This is late-coming, obviously, but it's still a good argument.
--Reflexively, most of my fellow gays and lesbians embraced the Aug. 18 California Supreme Court decision requiring doctors to inseminate lesbians even if it violates the doctor's conscience. Such is the formulaic GayThink analysis of any issue: When gay equality comes into conflict with anything else, no matter how important--such as the welfare of children or religious freedom--gay equality wins.
But if you scratch beneath the surface and examine lesbian and gay cultural attitudes away from the political context, it becomes clear that deep down the sympathies of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans belong with the aggrieved doctors in the California case.
In the abstract, gays and lesbians tend to think of people like the doctors for Women's Care Medical Group as "haters" who are discriminating against people because of their sexual orientation. Because their religious beliefs lead to unacceptable outcomes (gasp, unequal treatment!), they should be forced to violate their consciences or to find another profession.
But in this specific case, the doctors were refusing to help a couple bring a baby into the world without a father. They probably believe, as I do, that children need fathers, and that deliberately denying your own child a father is selfish and cruel. The potential mothers could have chosen to adopt, and I would praise them if they did. But instead, they demanded that the doctors help them make a baby without a dad. The fact that children need fathers is a concept gays and lesbians have quite a bit of sympathy for, if their reactions to some popular phenomena of the summer of 2008 are to be believed.
First, gays and lesbians have embraced the presidential candidacy of Sen. Barack Obama, despite the fact that one of his consistent messages is that children need fathers. His book, "Dreams From My Father," recounts the longing he had in his youth for a father figure and the masculine racial authenticity he felt his father should have provided him. Although he spent barely more than a month with his dad, Obama makes it clear in the book that his father's absence was a challenge and an obstacle as he grew up. Do gay Obama fans think all their hero needed was a good lesbian of color to help raise him? Isn't it obvious that part of the message of Obama's life story is that children need their dads and suffer when they don't have one?
Then there's the summer movie musical hit--"Mamma Mia!"--which gay men, especially, flocked to because of the great songs with a lavender vibe such as "Dancing Queen," the gay character played by Colin Firth, the showstopper performance by gay icon Christine Baranski, and the sexy number on the beach involving a shirtless Dominic Cooper.
But few gay reviewers paid any attention to the main theme of the musical--that girls need their fathers. In the film, the character of Sophie invites the three men her mother's diary suggests could be her dad to her wedding, and at one point she even tells her mother off for having raised her without a father. Do the gay fans of "Mamma Mia!" think Sophie would have felt nothing was missing if only she had grown up with two mothers?
Interestingly, some lesbian parenting manuals make it clear that children are going to long for their missing fathers. Realistically, the 2003 "Lesbian Parenting Book" has a whole section on "father fantasies." Other books provide lots of guidance on how to answer children's questions about why they don't have a father. Obviously, the writers and readers of these books (and Barack Obama and "Mamma Mia!" fans) are aware that many, many children feel deprived of something important when they don't have a dad.
I accept that some gays and lesbians feel that despite that sense, it's still important for lesbians to be able to make a baby without a father. But are they really so overwhelmingly in the right that we should use the power of the state to shut down the medical practices of doctors who agree with Barack Obama and "Mamma Mia!" and the common sense of thousands of years of human history that says that, whenever possible, children need both a mother and a father?
It seems to me that even the biggest supporter of gay rights who really thinks about it will realize that we should be able to live in a country where people who believe children deserve both a mother and a father can perform their jobs without fearing that the government will shut them down.
David Benkof is the author (as David Bianco) of "Gay Essentials: Facts for Your Queer Brain."