In the US-based marriage equality movement and public discourse about queer families, marriage and parenthood remain deeply entangled. For example, objections to same-sex marriage often stem from alleged concerns about the children raised in such families. In 2013, the American Sociological Association filed an Amicus Brief with the US Supreme Court in the case of United States v. Windsor arguing that “children fare just as well” when raised by same-sex or heterosexual parents. This became part of the evidence used to challenge the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) restricting the US federal interpretation of “marriage” to one man and one woman. It is certainly the case that many queer people wish to both marry and become parents. However, the assumption that queer marriage and parenthood go hand in hand obscures the vast diversity of queer parenting practices both within and outside of state-recognized marital relationships. If no effort is made to disentangle the two, the increasing tug toward marriage-centered activism in LGBTQ movements globally (driven in no small part by international/transnational funding agencies) may elide some of the key pressures and issues facing today’s queer parents.
As part of a larger effort to diversify the discourse around marriage and parenthood, this paper asks the following: How do queer parents and prospective parents engage the institutions of marriage, motherhood, and fatherhood in their respective societies? Does support for queer parents necessarily entail “marriage equality” as it is conceived and enacted in the US context? How helpful (or limiting) is the argument that children raised by same-sex parents “fare just as well” as those raised by heterosexual parents? What alternative strategies and resources do queer parents use to create and protect their families, and how can we better understand and support these families going forward?
Drawing from ethnographic fieldwork and family history interviews conducted in Taiwan between 2011 and 2013, I analyze queer strategies for parenting under a variety of marital and family arrangements. My fieldwork introduced me to a rich assortment of (often overlapping) family forms, including queers who parent in the context of a heterosexual marriage, queer single parents, lesbians and gay men who form families together, and individuals who desire to parent or are actively parenting with a same-sex partner. Individually and collectively, these family stories draw attention to the ways in which sexuality intersects with gender and social class to shape pathways to parenthood, and the unique possibilities, pressures, and constraints that emerge for queer parents who occupy different social and family locations. Many of the issues raised by these parents cannot be resolved by access to legal marriage, or by arguments predicted upon “sameness” with heterosexual parents. Thus my findings caution against an overemphasis on marriage equality rhetoric and strategies in local and global initiatives to support queer parents and their children.