An open letter to the Kolkata-based Missionaries of Charity who have just shut down their adoption services
Even as my regard for your organisation (the Missionaries of Charity or MC), its untiring work and service stays intact, I am a tad disappointed today. It is in response to the announcement that you will henceforth stop your child adoption services. And the reason for stopping is that you do not want to change your stance on letting single persons adopt children.
You contend that the government’s adoption guideline that single individuals (unmarried, separated or divorced) be allowed to adopt children goes against the Missionaries of Charity’s belief that only married couples may adopt. In fact, you have rejected single applicants who approached you for adoption as single parenting hurts your “conscience”.
You have also clarified the crux of your objection: the sexuality of singles. You fear that single prospective parents could be queer and therefore, by your (homophobic) logic, immoral. The divorced are out of line for the MC too because, like the singles, they fail at conjugality which defines the pinnacle of a “good family” in your rule book.
Since the Church’s firm stance on sexuality is well-known and so is its incompatibility with the so-called secular view on the subject, I cannot convince you to become a queer supporter. However, since many of you at MC are single women yourselves, I urge you to consider the ‘rights’ of single women. As a researcher of unconventional motherhood and mothering and a friend to many single adoptive mothers (again, straight and not), I simply wish to share experiences and raise questions based on my observations and learning.
A right for everyone
For starters, I must say that to become a parent – biological or adoptive – is a right that belongs to everyone: men, women, trans individuals or anyone on the continuum of gender and sexual identities. It cannot be a privilege limited only for those who are straight or pretend to be so! Don’t you think that discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is prejudice? Is this permissible in religion?
On the other hand, by arguing that parenting by singles could be faulty, are you assuming that biological parents, because of their ability to procreate, are adept at parenting? Surely, the fact of birth is natural, while parenting is not: it is an acquired, learnt skill. If only it was possible to certify who could parent and those found unfit be dismissed from the experience! On a serious note, should parenting skills not outshadow most other criteria for selection of adoptive parents?
Two, as you know already, not all who are single (or seem to be) are queer or gay. It is common to come across people who are single because of a variety of reasons, from choice to compulsion and the cusp in between. Besides alternate sexuality, there are a plethora of reasons: for some it is the need to be independent, for others the lack of desire for a companion or children, financial responsibilities towards family, commitment to work, lack of a suitable match, illness and so on.
So, suspecting a prospective single parent to be gay/lesbian, will it be fair to refuse a child to someone who chose not to marry, for whom marriage is not the centrepiece of her/his life? Or to a divorced woman whose marriage to an alcoholic (or workaholic) could not take off? Will you punish a single man whose “best by” marriageable age passed because he was the sole earning member of the family? Is it appropriate to deny a child to a single woman who could not get married because she was too dark and had no takers in the marriage market?
Sisters, by rejecting the singles, do you not create/perpetuate the stigma of singledom, of divorce, of the abnormal ‘other’? Is stigma not sinful?
Singles not always unhappy
Three, single does not mean always mean lonely and/or unhappy. During my research, I found that most single adoptive mothers – straight and queer – were embedded in active and supportive social networks of friends and family. I came across a “family” of two mothers (childhood friends) who are raising an adopted girl together. Both these women desperately wanted to marry but could not because of family circumstances. This novel family has brought joy and love (and a spectrum of parenting anxieties and sleepless nights) to not just the adopted girl and her two mothers but also their respective families. How is this immoral?
Four, since marriage is your cornerstone for a ‘good’ family, what about unhappy, oppressive or violent marriages that can scar the child for life? Unrest in marriages is easily hidden, covered up by couples and families who are all eager to distract themselves by bringing in a child. The high divorce rates followed by messy custody battles are neither rarities nor moral utopias. And how is the investigation by a social worker to reveal if the couple or a spouse is bi-sexual? Just as single individuals camouflage their queerness and manage to adopt, so can married folks. And camouflage they should, if they need to, for it is their “conscience” that matters, not who they make love to.
Sisters, I also came across a growing tribe of “childfree” couples, largely city-based highly-educated professionals who are choosing to not have children at all—neither from the womb, nor the ‘heart’ (adoptive children are often told they came from their mother’s heart). They claimed greater fulfillment in choices other than parenting. They are thoughtful and sensitive, not immoral! My point: this binary between straight and married as moral and homosexual and/or single as wayward is too simplistic and naïve.
Despite some winds of change, singles stick out as outliers. Single women can especially cause anxiety for they break the links between marriage and motherhood, and biology and belonging in a society that approves only of the assembly-line uniformity of heterosexuality and marriage.
Sisters, I hope you agree that adoption has the potential to re-imagine love, kinship and family-making. When it can help us transcend narrow constructs, why abort its beauty?