The Family Unit: rewriting the roles book

2 minutes

Iain and David have been together for 23 years and married for 10. Both are trustees of an LGBT adoption and fostering charity.

They currently live in Sussex with their adopted sons, Christopher and Anthony, who are brothers by birth.

Some names have been changed to protect the identities of people mentioned in this article.

Do you believe that the term ‘traditional family’ has a place in today’s Britain?

A lot of our friends are heterosexual couples who have two or more children and are still together. Some are in their second marriage, but they’re still a family unit with 2 or 3 children. Even where we live in Sussex, which is a pretty diverse area, a large amount of the boys’ friends at school are in ‘traditional’ family units.

However, some elements of the media project the image that if you’re not in one of those family units, you must have an issue, or your children might not do as well. I don’t think that’s the case – we know single parents who have their own business and bring up their kids on their own and they’re in a really tight family unit.

Do you think that your family dynamic is represented by UK society?

You can become immune to what’s going on outside your peer group. Not every same-sex couple with adopted children has as easy a time as we have had, because we’ve had a supportive gay and straight network.

When people say, ‘there isn’t any homophobia any more’, I say, ‘well do you open the newspaper to stories about whether you should be allowed to marry, allowed to have children, allowed to adopt?’ That isn’t there for heterosexual couples, but it’s constantly in the background for us.

I think the media has an underlying message of, ‘it’s not the norm’ and there’s a debate about whether a gay couple should be treated the same as a straight couple.

Do you feel you have access to the same financial products as everyone else?

When I applied for my first mortgage with my previous partner in the late 1980s, we weren’t allowed to have an endowment mortgage because we were a gay couple. There were concerns about AIDS at the time and we were asked to have an HIV test. The insurance provider then quoted an enormous premiums figure, even though we had a very low joint income. Society has moved forward enormously since then, which was around 30 years ago, but is it still in the background? Yes, absolutely.

From a work perspective, we’ve been lucky. When we’ve put down who we want the money to go to if something should happen, we haven’t had any pushback.

I hear stories that suggest it’s easier in the South than further north, and it all depends what industry you’re in.

Do you worry about your financial future?

My biggest concern is pensions. I think we’ll rely on the equity that’s in the house and we’ll probably downsize at some point, using the equity to fund our retirement.

We are also concerned about our children’s future. Things are moving so fast, with Brexit, with what’s happening in America. I don’t think we’ll be able to give them a lump sum, just Solicitor’s fees and a small deposit.

I’m also conscious that, if we have to rely on the equity of this house, their inheritance will be less – and there’s a worry about the housing market. We’re really lucky: the price of our house has almost doubled and the mortgage is really small, but you don’t know what’s going to happen to the market in the future.

Did you always know that you wanted to have children?

Yes. Even though I was growing up in the late ’70s and early ’80s, I never thought I wouldn’t have children. David’s a little younger than me so it took him a while longer to get his head around the idea of having children.

We did look at having children with a female couple. I’m adopted, so adoption was always something we were going to consider. Before the law changed in 2006, only one of us would have been allowed to adopt, and the other one would have had to adopt the children after they had become legally ours.

Those changes pushed David to think, ‘this could work’. We gave ourselves a cut off and said, ‘if we aren’t parents by the summer of 2008, we were happy before that and we’ll draw a line under it and get on with our lives’. The boys moved in in April 2008.

I always felt I would be a good dad. Growing up gay, I think we are challenged more, with different difficulties and different scenarios that perhaps straight people aren’t. In some ways, my own experiences make it easier to flex to children who perhaps don’t come from a very stable background.

Have you experienced anything negative in your social life?

I have experienced people at work thinking that David and I fill traditional roles. Most of the time, I’ve earnt slightly more than David and there’s been an assumption that he’s the primary carer and I’m not. I’ve had conversations where I’ve said, ‘well we’re not ‘traditional’ dads, so you can’t split the role of ‘mum’ and say that’s David and the role of ‘dad’ and say that’s me – we both do an amalgamation of both roles’.

Sometimes, it’s frustrating that you have to justify flexible working because, though I might be dad, I’m not ‘traditional’ dad.

But we’ve never been challenged socially, never knowingly had a child not allowed to sleepover. We’ve also taken our sons’ friends on holiday with us.