Anne Cadoret

Parents Like the Others Homosexuality and Parenting Publication date : May 1, 2002

The existence of an increasing number of family structures obliges us to rethink the implicit foundations that underpin our notion of the family. Although there is no universally accepted definition of the family, there is a basic notion of parenthood, which can be defined as the system that attributes children to parents and parents to children. Different cultures and historical periods have combined three elements and accorded each one a different weight: relation by marriage, filiation and household. It is the task of historians to trace the various different forms the family has taken. Culture decrees what is allowed and what is not, and dictates how and by whom a child should be brought up. But it is up to us to examine the types of family structure that are characteristic of our own culture. Anthropology has shown that not all societies postulate the “natural” relation between the father and the genitor, or between the mother and the birth-mother. But what about our own culture? Certain situations have upset our certainties concerning what we consider to be a “normal” family — i.e. a mother and father, united by marriage, whose union produces offspring. But numerous other types of family structures exist: a child can have several father- or mother-figures (as in the case of foster families); mothers and fathers do not always live in the same household (divorced parents); the children of different parents can commingle (as in the case of step-families). Don’t these examples show that another form of parenthood can come into existence? This is the central — and controversial — question posed by homosexual couples. There are numerous possible cases of homosexual parenting: the new family can come into existence following a heterosexual union; it can be the result of a co-parenting system in which a gay and a lesbian couple agree to have a child who will be brought up by the two family units; and, finally, a homosexual couple can create a family by adopting a child, or with the aid of artificial insemination. How are these new types of family forged? What do homosexual parents seek? And what do they say about their experiences? Eschewing all ideological controversies, the author offers us an ethnological study of family structure which seriously calls into question the place of biology in parenthood and the identification of the parental with the conjugal couple.

Anne Cadoret, a sociologist, has carried out research for many years on the family in France. She is a research fellow at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (research team studying society and sociability). She is the author of Parentés plurielles.