GODPARENTHOOD: RE-WEAVING THE SOCIAL FABRIC
This is part of a longer essay entitled “Two or Three Covenants in Place of Marriage,” which can be found at www.thinking-for-clarity.de in the section RESHAPING THE FAMILY
Granted it is better that a child should have more than one adult to bond to, some of the invective against shared parenthood in a same-sex marriage would seem vindictive. It would amount to depriving some children of a good. But if we presume, to be conventionally on the safe side, that it is best for a growing child to have adults of both sexes to bond to, there is a simple solution, which may be seen either as a compromise or an ideal. It may also present a safety valve against gross mistreatment in single parent or conventional heterosexual settings. There is an ancient institution to provide additional assurance that children are cared for, roughly, as they should be, and that is godparenthood. All we need do is give this institution legal recognition, such that parents and especially any single parent be urged to nominate two or three godparents, who would have legally enforceable rights and obligations. That is, a godmother and a godfather (not necessarily in any liaison) would be expected and empowered to visit their godchild regularly, for example once a fortnight, and held partly responsible (with sanctions) if the child came to serious harm.
They might be grandparents, or aunts & uncles, but ideally they would, as originally in medieval Christendom, be unrelated persons who lived nearby. This mechanism could work wonders in establishing or reinforcing social cohesion. It would also encourage the institution of long-term friendship, which suffers grievously when everywhere all emotional eggs are invested in the excluding relationship of marriage.
Such a rejuvenated and legally enforceable institution of godparenthood would calm the passions in the contentious debate about gay adoption. If two men, or two women, are bringing up a child jointly, then let them appoint godparents of the opposite sex to provide some gender balance in their child’s growing perception of the human world, it being understood that we understand gender imperfectly, and should err on the side of balance.
Although originally an ecclesiastical institution, there is no need for godparenthood to have religious undertones.