Nick King is a former business man, councillor on Bournemouth Borough Council, chairman of Dorset Conservatives, member of Police Authority Board.
Watching the #marref debate as an Englishman is an interesting experience. In common with so many things in Ireland it seems in part an exaggerated version of what has gone before here in England.
At other times it’s like watching our own experiences through a slightly distorted mirror. And as the comments made last week in South Down by Jim Wells prove, it appears inevitable debate on one side of Ireland’s border impacts on the other.
It’s all the more interesting watching the debate wax and wane as a gay man. Even more so as a gay man with two adopted children.
The arguments against passing the #marref are, for me as an advocate of both LGBT rights and same sex adoption, depressingly familiar. Retreating into scripture to provide legitimacy.
Evoking a Right for a child to have parents of both genders (more usually, to have a mother); and as we saw last week with Jim Wells’ comments, linking easily, lazily, with no foundation whatsoever, same sex adoption and child abuse.
My husband, and I have two children. Adopted separately six and three years ago. Now integral to our family unit. A family unit that’s inviolate, loud, sometimes chaotic, mostly happy, occasionally sad. Normal.
Is it that ‘normal’ though? Has it really been the best course for our children? In moments of intense navel gazing in which we occasionally indulge, this one theme comes back to the centre of the conversation.
There aren’t that many conversations these days that aren’t about our children. Are they happy? Are they settled? Have they had a good day at school?
Is the child who was being mean to one of them still being mean? Why are they being mean? Is it because they have two fathers, or is it just that their little playmate is currently in a mean mood?
Was the disapproving look from the well dressed lady in Waitrose because our three year old told her proudly she has two daddies? Or was it because our daughter was doing so with a colander from the display on her head?
Was our decision to adopt purely for our own benefit? Were we so arrogant as to think that we could offer our children a stable and happy new family, when the ‘family’ we offered them was one so different to the traditional concept?
Who has creating our family really benefitted? Our children? Or is it that we are just fulfilling a desire for societal ‘normality’ that our sexuality wouldn’t otherwise have offered?
We challenge ourselves in these conversations, often repeating the same themes and arguments. Sometimes finding new perspectives to bring to the debate, encouraged by events during the intervening period.
And each time we come to the same conclusion. No.
Our son had an awful time through the first three years of his life. His birth family were abusive and neglectful to one another and to him. When he was taken into care he was placed in a foster placement that very quickly broke down and ultimately did more damage.
Finally, in the few months before his adoption he was placed with a foster family who provided the love and stability he needed.
There our little boy began his process of healing. Not least by receiving love and kindness from his foster mother and thus beginning to combat the negative memories he had of both his birth mother and his previous foster mother.
Our son had been a victim, that’s beyond doubt. But he had also learnt from those experiences. He’d learnt how to manipulate a situation to his advantage. He’d learnt how angry and demanding behaviour was the only way to get attention. He’d begun to learn to be like his birth parents.
So whilst he desperately needed stability, love, tenderness, compassion, he also needed to unlearn many of the behaviours he had witnessed and considered normal. That meant boundaries and consistency. It meant being kind yet resolute.
We were able to set those limits. To provide both security and structure.
That’s not to say a heterosexual couple or a single adopter could not have done so.
Knowing his past. Knowing the pain, hurt and confusion he had faced, the instinctive reaction to our little boy was to smother him with love. To forgive his misdemeanours. To explain his challenging behaviours as purely the consequence of his past and to treat that only with compassion and tenderness.
It has often be difficult not to carry the guilt felt, as an adult, for the appalling behaviour of other adults towards our son and to allow that to guide our actions. To relax boundaries. To let him continue repeating some of those learnt behaviours.
Anyone who adopts children faces challenges. Ours have perhaps been no different to most and, quite possibly, much less than many. When reflecting about the last few years we feel that both being male added something intangible but still positive to the task we faced.
I return to the word resolute. We have had to remain resolute and strong, often while feeling quite differently inside, in order to help our son understand and overcome his demons. To ensure that his future does not reflect his past.
We won’t know for many years, perhaps ever, if we have been successful. We do feel that both being male made this task somehow easier. That knowledge at least has provided an antidote for our own anxieties.
In conclusion I’d like to say something directly to Jim Wells and to all those who pander to his easy, knee jerk view of our alternative family.
It’s easy for you to repeat the lie that the children of same sex parents are somehow at risk. You know people in the gay community don’t support you anyway.
It’s therefore politically expedient of you to repeat those comments. To bolster your core support through their repetition.
The political cost amongst the gay community is negligible. So it doesn’t matter to you.
But it does matter Mr Wells. It matters very much.
Repeating the lies and the prejudice pandered by so many during this debate suggests to your supporters that it’s OK to be homophobic. It’s OK to be prejudiced. It’s acceptable to despise my lifestyle. It’s allowed to discriminate against my family.
Gay marriage and the creation of families by same sex couples through adoption and surrogacy are a fact of life in parts of the United Kingdom and have been so for many years. Our children have been through so much. They are growing and blossoming in a tolerant, accepting, inclusive community.
Your comments make our children’s journey just that little bit harder. That little bit more dangerous. That little bit more like the world from which they were rescued.