What Makes A Family?

If someone asks me to explain ‘What makes a family’ in a sentence, I think it’s hard for me to phrase it. You see I come from a family and culture (south Indian Tamil) that does not seem to have a one-standard-size-fit-for-all definition of a family. In my extended family and friends circle, I am seeing nuclear families, joint families, single moms and single dads raising children (and also not raising any children). I also have a cousin who was raised by my grandma. I also know an acquaintance of mine who was raised by his ‘neighbors’, who became his ‘guardians’ (as a kid when his biological parents moved to another city, he stayed onto be with his ‘neighbors family’). I also have another acquaintance of mine whose parents adopted and raised their relative’s child.

With the above examples I could clearly see that families come in all shapes and sizes and it’s hard to describe them in a single sentence. The kids in these families are all not being necessarily raised by their biological parents and all of them seemed to turn out really well in their personal and professional life.

So with this background I recently read an interview by Amod Kanth, a retired police man and chairman of Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights who was not happy with a couple adopting their biological children through surrogacy. I am sure you are shocked with righteous anger; how in good heavens can Mr. Kanth do such a stupid, cruel and heartless thing. You see this couple was a not a ‘straight/heterosexual couple’. The couple in question is a gay couple (from Spain) adopting their biological twins through surrogacy (one of the couple donated his sperm and obtained egg from another female). I hope you are still shocked the same way even now with this additional information about the couple. Mr. Kanth went on to say this as a fact: “Gays can’t look after a child” (Deccan Chronicle, Feb 27, 2011). As an Indian I was amazed at the speed with which he swung the bureaucracy into action (try getting a drivers license; I have a long story about how I tried getting a license by the bureaucracy, but that’s a story for another day) to track these ‘fugitives of law’ for having the audacity to commit the crime of loving and trying to start a family. These couple also had the audacity to attend a three month parenting training to learn how to care for their babies. Go figure out their commitment and love for the babies even before they were born.

Inder Singh & Ken with kids. Image Courtesy : Siliconeer

People like Mr.Kanth don’t need to figure out by law or science (nor the Indian traditions) to say what is legal or not. Their gut feelings are an accurate indicator of what science or law would later confirm; or that’s what they think. For these Kanth’s, gays, lesbians and transgenders are ‘yuck’ and hence are not good parents. End of the story. These Kanth’s across the globe have used their prejudice to legally and socially stigmatize other minorities (‘Women are too emotional to vote or become literate’, ‘women should stay home’, ‘certain races and castes are inferior’ and so on). We all now know how these Kanth’s have been shamed in the annals of history and civil rights. And I am sure this Kanth in question would also go down in history as a bigot.

Now that we know stereotyping and discriminating people based on their identities is morally wrong, there may be a few of us who might still have the following questions lurking in their minds: Is it okay for gays to adopt and raise children? Will the kids grow well? Will the kids have a confused identity? God forbid will the kids be molested by the ‘evil’ gays? Fortunately science has answers for these and more questions through social science research for the past several decades. The American Academy of Paediatrics in 2002 declared there are “more similarities than differences in the parenting styles and attitudes of gay and non-gay fathers” (verbatim). Even though American Psychiatric and Psychological Association, UN’s World Health Organization declared several decades ago that human sexuality is quite diverse and that includes heterosexuality and homosexuality and bisexuality and all these individuals irrespective of their sexual orientation are contributing members of the society. These scientific organizations have repeatedly and officially released guidelines stating that there is no more likelihood for a child to be molested by a gay person than by a straight person. So even if we are going to ban gay adoptions through this logic then we should also ban heterosexual people adopting children. Numerically there are more heterosexual people than gay people and this should be even more reason to ban heterosexuals from adopting.

Magdalene Jeyarathnam, a counselor based in Chennai quipped at Mr. Kanths comment “….I mean its such a outrageous argument!!. I find heterosexual couples not looking after their children well.  I am right now working with four – 13 year olds and one 20 year old every (sic) single one of them in counselling (sic) because of issues relating to their parents – marital discord!!  Should we not ban heterosexual couples from having children until they can prove they can “look after a child”?” I am curious what would Mr.Kanth say to this. Would he ask heterosexuals to prove to him every time they have a child? I hope he gives additional bonus points for parents who attend nursing classes for their babies.

Now that scientists and counselors do not endorse Mr.Kanth’s anti-gay prejudices, what does the law have to say? The Delhi High court in 2007 in a landmark judgment declared discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation is analogous to discrimination on basis of sex and is anathema to our Indian Constitution. So discriminating gays from adopting is indeed discrimination. I know that sounds straight forward, but Mr.Kanth does not have time for these scientific facts and legal mumbo jumbo to help him make informed decisions. Mr.Kanth does however correctly state that gay marriages are not legal yet in India and not in all states of the US. However what he conveniently fails to inform is that gay marriages are legal in ten countries around the world and are allowed in different forms (civil unions, domestic partnerships) across the US. In addition, these states in the US do not discriminate gay people from adopting because it is illegal to discriminate one class of citizens and the courts would annul any such illegal acts. I am sure this information is not of much comfort to Mr. Kanth.

Amy Shah with her partner Amanda : Proud parents of Evan

While I was researching for this article I came across several Indian gays who are raising children in their homes just like other parents. Shahraz Kasam and his partner are proud parents of two kids (one boy and girl) in Vancouver, Canada and they responded by email. Shahraz does things like every other parent; seeing their kids win District Public Speaking Competitions, going with them on vacations and help them achieve excellence in school. Inder and Ken residing in California, US are raising two kids with great care and love. Inder’s mom with full of love and smile graced the India Current magazine and other community outreach pamphlets with her grandkid (March 2008). Amy Shah and her partner Amanda Pyron who are domestic partners in Washington DC, USA are raising their 19 month old son Evan with love and dedication. “The most important factor for a child’s growth and development is love. Gender of parents doesn’t really matter. Infact, as per a recent study, children raised in lesbian households perform better academically than their peers raised in heterosexual households” said Amy Shah, who is first generation Indian-American. Amy’s parents are Gujaratis from Mumbai.

Just like straight parents there are millions of gay couples who have adopted and are raising children across the world, and the Indian diaspora is the tip of the iceberg. A common thread that joins all these families is their love and caring to raise a family. I am not sure how Mr. Kanth could question the love and dedication of all these parents without any hesitation.

With such various forms of families in existence, there is an urgent need for lndia to update her current adoption laws to allow its gay citizenry to adopt and contribute to the general welfare. Without such protections India’s gay citizens (and foreigners) will be needlessly harassed and left to the wills and fancies of Kanth Babus who do not look for the general welfare (incidentally Shahraz is currently looking to expand his family through surrogacy and these Kanths are doing no favor). I think it’s time loving and caring parents irrespective of their sexual orientation should be encouraged to adopt. Adopt to give the child a home and hope; and get them out of the orphanages where they are behind walls without any love and affection.

Earlier in this article I wrote that I didn’t know how to respond in a sentence what makes a family. As I am finishing this article I don’t think I need a whole long sentence to say what makes a family, I just need a word to describe it. It is love. Yes its love. Love alone makes a family!

Thanks :
Shri, Broom & Queer coolie – Gaysi.
Shiva Subbaraman – Khush DC
Harsha – Trikone
Dr. L.Ramakrishanan, Sundar – MP/Orinam

Don’t miss Amy & Amanda’s full interview!

About the guest author

Velu

Velu grew up in Chennai,India most of his life and currently lives and works in the US. His passionate topics (to blather and write) are womens' equality, domestic violence and queer rights. He also occasionally dabbles in political science, comparative constitutional law and socioeconomics.