While the marriage equality debate has been depicted as pitting social conservatives against same-sex couples, the argument that children do best when raised in “traditional” households is an implicit indictment of all alternative family arrangements. As a Family Court attorney who is involved in a single-parent household, I am disturbed by the flawed notions of domestic life being advanced by opponents of gay marriage.
Eighteen months ago I began a relationship with a woman named Brenda. When we met she was in the process of adopting a toddler from Russia. Being a 53-year-old childless male, I had no interest in helping raise a toddler, but when Brenda brought 18-month-old Marta to her New York City home from Moscow, I quickly became attached to her. Brenda, Marta and I have been a trio ever since.
I spend a few days a week in Brenda’s home and have been helping with Marta’s care. I change her diaper, feed her and accompany Brenda and her on medical appointments. When Brenda travels for business, I take Marta to day care in the morning and pick her up after work.
I have been surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed my part-time parental role and relish the progress that Marta has made. When she arrived from Moscow she had developmental delays and attachment issues. But due to Brenda’s care she is rapidly catching up and has bonded to the adults in her life.
The national debate about marriage equality, however, makes me realize that many Americans think it is harmful for children to be raised in anything other than a traditional family. As “family values” advocates see it, toddlers like Marta would be better off being raised by a married heterosexual couple, than by a single mother and her intermittently present boyfriend.
Having spent my entire career as a lawyer in New York Family Court, I am acutely aware that too many children are born to uncaring parents. I have seen firsthand that parents in traditional households can wreck a child’s life just as well as single or gay parents can.
Along the way I have had to change my own concept of family. Fifteen years ago I started seeing adoptions by same-sex couples. At first such adoptions seemed almost exotic. But as they became more frequent, I came to view them no differently than adoptions by straight couples.
More recently I have noticed an increasing number of single women in their 40s adopting children. Much like the first same-sex couple adoptions, I was unsure at first what to make of this new phenomenon. Now, of course, I am deeply involved in a single-parent household made possible through adoption, and am grateful that such families are becoming more commonplace.
Here in Family Court, the stigma attached to the raising of children outside of marriage has rightfully disappeared. When it comes to child-rearing, expressions of disapproval are reserved for the irresponsible parent: the deadbeat dad, the parent abusing crack, the abusive mother or father.
After seeing over 20 years’ worth of cases involving troubled families, it is clear that the fate of any one child depends not on what type of family arrangement he or she is born into, but rather on how loving and competent the child’s parent or parents are. The most important consideration for children is the type of care they receive, as opposed to the sexual orientation or marital status of the caregiver.
Either way, increasing numbers of gay couples will continue to form families — no matter what the Supreme Court rules — just as more and more single women like Brenda will become mothers. Given this reality, we should concentrate on designing ways to support such parents, rather than trying to delegitimize them.
Brenda and I are happy with our relationship and are willing to let our domestic situation evolve as circumstances change. In the meantime, Marta is receiving the love and care she deserves. Being raised in a loving home is all that matters to her, and all that matters to the millions of other children being brought up in nontraditional families.
Ben Krull is a family law attorney and legal assistant to a Family Court judge in Manhattan.