As thousands protested the recent legalization of gay marriage in France -- and the U.S. Supreme Court gets ready to weigh in on the issue in June -- HuffPost's "International Spotlight" presents the views of three gay couples, all raising children, in France, the U.S. and also Canada, where gay marriage has been legal for eight years. You can read the U.S. entry here. Tomorrow: Canada.
We think that like for most parents, our most important objective is to provide a safe and secure environment in which our children can develop their personality and interests. Children who feel safe and loved emerge confident and ready to try new things and to take on new challenges.
When we first met, Edwin had already spoken of his desire to have children, but as we both came from very conservative families, we couldn't imagine the kind of environment in which a child with two gay dads could thrive and feel supported by the community in which we live.
Fast forward 17 years, and we found ourselves announcing that we were expecting twins to our friends, family and colleagues, but also to the city hall, the child care center and, later, to the preschool. Nothing could be more normal, and yet... We received mixed responses from friends, ranging from "What you are doing is the most beautiful thing in the world" to "You already have careers and each other; why do you need children as well?" In our contact with public services, however, we were uniformly treated with professionalism and respect, even though in most cases we were told that we were the first openly gay family to contact them.
We live in the center of Paris, and didn't realize how lucky we were to be in a diverse and accepting environment. Robert is a member of the Parent Teacher Association [conseil d'école], and our children have faced almost no overt incidents of homophobia. One time while on summer vacation, a little boy of about 5 send to our daughter, "It's not good to have two dads!" Our daughter replied with a scornful, "It's great! What do you know about having two dads?" Chastened, the other couldn't think of a reply and just slunk away.
We know, however, that this is only the beginning. Our twins are in first grade, and as they get older there will be more pressure to conform to the societal norm. Already we are concerned about the climate of rough play and fighting our children tell us about on the playground. Kids can be cruel, and will look for any difference -- weight, height, ethnicity -- as an excuse to pick on or bully other children. Our job, therefore is to arm them with confidence and a sense of self to respond to these attacks.
On 17 May, the International Day Against Homophobia, our son asked us, "What is homophobia?" This was an opportunity to have our first conversation with our kids about how to respond to homophobic taunts. They had trouble understanding at first what was wrong with having two dads. "It's great," they told us, but my daughter added: "Sometimes when I try to explain my family to the other kids, they don't always understand." We asked her, "But do you understand?" "Yes!" she replied.
Their teachers have told us that, from a very young age, they had the clearest idea in their class of who the members of their family were: e.g. maternal grandparents; paternal grandparents on daddy's side; paternal grandparents on papa's side. We have always told them how they were born and where they come from, as we feel that this is not only their right, but also helps them to feel grounded and secure. Of course, we use language adapted to their age: "Your daddy and our friend, Marelle, each gave a little seed that we put into the belly of our surrogate, Girlie. Girlie carried for you for nine months so that Daddy and Papa could take care of you when you were born."
Acceptance extends beyond mere tolerance, and on this measure we have felt very lucky. A small group of parents meets in a local bar for a coffee every morning after dropping off the kids at school. When a few of the other parents asked us if we'd like to march with them and their families on November 19, 2012 -- at the demonstration in favor of the government's bill on same-sex marriage -- we realized that we live in a community of families with like-minded values. Right now, this is the most important thing for us.
While we have welcomed the law on marriage for same-sex couples, we were chastened by the huge turnout in France against marriage equality, and puzzled and saddened at how extending equal rights could motivate people to take to the streets against families like ours. Most important, we wondered if the visibility of the 'Manif pour Tous' wasn't providing license for a new wave of homophobia in the guise of protecting family values. Looking at all of those self-satisfied families marching to deprive our family of equal rights, we wondered if they knew how scary they seemed to us and how much more of a real threat they were to our family than we were an (imagined) threat to theirs. We wondered if they had actually taken the time to talk to and understand the gay families that they seek to demonize. Finally, we wondered what things they said to their children at home, that could one day be repeated to our own children in the school yard.
UNESCO presented a report last year on homophobic bullying which shows the detrimental effect that bullying can have on children's morale, ability to learn and sense of self-worth. We have heard of fundamentalist evangelicals in the U.S. who are against anti-bullying initiatives as they feel that they weaken social control in order to make homosexuality more acceptable. The fact that effeminate boys, masculine girls or those from non-traditional families are terrorized and ostracised does not seem to be of any concern to them. When a show of force is used to impress, intimidate and prevent people from doing the right thing, it sounds a lot like bullying and a lot like the 'Manif pour Tous'. When parents try to make their children feel loved and accepted, it sounds a lot like a family -- gay or straight.
Edwin is an American who has lived in France for 13 years. Robert is a French civil servant. They have been together for 24 years and have 7-year-old twins, born through surrogacy in the United States. The children call Edwin "Daddy" and Robert "Papa."
Translated from the original French.