My father deserves his due

Travis Knoll

I was raised by a gay, single father. A recent study by UT sociology professor Mark Regnerus found that children raised by gay parents are at a disadvantage. One of the many responses to the study was the assertion by a conservative, Christian group on campus that scientific studies are less important than ‘the moral question of homosexuality’ when considering same-sex parenting. While I think the group’s claim is disingenuous, taken at face value, the assertion is useful.

I find the assertion disingenuous because it tries to dismiss the scientific consensus of the last decade by shifting the debate from a scientific paradigm to a religious one seemingly more favorable for conservative Christians. The assertion, however, deserves attention because we can reflect on the fact that, as conservatives point out, many times studies have been used to shut out moral questions, close debates and diminish personal experience with the old adage, “The numbers don’t lie.” The problem for conservative Christians who make this argument is that proponents of gay rights are not the ones who have pushed dated sociological concepts regarding ‘the child’s best interest.’ for years. The other side has, through its claim of gay parenting’s ‘detriment to the child.’ My experience causes me to agree that studies are not the final say but has also caused me to ask a different moral question: What value does individual sacrifice have in this debate?

I grew up in a small upper-middle class neighborhood in Dallas and attended the Ridgewood Park United Methodist Church there. At church, close friends would all gush with praise about the dedication of ‘my single father,’ his forbearance of my impulsiveness (ADHD), his generosity, his teaching me to be available to those at the church who needed help cooking luncheons or cleaning up afterward and his insistence that we give our share of prayers, presence and service to the youth group.

The praise would turn less resounding after our friends in the congregation learned that my father was gay.

Notwithstanding all of his generosity and their previous praise of his parenting skills, my father could never again meet their parenting standards. The sometimes explicit, but mostly unstated, question—“He’s amazing, but what would Travis be if he had been raised in a normal family?”­­— qualified my father’s long list of parental accomplishments, which include raising me in every stage of my educational development, from special education in elementary school to the University of Texas, where I am a two-time UT Presidential Scholar.

This ‘but’ was all the more unjust, because along that road it was my father that paid the costs for physical and psychological testing of a child for whom the system had advised ‘limited expectations.’ My father searched out and found trusted childcare for the times he taught night classes. My father paid for the piano lessons that led me to attend Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, a fine arts magnet in Dallas. My father went to the aforementioned Methodist church because of its strong community and youth group when he could have been more at peace at the Cathedral of Hope or the United Church of Christ, both either gay or gay-affirming churches. My father wrote to me every day of my first trip abroad in Argentina and was waiting with hugs upon my return. My father was there to teach me ethics, critical thinking and, yes, religious principles.

My father and I have never insisted that single parenting is always the best, nor is growing up with gay parents always easy due to societal pressures, but we should be given a chance.

As for the concept of ‘normal families,’ the man who is the very inspiration for those Christians who condemn ‘alternative family forms,’ was technically conceived out of wedlock, raising suspicion in his community (Mark 6:3), and, according to Matthew, had a genealogy full of heroic ‘disreputable’ women who sacrificed for their families (Tamar, Rahab, Bathsheba, and Ruth, the foreigner of the group).

It is not necessary to debate my father’s homosexuality and its moral status in the Christian tradition any more than divorce or sex outside of wedlock. I am not asking Christian institutions to support same-sex marriages, or to host religious same-sex weddings. However, in a liberal republic (as opposed, to say, a confessional Catholic state), the moral question is not about stereotypes of ‘same-sex lifestyles’ any more than it is about ‘Vegas marriages’ and general promiscuity. The ‘moral question’ is, ‘Did my father, who was willing to make extraordinary sacrifices, have the right to raise me? Yes. Does he deserve due credit and praise for the job he did? Absolutely. My father’s due is more consideration than to be judged on a ‘normal’ distribution curve.

Knoll is a Latin American studies senior.