There have been an increasing number of research studies which show that as parents, same sex couples are at least as good as opposite sex- couples. As a gay father and grandfather myself, I don’t really need to be told this by modern research: I first learnt of the evidence decades ago, from a family friend who was then a child welfare social worker, and is today a top authority on the subject. I also have the best of all possible authority, the experience of my own family. My daughter is very clear on the subject: she is on record as saying “Gay Parents? I recommend them”. She has told me that when she says a young child with two dads, her immediate response is – “Lucky child”. Still, it’s good to see the evidence getting a more public hearing. and reaching the mainstream.
I was interested though, to find that in this, as in so many other areas, of human sexuality, the same pattern is found in many species of animals and birds.
Homosexuality in animals has been known since ancient times, but still fails to penetrate the public consciousness. Nevertheless, researchers are now starting to publicize the abundant evidence for same sex coupling, pair bonding, and parenting. (And contrary to the protestations of Focus on the Family, NOM, et al, these do not always go together, not in humans, not in animals.) The nature and variety of the forms that animal parenting can take is breathtaking, with all the variations found in human society, and more (some of the animal practices would land humans in jail. “Nature” is not all sweet and lovable).
How do same sex couples find their next generation? In many of the same ways humans do, but excluding the turkey baster and in vitro fertilization. Quite often, they were in the same position I was – offspring resulted from an earlier, opposite-sex partnership. For females, Layan’s Albatross and many other birds may use sperm donors, finding an obliging male to copulate with, for the sole purpose of fertilizing their eggs. Male couples may find surrogate mothers: Black Swan male couples may hook up with a female in a menage a trois – then boot her out after the eggs have been laid. Adoption is also common: many species have same sex couples that take on orphaned or lost youngsters. Some couples are rather more cavalier though, and simply kidnap their youngsters – quite literally, in this case. (Don’t try this if you’re human, though.) Just as in human society, some youngsters biological parents who either can’t or won’t raise them themselves – and they may dump them on same sex couples to raise, in nest parasitism.
Are they good parents? Quite often, not only as good, but better. There are many reasons for this. In birds, quite often it is not true that children “need” a mom and a pop. Many species (such as Warthogs, Red foxes and Sage Grouse) are raised by just one parent. When they get two parents, even of the same sex, that is immediately a bonus – they get double the parenting right off. Often, they get better, more spacious homes. Some female bird couples (Greater Rheas, Canada Geese) build what amount to double nests to hold two clutches – but where only one clutch has been fertilized, bingo: a double size home for a standard size family. Some male couples get bigger nests because only the male does the nest-building. Two males = two builders, and again, a bigger home. Other male couples get not so much a bigger home, as a bigger lot. Black Swans use their superior combined size and strength as two males to grab bigger or better territories – and thus better feeding grounds. Mammal youngsters sometimes get better feeding, simply by having to moms to nurse them: some females will suckle their partners’ young – grizzly bear mamma pairs may both nurse and protect each other’s young.
Then there are the family variations not usually seen in humans. If two parents are better than one, how about three, or even four? Grizzly bears are often raised by female pairs – and sometimes by female trio (The familiar term “gay bears” takes on a whole new meaning).
When sexual activity between males, or between females has been professionally observed, it has too frequently been dismissed or explained away as “deviant”, or the result of “accident”, or even as “immoral” behaviour (as in “A Note on an Apparent Lowering of Moral Standards in Lepidoptera”, the title of a published scientific paper. I kid you not.)
In many parts of modern Western culture, there has arisen a deeply held assumption, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, that the only “natural” form of sexuality and family is “one man, one woman”. Even when faced with evidence to the contrary,from the animal world or from human anthropology and history, these people dismiss such evidence as “freakish”, or unnatural. In their own observations, their hetero normative assumptions distort the evidence. When one animal is observed mounting another, it is simply assumed that the one on top is male, the other female. And so the myth is perpetuated that only opposite sex mounting occurs. Fortunately, several writers over the last decade have begun to expose the way in which these biases have been distorting scientific research and its dissemination. We will be hearing a lot more about animal same sex relationships and parenting in future – which will help to counter the lies and ignorance propagated by the sexual morality brigade.
Also See: Previous Posts at “Queering the Church” The Wildlife Rainbow Lesbian Lizards Bisexual Snails Queer Bonobos: Sex As Conflict Resolution Exclusive Heterosexuality Unnatural? Natural Law and Laysan’s Albatross Bighorn Rams: Macho Homos, Wimpish Heteros Animals Use Sex Toys, Too Books: Bagemihl, Bruce: Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (Stonewall Inn Editions) Roughgarden, Joan: Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People Sommer, Volker and Vasey, Paul: Homosexual Behaviour in Animals: An Evolutionary Perspective