By Lisa Keen
PHILADELPHIA – Anita Bryant’s anti-gay “Save the Children” campaign is making a comeback, says a political observer at a research conference in Philadelphia this week on gay parenting.
Katherine Arnup, an expert witness on gay parenting issues in Canadian marriage cases, says Canada has witnessed a resurgence of the gays-are-bad-for-children argument first utilized by Bryant during an infamous 1970s campaign to overturn laws in the U.S. prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Arnup says she believes the resurgence reflects a dramatic shift in rhetoric by right-wing opponents of same-sex marriage and that it is showing up with greater frequency in the United States as well as Canada.
“In the ’70s, gays and lesbians were completely demonized,” said Arnup, in a phone interview. “We still see that from a few; but, mostly [the religious right] now concedes that gay people do have intimate, loving relationships that can last a long time. Now, they’re focusing on the question of adult rights versus children’s rights, and arguing that children’s rights should always trump.”
Arnup was a guest panelist at a “Real Families, Real Facts” conference May 22 and 23 in Philadelphia. Co-sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania GLBT Center and the Family Pride group, the conference was billed as the first-ever multi-disciplinary symposium about LGBT parents and their children and focused on the latest research by psychologists and other experts.
Arnup is not a psychologist but director of the Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, and was an expert witness for same-sex couples seeking the right to marry in Ontario and British Columbia. She says many of the groups that are taking prominent roles in opposing same-sex marriage in the United States have affiliates or equivalent groups in Canada. These groups, she says, are now couching their opposition in terms of children’s rights.
“It’s very much like the Anita Bryant ‘Save Our Children campaign of the 70s,” says Arnup.
She says right-wing groups are frequently using provisions of a document adopted in 1990 by the United Nations Convention of Rights of Children. Two provisions being used most frequently by right-wing groups, says Arnup, are one stating that “a child shall not be separated from his or her parents” and another that says every child shall have “the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.”
Arnup notes that the document does not specify biological parents, and it also acknowledges that there are instances in which the best interest of the child may be served by separating a child from his or her parents, such as in cases “involving abuse or neglect of the child by the parents.”
Focus on Family’s position statement on same-sex marriage, published in January 2004, states that “Deliberately depriving a child of a mother or a father is not in the child’s best interest and is never compassionate.” However, another study presented at the Philadelphia conference reported that same-sex couples tend to seek marriage licenses because they have, or plan to have, children and believe that the legal protections of marriage give their children a greater sense of security.
Arnup says her overall message to the research conference was to stress the importance of research into gay families and parenting to counteract such attacks.
“We have to keep doing the research and getting it out there,” says Arnup, “and not just in our academies and universities, but in newspapers and media.”
“I, too, believe in the best interests of children,” says Arnup, “but the concept of ‘best interests’ is a slippery one. What’s best is a safe and loving environment, and [opponents of gay marriage] have not provided any evidence that GLBT families cannot provide that.”