Oxford Union ‘gay parenting’ debate: PinkNews founder Benjamin Cohen’s winning speech

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In an Oxford Union debate on Thursday evening about gay parenting, a motion in support of the principle was passed by a large majority. Here is the winning speech, delivered to the packed house.

Arguing for the motion, the winning team of the debate, was PinkNews.co.uk and Out4Marriage founder, Benjamin Cohen, gay rights activist, Richard Fairbass of the band Right Said Fred, and Phyll Opoku-Gyimah of Black Pride UK.

Debating against the motion was Peter D Williams of Catholic Voices, anti-abortion activist Anthony McCarthy and anti-equality activist, Lynette Burrows.

The motion was carried with 345 votes to 21.

Scott Lively, a staunch anti-gay evangelical Christian, was scheduled to speak at the debate, but was unable to attend. He was replaced on the ‘against’ panel by George Hargreaves, the leader of the Christian Party.

This winning speech, delivered by Out4Marriage and PinkNews.co.uk founder, Benjamin Cohen, on the topic “this house would be glad to have gay parents”, said the following:


“This house would be glad to have gay parents”, is a motion I’m incredibly glad to propose. As you might have guessed, I am in a same-sex relationship – there’s my boyfriend Anthony over there. But what you might not have guessed is that both of us are very happy to have gay parents too. We’re in Oxford, so I had a look at the Oxford Dictionary on the way here and it says gay means “light-hearted and carefree”. Both of us had light-hearted and carefree childhoods, brought up in happy, secure and nurturing environments – one that had so many of the vestiges of a traditional, idyllic childhood that you could find in an Enid Bylton novel (books that use the word gay quite a lot) by two people who were in love. Yes, in our case our parents happened to be heterosexual but they certainly fulfilled the original definition of the word gay.

I’m not just referring to this old fashioned use of the word gay in jest but because I actually think that the word gay in the way it’s used in the wording of this debate will start to eventually seem as old fashioned as an old Enid Blyton novel that describes a happy, care-free boy as “gay”. Why am I saying this?

I’m one of the people who helped start the debate that will eventually lead to people like myself and Anthony being able to get married if and when the time is right. But it might surprise you to know that I oppose gay marriage. I oppose it because I support marriage and when I get married, if that’s what we decide to do, I don’t want to have a gay wedding, I just want to have a wedding, the same sort of wedding that my parents or grandparents enjoyed. I don’t want to be labeled as being in a gay relationship and if I eventually have children, I don’t want to be known as a gay Dad, I just want to be a Dad.

You might think that this is a pipe dream, but I believe that it will be a reality. Things are changing so very quickly. David Cameron who once said that he supports “gay marriage” not in spite of being a conservative but because he is a conservative now just refers to “marriage equality”. And I think that this has an important relevance when it comes to the context of this debate. The intention is that same-sex couples will be treated no differently in the law, and eventually in society, than opposite sex couples, and regardless of what those who oppose equality and freedom think or believe, this country will have marriage equality on the statute book within a year.

One of the reasons that I’ve campaigned for same-sex marriage to be legal is that I hope to eventually have children and I would prefer to bring up children with a partner that I’m married to – not really any different from most couples, opposite sex or same-sex, I think. But if me and my partner wanted to have children one day, it’s not going to be as easy as for an opposite sex couple. Neither my boyfriend or I can get pregnant by accident. We’ve tried and tried and tried but it’s never happened yet! [The audience erupts in laughter]

For a male couple, it would mean either adopting or finding a surrogate mother. The latter is stressful and expensive and would result in one of the couple not being the biological parent of the child. If adopting, it’s a long, drawn out process that requires time, commitment and the awesome responsibility to bring up someone else’s biological child and give them a strong, stable and loving upbringing yourself, without the support of the state.

Bringing up a child is not therefore as some might have you believe a fashion accessory, it’s a big commitment and one that all same-sex couples take over a longer, extended period of planning for than an opposite sex couple. Right now there are thousands of children being conceived every year by accident, often resulting in the child having one parent. Surely no one can seriously believe that having two parents, who just happen to be of the same sex would be a bad thing.

It’s not a decision that is taken lightly and the evidence is that same-sex couples make for good parents. Anyone who is LGBT goes through a process of self discovery and questioning that ultimately leads to the pretty stressful act of declaring who you really are to the people closest in your life.

There are some studies that have actually found that same sex parents can bring up children better than opposite sex couples. Other studies around the world from as far back as 1978 (it is clearly not a new issue in some parts of the world) have found that the outcomes for children being brought up by two men or two women are comparable to those brought up by opposite sex couples. And why wouldn’t they? Having two parents who love you and have fought hard to be able to bring you into their lives must be an amazing feeling for any child.

Yes I know that right now there are not huge numbers of people that have been brought up by same sex couples but there have been many people brought up by people who are gay – and I mean gay in the homosexual sense now. People like my brother in law who’s mother came out when he was a teenager – sure I suppose that he was upset that his parents got divorced, but he doesn’t begrudge or is unhappy that his mother happens to be a lesbian. It certainly hasn’t made him gay either

That brings me to another claim often brought up by those who oppose same sex parents – that children brought up by them will risk being gay themselves. Well having straight parents didn’t make me attracted to women. Having same sex attractions isn’t a choice – I certainly wouldn’t have chosen to have them, and when I was younger and when I’ve been single I know that if there was a tablet to have turned me straight, I would have taken it. No one choses to live a life where in the past, you faced discrimination by the state because of the gender of the person you are attracted to and no one choses to live a life where this sort of ludicrous debate would even happen. There wouldn’t for example be a debate, “this house would be happy to have black parents” it would be distasteful.

So what are the other objections? Perhaps they are religious? Well not all religions oppose same-sex parents and there isn’t just one route to the divine. As a theology graduate I can tell you that while there is a theoretical prohibition on same-sex relationships in both the Torah and the New Testament, although it’s not found in the Gospel. The issue of children isn’t raised and not all strands of Judaism or Christianity for example have the same view.

Many of my friends are lesbian or gay and they are also Jewish, some of them very religious. One couple in particular, my friends Natalie and Sam are treated by their Conservative synagogue as if they were a normal Jewish couple with two lovely children who happen to have one mummy and one Imma (Mum in Hebrew). Their children have a happy life and are happy to have the love of two wonderful parents. Another couple I’m friends with, a male couple have adopted a son, who came from a pretty bad background. He replaced a neglectful mother with two devoted, hard working and professional dads and he’s not found that his friends treat him any differently because his parents are a married same-sex couple (they married in Canada where it is already legal).

So returning to the title of the debate, I need to ask you why you wouldn’t be happy to have two loving parents, two parents who are not wicked people, two parents who have sacrificed a lot to bring you into their lives, two people who will dedicate their lives to making you happy, but two people who happen to be of the same sex?

Ask yourself, why wouldn’t you be happy?

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