GAY TIMES December 2002

At the time of writing this, the parliamentary battle over gay adoption was about to go into its final round. Whether or not the amendment to the Adoption and Children Bill got through, the issue of adoption by gay couples will be far from settled.

As soon as the amendment to permit unmarried and gay couples to adopt children was proposed, it became the focus of a campaign that had nothing to do with the welfare of disadvantaged children, and everything to do with the promotion of religion. Or, as The Independent put it, the issue has become “wilfully clouded by campaigners whose agenda is far wider then they often disclose”.

Who can they mean? Baroness O’Cathain has taken up the exclusion-is-a-family-value torch for the other bossy Baroness, Lady Young, now playing her harp in the longed-for company of her precious saviour.

But Baroness O’Cathain appears to be little more than a puppet of the Tyneside Taliban, otherwise known as The Christian Institute (motto: “Christian influence in a secular world”).

The Christian Institute has dictated the direction of this debate with a flow of emotive, but misleading propaganda and a barrage of dubious statistics. Much of this has been taken at face value by people in the House of Lords who should know better.

But statistics, as several commentators have pointed out, mean little in this debate. To say that gay and unmarried couples are less stable than married couples, and that their relationships break up much more frequently, is irrelevant, even if you do have the figures to prove it. It is the particularisations, rather than generalisations, about relationships that matter.

The sort of people who want to adopt are unlikely to be flibbertigibbets. And even if they were, they wouldn’t get past the first stage of the vetting procedure, which can go on for years. Only the most stable and determined will ever successfully see this process through. The idea that the adoption authorities hand out children on request to anyone who asks is insidious, which is why the Christian Institute pushes it so hard.

But if we leave aside the mythology so assiduously nurtured by the “family values” brigade, we can see a different picture.

Generally the press has been in favour of the reforms, and has carried many moving stories of successful gay households that have given their all to adopted children.

The Independent on Sunday carried an interview with Josette Bohan and her partner Liz Buck. They have raised two girls, Miriam and Martha, from childhood to happy adolescence.

It is quite clearly a happy, stable, responsible family, although the fly in the ointment is that Josette is the only legal parent. Liz has no legal status in the household, and if anything were to happen to Josette, she would have to beg the courts to allow her to become Miriam and Martha’s sole surviving parent.

The children in this set up are obviously intelligent and happy girls. Miriam, who is 16, is well aware of her situation and is quoted as saying: “I don’t think the House of Lords is listening to the adopted kids. They don’t really consider how it would make a kid feel to have their two parents on their certificate.”

Crista Ackroyd in The Sunday Express told of Todd Browne and Rob Cullinane who live near Boston USA. They have two adopted sons, Tim and Ross. She visited their “happily chaotic home” and found well-adjusted children and devoted parents. Ms Ackroyd wrote: “I am not going to tell you of the boys’ history before they found this family of their own. Suffice it to say that, like each and every one of the 5,000 children in care in this country waiting for adoption, their life was not a happy one. Now it is. And it is really that simple.”

But still the religionists insist that it would be better for children to be deprived of a loving environment, and to remain in institutions if they can’t be placed with a conventional married couple.

The trouble is that there just aren’t enough married couples coming forward to do the job. And the ones that do, often want only perfectly formed, trouble-free kids.

Like the couple who adopted a child in good faith but then found that he had severe challenging behaviour that they couldn’t handle. He trashed the house, he was hyperactive and sometimes downright dangerous. The married couple had to hand him back into care and are now suing the council for not telling them the truth about the boy.

On the other hand, a priest and his partner of 22 years (who happen to live in the diocese of the soon-to-be Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams) have spent their entire lives caring for others. For ten years, having been trained to the task, they have given a home to a 15-year old boy, who has severe learning and behavioural difficulties. The couple have devoted themselves to the child. The Sunday Times told of the problems they have had with their ward – his aggression, his mood swings and his constant need for attention. The first time he came to stay with them he broke almost everything in the house.

The boy’s mother said she couldn’t cope and handed him over to the social services. Now the priest has adopted the boy, who is unlikely ever to be able to live independently. A life sentence, indeed.

And what is the reaction of the religious fundamentalists to this supreme act of Christian sacrifice? The chairman of the Church Society, George Curry, demanded the priest’s head on a plate. “The responsibility of the incoming archbishop is to suspend the clergyman’s licence and then apply the appropriate discipline.”

The priest was horrified to see that the Archbishop had been dragged into the row, and to save him further embarrassment he handed in his licence to officiate.

I have not heard any public protest from Rowan Williams to this inhumane piece of persecution.

The priest was quoted in The Church Times as saying: “There are hundreds of children waiting for care, whose families have no-one to help them… but all this about not being a family is such a nonsense… the reality is that we have a wonderful life, full of friends and family.”

But then came the next gay priest, the Reverend Ian Brown and his partner of 13 years, Robert King, who have, according to The Mail on Sunday, announced their intention to adopt two boys from a foster home in Sunderland.

You would think that Christians would want to canonise these men, rather than demonise them. But the reward for being a gay priest, however saintly, is a witch hunt.

The Sunday Times reported that the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, has told gay clergy who are living in relationships that they must end them or face the sack. Cranking up the pressure on Rowan Williams to adopt a hard line against homosexuals, Chartres says that he has already booted out one gay priest and others who are not heterosexually married or living a celibate single life will follow.

“I am upholding the official teachings of the church but will not start witch hunts” he is reported to have said.

The man, and his religion, are grotesque. They are a negation of everything they purport to stand for.

It is so important that we wrench this whole issue from the hands of these evangelical idiots and those know-nothing peers who seem to be indifferent to the fate of these children, just so long as we live by barmy Biblical injunctions.

We need to put it back with those who know what they are talking about, the people who actually do the job and those who deal with them.

All the adoption agencies, bar none, have spoken out in support of the change. Ann Frewin, Principal Policy Officer of Barnardo’s wrote in The News of the World: “What is little realised is that gay and lesbian members of the community have always been allowed to adopt, and have done so very successfully. Often, in fact, they can offer unique placements. For example, some years ago, Barnardo’s was involved with the placement of a little girl who had been sexually abused by a number of different men. She was placed with a lesbian couple with whom she felt safe. This same couple, through their networks of family and friends, helped her to understand that not all men are abusers. The issue really in question is the security of the child.”

Anthony Douglas of the Association of Directors of Social Services, wrote in The Guardian: “We cannot afford not to recognise the current diversity of family life in this country and we certainly cannot afford to make public statements that would effectively deprive vulnerable children of a loving home.”

Last word goes to Stephanie Merritt, writing in The Observer: “I can’t understand why marriage still automatically brands people as responsible and morally superior human beings. Millions of married people have affairs, neglect or abuse their children, are alcoholics, defraud the Inland Revenue and never buy the Big Issue. It’s not that I have anything against marriage per se. In fact, some of my best friends are married, and they are still very nice people and if that’s what they want to do in the privacy of their own homes, well good luck to them. But I don’t see why I should have their so-called ‘life-style choice’ imposed on me, and I certainly don’t want my son growing up thinking this is ‘normal’.”

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