Partners in Parenting

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Dean Larkin of Whittier loves being a dad so much he wants to do it again. Big deal?

Some might think so. Larkin is a single gay man. "I can't imagine being an adult and not having kids," says Larkin, an architect who shares custody of a 14-year-old daughter from a previous marriage and is just beginning an adoption effort. He hopes to adopt a pair of siblings, preferably out of diapers.

"I would love to have a happy, dull, family. What better way to spend your life?"

Many gay men and lesbians agree and are increasingly seeking a family life like that of heterosexual couples.

And why shouldn't they? asks Larkin, who is co-leader of Maybe Baby, a support group sponsored by the Center for Gays and Lesbians Considering Parenthood. While sexual orientation may rule out the usual avenues to childbearing, it doesn't squash the desire to raise and nurture a child, he says. The American Psychological Assn. and several studies of gay parenting indicate that children raised by homosexuals are well adjusted.

Lesbians and gay men who do take the parenthood plunge do so only after much soul-searching and thorough consideration, Larkin says. There are, obviously, no "accidents."

"I wish everyone would approach this decision like this," he says.

Gail Harrod and her partner of 11 years say they did just that before having a baby through artificial insemination. Harrod's partner gave birth to the baby girl last summer.

"If people were to meet me and really look at what kind of life I would provide for my child, I think they would say, wow, you're just like normal people," Harrod says. "And that's what it's really about. When we became parents, we became parents. We have a lot of love to give. And that's what I think the important thing is in a family and home."

Forming a family in a gay home is perhaps not exactly like the traditional family, but it's not so different or difficult as it might seem, says Tim Fisher, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Parents Coalition International in Washington.

"I have a pretty optimistic outlook," Fisher says. Sure, he has seen the problems and discrimination: the lesbian mother who recently lost custody to an ex-husband convicted of murdering his first wife 22 years ago; gay men denied adoption of children they've lovingly cared for in foster care; lesbian split-ups that leave non-biological mothers cut off from children they've helped raise.

Then there's the vocal disapproval from many religious and conservative organizations. "There are still many things we have to have happen. There are still many tragic situations," says Fisher, who, with his partner, has adopted a son and daughter, ages 4 and 6.

In California, the state Department of Social Services is considering toughening a 10-year-old policy that says social workers should recommend against any adoption to unmarried couples. Excepted are relatives of orphaned or abandoned children, who account for 60% of adoptions by single people. The department is studying whether the policy should be made into a formal regulation. Testimony from a series of public hearings held last fall is still being studied by the department and no decision is expected until next fall.

Regulations are not law, though, and many judges routinely override the recommendations of social workers if single or unmarried couples who present adoption petitions meet the requirements for a stable and nurturing upbringing, attorneys say. But proponents of homosexual parental rights see the proposed regulation as a direct slight, since they cannot marry legally.

Despite the effort in Sacramento to make it harder for them to adopt, many gay parents say they find the legal and societal environment of the moment more tolerant, even welcoming, than ever.

"Parenting is nothing new in our community," Fisher says. "It's always been there. But in terms of it being visible, that's new."

Only Florida and New Hampshire legally forbid homosexuals from adopting. In 21 states, the law permits secondary or joint adoption by both partners of a child born to one member of a same-sex couple. This is most often sought by lesbian couples because it gives legal status to the partner who is not the biological parent, allowing her to file for custody or visitation if the couple breaks up. Harrod is adopting the infant girl her partner gave birth to.

In California, with its policy that adoptive parents should be married couples, "You just have to hope you have a judge who sees through this policy and says, 'Well, this is more politics than best interests of the child,' " says Kate Schreurs, an adoption and family law attorney in Santa Ana.

"The sad part is that there are hundreds of children, the hard to adopt, who are in need of homes. I'll tell you, the people who are adopting these kids and getting them out of foster homes, many, many times are gay," Schreurs says.

There are many routes to parenthood in the gay community. In addition to adoptions, some lesbian couples are opting to create families through artificial insemination. Gay men and lesbians with children from past heterosexual relationships are working harder to gain custody and visitation rights. And on the real frontier are gay men and lesbians joining together to create and raise biological children, often with long-term companions as co-parents, Fisher says.

"We have arrived even within our own community. When I started working for the coalition five years ago, [parents] were the invisible minority," Fisher says.

While marriage, family and parental rights are joining the list of civil rights long sought by homosexuals, opponents say the interest in homosexual family life is overplayed to cast a more mainstream light on homosexuality.

"It's perhaps a boom in more coverage," says Kristi Hamrick, director of communications for the Family Research Council in Washington. "The homosexual and lesbian activists have certainly tried to indicate that there is a movement that's becoming traditional."

But no matter how loving or stable a gay couple may be, they aren't what parents should be, Hamrick says. "Men and women are unique and different and bring different things to the parenting relationship. And a child needs both."

There are no statistics, says Roger Coggan, director of legal services for the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center. But he believes there is an adoption and baby boom in the community. Mostly because the visibility of gay men and lesbian in all walks of life have made this path a little easier, Coggan says.

"There's no doubt in my mind that we are in a stage, or development as a society, where this is something that is more acceptable to society as a whole.

"Heterosexuals are beginning to know us more as human beings than as categories," Coggan says. "That factor is something that encourages gays and lesbians to be more out in terms of their children and also perhaps more willing to entertain the possibility of having children."

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