This week the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the regional authorities in France acted improperly when they refused to allow a single lesbian to adopt a child. (That first link is to the actual opinion of the court, but here is one to a much briefer news account.)
While France allows single women to adopt, it had denied the request of this particular woman, who just happened to be a lesbian. France contended that the denial had not be because she was a lesbian, but rather because of the lack of a”paternal referent.” In other words, the problem was there would not be a father.
I won’t discuss the opinion in any detail. It’s rather long and complicated. But consider the rationale advanced by the state. Not only is parenting gendered, but that is a good and necessary thing. In the view of the French authorities (and they are hardly alone in this) a male parent and a female parent do different things and you need to have one of each in order to properly raise a child. It isn’t simply an assertion that two parents are better than one or that a stable couple is better able to raise children than is a single parent. It is the specific genders of the parental figures that matter.
I highlight this for two reasons. First, it’s further evidence that parenthood is deeply gendered. (I talked about this earlier, though I don’t think that proposition was terribly controversial.) Second, some people are deeply invested in the gendered nature of parenting as a political matter. Their position isn’t simply that parenthood is gendered, but more importantly, that it should be gendered. There’s a world of difference between describing what is and asserting that it should be that way.
The article also makes clear that the ideological commitment to gendered parenthood is a critical concern for lesbians and gay men particularly. Indeed, as the focus of conservative action against lesbians and gay men has expanded from anti-marriage to anti-parenting, arguments about appropriate gender roles and parenting have moved more to the fore.
-Julie Shapiro (cross-posted at Related Topics)