I am opposed to any change in the law which would allow gay couples to adopt children. My opposition is not rooted in homophobia. I was an early and vocal supporter of homosexual law reform in New Zealand; I approve of civil unions; I can see no good reason why gays should not be able to marry; I don’t doubt that a gay couple can be loving and responsible parents; I regard the argument that children raised by gay parents will turn out to be gay themselves as nonsense. Sexual orientation is genetically determined. My opposition to allowing gay couples to adopt is rooted in my own early experience as the only child of a solo parent, my mother. I never knew my father. I described the lifelong effect of that situation in my memoir Daddy was a German Spy: Having lived for 70 years, I still have no idea what it means to be a man, what you’re supposed to feel, how you’re supposed to behave, what you’re supposed to do. I’m going to get into trouble for staring at men in buses. My defence will be that I was wondering whether the person opposite me met the criteria of ‘manness’. According to my wife, the ones I think might meet the criteria are ‘knitting pattern models’ – good-looking guys with lantern jaws, strong arms and Aran sweaters. I don’t know. It’s the not-knowing that’s the problem, because it robs you of confidence. I don’t particularly want to know how to be a good man, but how to be any sort of man, how to be comfortable in my man’s skin…. I’ve come to the conclusion that, with the exception of violence or abuse, a poor model would have been preferable to no model at all.
Of course lots of boys end up with one parent these days, most often their mother. It’s commonplace. It wasn’t commonplace when I was kid. I didn’t know anyone, either at school or in the town where we lived, who didn’t have two parents – one of either sex. I was unusual, different. I didn’t want to be unusual or different. Most kids don’t. I wanted to be ‘normal’. There will always be kids without gender models – boys without fathers and (fewer) girls without mothers. Those, if you like, are the breaks. But that is very different from setting out, planning to deny a child the experience of having both a father and a mother. It already happens of course. A woman in a relationship with another woman, wanting children, impregnates herself with the sperm of a male friend. The child is born into what may well be a loving home, but without a present father.
If the child is a boy, I believe he will experience not only the social difference of being a kid with two mothers, but in all probability the confusion and lack of confidence I describe in my book. I would prefer to avoid being judgmental, but I cannot see this sort of arrangement as anything other than self-interested and selfish. Boys need fathers; girls need mothers; kids need both. It’s the premeditated nature of the arrangement, in which the child has of course no say, that offends me. It’s entirely different from the increasingly common situation where one partner in a marriage comes out, his/her lover moves in and the kid ends up living with two mums or two dads. If everyone’s agreeable, I don’t object at all to the new partner adopting the child. That, after all, is merely a recognition of a de facto situation. And the biological mum or dad will probably still be around and accessible to the child. But that, it seems to me, is very different from sanctioning an arrangement where neither partner is the biological parent of the child, and which condemns the child in advance to be raised without a father or, less frequently, a mother.
This is what Paul von Dadelszen, the acting head judge of the Family Court has called for. His argument seems to have two prongs – that gay adoptions are legal in several other countries and that the present Adoption Act is unjustly discriminatory and breaches the Bill of Rights Act, the Human Rights Act and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. I find neither argument persuasive. Central to any child’s rights, it seems to me, is the right to have a mother and father. And that right must take precedence over the right, if indeed there is such a right, of gay couples to adopt. Finally, if no suitable heterosexual couples were available to adopt children, would allowing suitable gay couples to adopt be preferable to having no adoptions at all? Of course. But that is not the situation in New Zealand.