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Families

As expected, there have been furious protests against the recent Supreme Court decisions in the United States opening the way for the legalization of same-sex marriage in more states. Similar protests were elicited a few weeks ago in France, when its Parliament ratified same-sex marriage throughout that country.

I’ve lost count of the number of countries and, in federal systems like America, states and provinces that allow such unions. Clearly, the tide has turned and we will see many more countries allowing such marriages.

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The argument against same-sex marriage is that such an arrangement will destroy the family, and by extension, society. The debates then go on and on around issues that will never be resolved, or that people don’t want to resolve. For example, there’s the argument that God intended families to be headed by a man and a woman, and the “proof” is that “he created Adam and Eve and not Tom and Jerry.” There’s no logical way to prove or disprove that assertion, any more than we can prove or disprove the existence of a God.

Then you have assertions that children raised by same-sex couples will all end up gay or lesbian. The counterarguments are easy: How come straight (heterosexual) couples, including those who are fanatically antigay, still end up having gay and lesbian children? (Besides, you should be so lucky if you do have gay and lesbian children, but let me save that for Friday.)

At this point, I’m more worried that all the fire and fury around same-sex marriage obscure realities and challenges that must be faced in relation to families. “Two-daddy” and “two-mommy” families are only one of an amazing variety of families out there, and we should be talking about parenting, not just marriage. This variation in families and parenting was in fact the focus of a paper I delivered last May at the Philippine Pediatric Society’s annual convention.

Solo, surrogate, etc.

Here are some of those variations besides the standard “one-man-one-woman-united-for-life” arrangement that we think is the norm:

Solo parenting is usually by a woman but also now involves more men. Sometimes the arrangement is temporary, as when a spouse works far away from home. (This can be as simple as someone whose family is in Cavite but who works in Manila and goes home only on weekends, or much more complicated such as someone working in Dubai on a one- or two-year contract.)

Then there are permanent solo-parenting arrangements, forced upon the solo parent because of a spouse or partner’s death, legal separation, or abandonment. There is also solo parenting by choice—for example, a woman not wanting to marry the boyfriend who got her pregnant.

Let’s not forget a solo-parenting arrangement that has long been in place in the Philippines and is very common: the unmarried aunt who offers to take a nephew or niece to raise on her own.

Then there are people who are married and living together but who may as well be solo parents given the way the spouse shirks parenting responsibilities.

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A second major variation is surrogate parenting. When both parents are absent, we have all kinds of people taking over the parenting of the children left behind: Lolo and Lola (and they may not just be grandparents but also granduncles or grandaunts), an uncle or aunt, elder siblings. Don’t just think of the people who went to live overseas. Ask your domestic helpers and there’s a high likelihood they have children, sometimes very young, left in the provinces with Lolo and Lola.

A third variation is the blended family, where one or both parents have children from previous unions. This can get very complicated. I know a woman who had seven children from five different men (I don’t even want to use the word “father” here.)  She was living with the fifth one, who had very gallantly agreed to raise the previous children, besides his own.

Multiple families

A fourth variation is multiple families by an individual.  Multiple families are legal if you are a Muslim male—up to a fourth wife. Divorce is also allowed for Muslims in the Philippines, so there may even be more than four families. Christians are bound by laws that do not allow divorce, but multiple families are not uncommon, and are sometimes legal because of annulment, but are often “extralegal,” with society even giving tacit acceptance (as we see with so many of our politicians and celebrities).

Families with adopted children are the fifth variation. There may be legal adoptions, but I suspect most adoptions in the Philippines are informal because the legal processes are so convoluted and difficult. Very often, adoption is an informal arrangement involving a close relative’s children. But there are also many cases now of couples adopting children from orphanages, or those abandoned in the streets, in maternity wards (yes, it happens more often than you think).   There are even women offering their children for sale, and I have to warn that “buying” such children is illegal, tantamount to trafficking. (There are people who do buy children to use in conditions close to chattel slavery.)

Finally, we return to arrangements with “two daddies” or “two mommies.”  These unions are not legally recognized in the Philippines but are becoming more common. Gay “weddings” are not legally recognized here but have made it into the media, mainly for the shock effect. Gay couples with children are less willing to be featured because antigay feelings in the Philippines remain strong, and the children need to be protected.

And more…

There are variations on the variations, I warn our physicians and medical students because of the importance of getting family histories. The Philippines being the Philippines, there are manipulated legal papers like “simulated births,” where adoptive parents magically become biological parents on a birth certificate. Or, there is the “anak ko, apo ko” phenomenon, where a Lolo and Lola  register themselves as the parents of a grandchild, because the grandchild came from an unmarried daughter and they want to avoid social stigma.  (Of course, the Lola-Nanay has to be in her 40s, at most.)

I can hear some of you arguing that with all these complicated variations, we’re lucky we don’t have divorce, we’re lucky we don’t have same-sex marriage. Let’s just keep things simple, one man, one woman, united for life.

But, if you want to take up the “Adam and Eve” thread of discussion, we do have Adams born to love Adams, and Eves born to love Eves, and Adams born to love Adams and Eves, and Eves born to love Adams and Eves. Straight, gay, bisexual, married or not, people go into relationships, some of which will flourish, maybe last a lifetime, or fail even with the most valiant efforts to keep these afloat.

Again, whatever their sexual orientation, married or not, people will have children. But not all, not even those who do reproduce, will choose to parent. Societies need to respond to the needs around child-rearing, and to find ways to ensure, through its structures and institutions, that we have families where children are raised with love, and commitment. That is what I will discuss on Friday.

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