Making Babies: Cultural Response to Gay Celebrity Dads

In case you’ve been living under a rock somewhere, new dads Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka have an in-home
photo spread in this past week’s People magazine. They appear with fraternal
twins (born via surrogate) Harper Grace
and Gideon Scott. The children are
adorable, but I’m having mixed feelings about this presentation of domestic
bliss.

To be honest, if this were a famous straight couple I would
probably think the artfully posed photo spread was a little cheesy. Like something you
would see in Britain’s
Hello! magazine from a lower-tier
celebrity anxious for some controlled, positive press coverage.

I mean, is this the sort of thing that gold-standard,
above-it-all stars like Brad and Angelina would do with their kids?
Probably not.

And yet, Neil and David are not a straight celebrity couple. The very fact that they are out
and gay and procreating invests this
photo spread with political implications and cultural heft.

They are symbolically tearing down a barrier between gay men
and family, and that has to be galling to Maggie
Gallagher
, James Dobson, Ralph Reed and the like who wish to
paint gays as a threat to the traditional family unit.

Galling and also difficult to respond to apparently. I have
been struck by the near absolute silence coming from family-values conservative
organizations. Not just to the growing Harris-Burtka household (it has been
widely known the couple was expecting since late August), but also to Elton John and David Furnish‘s bundle of joy Zachary
Levon
, or Clay Aiken‘s now
2-year-old son Parker Foster, or
Ricky Martin‘s adorable twins Valentino
and Matteo.

Elton John’s happy news is fairly recent, so perhaps conservative blowhards haven’t had an opportunity to formally weigh in. But somehow I can’t picture Rush Limbaugh taking up the topic to criticize. After all, Elton just sang at his wedding. (Brief aside, but maybe that was a smarter decision than it seemed at the time.) No, chances are that Limbaugh, and Beck, and O’Reilly won’t say anything at all.

And that’s probably wise given that mainstream opinion and press coverage seems to be overwhelmingly positive. Oh, sure, a few wingnuts have spoken up here and there to register disapproval, but any conservative commentator hoping to appeal to the center (even center-right) realizes that criticizing someone’s baby is a losing proposition.

Perhaps that’s why the BBC had to bring on an absolute crackpot to respond to the Elton John and David Furnish baby announcement. No more mainstream conservative could be found willing to speak up.

While the FOX talking heads and institutional “family values” organizations have largely ignored the trend, gay celebrity dads have taken some heat. Not over their parental suitability given their orientation, but from the choice of surrogacy over adoption and, in John’s case, over his fitness to be a parent given his age. (He is 63 years old).

In fact, even here on AfterElton.com, we were surprised at how heated that criticism was when we posted last week about the birth of Zachary Levon John.

Typical comments: “He’ll be 81 when his son graduates from high school,” and “I don’t see the point in making a bio baby when he could have adopted one that already was there. Possibly an ego trip.”

Elton John and David Furnish

I don’t share many readers’ concerns over Elton John’s age. Who cares, really, if he won’t be sprightly enough to play football with his teenage son? There are many different styles and methods of parenting and playing contact sports with your kid is by no means a good child-rearing requirement.

It is far more important that a child be wanted and loved. Gay men (even rich and privileged ones like John and Furnish) do not become parents by accident. They have to plan for it. And for precisely that reason I think the child of a doddering old gay guy is probably far better situated than the offspring of some teenagers who forgot to wear a condom.

But in either situation, it really isn’t for me — or anyone — to judge. We’re not really privy to the details. Who knows, maybe that unwed teen mother turns out to be the best parent in the world. Or maybe Elton John will go on a late life health kick and really will be able to play football with his teen son.

The broader complaint (or wish) that gay celebrity dads should be adopting seems a bit more problematic. It does seem unfortunate that Ricky Martin and Clay Aiken, NPH and Elton John all chose biological parenting over adoption.

On first glance, you could chalk that up to vanity — and a surprising number of commenters seem to be doing just that. But is that really fair when heterosexual biological parents rarely face the same charge? And also, to be fair it is probably procedurally a lot easier for gay men of means to become parents through surrogacy than it is through adoption.  In fact, John and Furnish tried to adopt a child a few years ago and their application was rejected.

Still, it would be wonderful if a few gay celebrities came out of the woodwork as adoptive fathers. Here’s hoping. (Martin has said he wants to adopt children in the future.)

In any event, we seem to have quietly achieved a cultural milestone — one possibly as big as the repeal of DADT: It truly is significant that any serious controversy surrounding all these recent gay celebrity dads has to do with age and the choice of surrogacy. It’s a marker of how far we’ve come that mainstream opinion seems to have vaulted right past the question of whether a gay man is fit to be a parent at all.

Chalk that up to just how commonplace gay parents are these days. Someday soon the phenomenon will be old hat enough as to not even merit a glossy nursery room photo spread in People magazine.

Tags: , , , , , ,