES campaign because it will miss the root cause and misfire badly. As part of that exchange, John McGuirk, who while I wouldn’t be on the same side as him in most things is also no fool when it comes to judging the public mood, said this.

You know what, he’s right but not for the homophobic reasons that too many Yes campaigners will unfairly attribute to it. It’s because even if you remove the word gay from that scenario, there are lots of people, women as much if not more so than men, who would not be comfortable with two men or one man with a toddler.

Picture a scene at a park with two men walking with a toddler and running about playing, and then having to stop to change said toddler’s undergarments. Even more so if said toddler is female.  There are quite a few people who while not unduly homophobic on the individual or societal level will somehow pause at the appropriateness of that scene.

Replace the men with women and most of those same folks wouldn’t bat an eye. So for those people the problem clearly would not be about sexual orientation, cos we’re not even sure in the scene if the two men or two women are couples or merely a friend out with their friend and their friend’s child. The problem at the root of that lack of comfortableness is plain old sexism; that there’s something wrong with men looking after children without a woman around. That’s why surrogacy and not artificial insemination, why the lack of a mother’s influence and not so much a father’s,  will be the first port of call in the “it’s about children” argument.

The challenge for the YES campaign is to tackle that argument head on, and for what it is, not for what some in the YES campaign would prefer it to be. Indeed, some elements in the YES campaign suffer from that same blindness, that same tendency to want, at the one hand, men to take more responsibility for childcare but then on the other, some deep rooted feeling that only a woman can really care for a child properly. That men are fundamentally secondary to parenting and that’s why two men in particular can’t be equal to a man and woman as parents. That two uncles could never be as good as two aunts. Perhaps in the past they weren’t but that’s no reason why men can’t, when called upon, up their game and do as well in raising children.

Sure children should have a right to know their parents, but we also know well enough to place limits on that right. Most people would not be comfortable supporting the right of a rapist to know or have access to a child resulting from their rape of their mother. Or where a legal adoption has taken place for the birth mother to years later demand automatic restoration of custody  from the adoptive parents, man and woman who have spent years loving and raising that child. Yet if their logic is accepted then that’s where they lead us, that’s the situation the IONA Institute is pushing for; to overturn the legal adoption process and to enshrine the absolute right of rapists to have access to their children. Very loving, very Christian.

Many people are all fine and dandy with the world of Fried Green Tomatoes where a lesbian couple raise children post the murder of an abusive husband and not so much the Torch Song Trilogy, where a male couple adopt a child. That’s not due to homophobia, it’s down to plain old sexism.

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