BY JESSICA JENKINS
Yesterday morning in Mass I was thinking about mothers. Officially, I have two: The one who brought me into this world, and the one who raised me. But I really have many more mothers than that. Early on, there was the foster mom who shepherded me to innumerable doctors’ appointments to care for my various congenital health problems. As an infant, I was adopted into a large, close-knit Catholic family, mothered not just by my adoptive mom but also by my godmother, grandmothers, and many aunties who were so close that their children were like siblings to me. Then there were the innumerable family friends who were surrogate mothers too.
My mom is fond of quoting Hillary Clinton’s adage about the village it takes to raise a child. I saw her live that out throughout my childhood. In addition to raising my brothers and I, she and my dad fostered other kids at various points and ran a day care in our home for several decades. They played a big role in caring for hundreds of other people’s children, and were incredibly grateful for the friends, family, teachers, doctors and counselors who did the same for their own kids.
At seventeen I reconnected with my birthmother (and then with even more family.) She’s a delight and I am so grateful to have her in my life again. My adoptive parents were thrilled to meet her and have taken her in as part of our ever-expanding family.
My Catholic faith and my experience of family have taught me that God has more than enough love to go around for everyone and that it really does take a community to raise a kid. So it’s mystifying to me to see fellow Christians using children to justify their bigotry against gays and lesbians, insisting that gays and lesbians can’t be good parents because “children need a mother and a father.” Well, what children really need is LOVE, and a whole community: parents, sure, but also grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, friends, teachers, social workers, doctors ... etc. And there’s nothing about a person’s gender or sexual orientation that makes him or her any less capable of caring for a child. If anything, same sex couples are more prepared parents than their straight peers, since so many have to go to such great lengths to become parents, just like my own mom and dad did.
Furthermore, where in the Gospels are these “traditional families” we hear so much about? Wasn’t Jesus himself raised by a teenaged mom and a foster dad? When he was recruiting his disciples, he actually asked them to give up their families to follow him. (Jesus did have some harsh words to say about divorce and adultery, which makes me think that the defenders of “traditional” heterosexual marriage might want to take a closer look at the log in their own eye before poking sticks in other people’s. But I digress.) I’ve done my fair share of reading the Gospels, and I’ve seen nothing in there condemning two women or men who want to commit to one another or raise a family together.
The central tenet of our faith is that we are supposed to love one another as God loves us. LOVE. Legitimizing same sex relationships is just affirming more love in the world – and affirming those couples who want to extend their love and commitment for each other by raising a family together. Since many couples choose to adopt, that just means more loving, stable homes for kids who need them. Regardless of how they get started, these families deserve all the same legal recognition and protection that anyone else would get.
I hope that on a Mother’s Day not far in the future, we’ll look back on the current debates about legitimizing same sex relationships and say, “remember when we thought that was a problem?” I don’t expect the institutional Church to change its attitude overnight. But I have high hopes that the Catholic laity will “evolve” at a quicker pace, if the love and inclusiveness that I felt growing up is any indication of the Spirit at work in our community.
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