Posts Tagged ‘331’

Forms Over Substance

April 1st, 2010 2 comments

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A man walks into a government office (Social Security, in this case) seeking to have his adopted daughters’ new names recorded, and their social security numbers changed. Since the process itself was fairly smooth, this wouldn’t be anything to write about. But because the man in question had adopted the kids with his same-sex partner, he wasn’t about to get out of there without the requisite reminder of “the erasure of [his] existence,” to quote a great snippet from the Canadian Supreme Court.

Even though joint adoption by a same-sex couple is now permitted in many states, the federal government’s form is deaf to this development: The spaces for parents include one for “mother” and one for “father.” So the federal employee, seemingly a bit embarrassed, pointed out the obvious: one of these men would have to be listed as “mother.”  He suggested breaking the gender tie by counting the visual evidence in front of him: That man would be father, while the invisible one would be “mother.”

How do I know all this? To paraphrase Bart Simpson, “I was that man.” And while I professed indifference as to who would get to play mommy, I didn’t exactly put up a fuss when I was deemed “daddy.”  (This internal reaction could itself kick off a whole separate entry, I know. Of course the right move would  have been to have insisted on being “mommy,” but the guy was trying to be accommodating and I didn’t want to make him uncomfortable. How’s that for rationalization?) I fulminated uselessly about how it’s time for a new form, the employee dutifully agreed, and I was out of there.

Really, how hard would it be for a form to have two boxes for “Parent 1” and “Parent 2,” with each containing a choice of two boxes (roughly one for each gender) to be checked? Where’s the downside to this? It would be simple, easy to understand, and hard to argue with….

Except by zealous bureaucrats and their private-sector cognates whose central mission, it seems, is to decry every single move towards recognition of the reality of people’s lives. And there’s always the chance that every little bit of publicly sanctioned second-class citizenship contributes to keeping the closet chockful. I guess it was too much to hope that the Bush Administration would create a new form in its waning days, as it was too busy making other, more destructive changes – perhaps thinking that the economic meltdown would distract attention.

President Obama, I have a very small but symbolically important request that shouldn’t take much of your time….

This post was originally published on January 9, 2009.

A Public De-Friending

March 23rd, 2009 1 comment

As someone new to Facebook and not entirely convinced by it (although there’s something strangely compelling about it), I only recently learned about the phenomenon of “de-friending.” It occurred to me that it would take a great deal for me to de-friend someone. I mean, I wouldn’t do it just because I realized that I barely knew the person OR because the person wrote on my wall every 17 seconds OR EVEN that the person had — and shared – political views that I regard as anathema. So what would constitute grounds for de-friending?

Last night, a link came to WordinEdgewise from a woman who had rather publicly defriended a guy for transgressions that she has very graciously allowed me to repeat here. I don’t know any details beyond what this woman (Elizabeth Eccleston) discusses in her open letter to this guy. But I’m presenting the letter in its entirety to give you the full sense of why she did what she did:

“Dear Jonathon Stucker,
Congratulations on your upcoming nuptials! I noticed it through facebook – enough of my friends had joined the group that you created to announce your engagement (how modern!) that it showed up on the sidebar of my homepage. Really, I couldn’t be happier for you. I have to admit, though – I discovered your announcement about a week or so ago, and I’m only bringing it up now because I’ve been reading [the WordinEdgewise post about the Prop 8 oral arguments], and it reminded me of you.

“You know, I haven’t thought about you too much since I felt the need to defriend you after you repeatedly posted your notes supporting Proposition 8. Of course, merely voicing your differing opinion wouldn’t have been enough for me to remove you from an online networking site; it was your posts with offensive analogies to fishing, propaganda regarding the dangers gay marriage posed on your (and everyone else’s, no matter what they were) religious beliefs, and, best of all, it was the fact that you deleted any comment that pointed out a flaw in your argument, or even merely stated a differing opinion (but, of course, you kept all of the comments of blind support). Even after all this, however, it was the fact that you began to re-post your notes – not even bothering to write new ones! – just so they’d stay on every one’s facebook front page that led me to defriending you, my one-time middle school friend.

“But, you! Congratulations, really. I love weddings, and I love marriages. When two people decide to commit to loving each other and being there for each other for the rest of their lives, it is a truly beautiful thing. I’m looking forward to eventually getting married, when I find the right person. And, just like you, I won’t have any trouble doing so. Just like you, I’ll be able to make the decision with my fiance, announce it to my family and friends, and have everybody be happy for us. Even though I won’t be getting married in a church, as I’m sure you will, we’ll both go down to the County Clerk’s office beforehand, and we’ll get a license to marry. We’ll both complete that step, even though we have very different religious beliefs. See how that works? But my best friends won’t be able to do that, if you, and people like you, get your way. It’s amazing how your religious beliefs, of which you are so understandably protective, dictated that my friends won’t be able to get married, even though none of us share your religion. Weird, huh?

“And, wow. As you stated in your facebook group, you’ve only been dating your fiancee for a month before you proposed. That’s really quick! But, hey – when you know, you know, right? This summer, some family friends of mine got married. They had been together for over twenty years. Despite the fact that they have two children together, they had to wait that long because our state wouldn’t legally recognize their commitment to each other. They are really beautiful people, too – one of them works with child protective services, making sure children are safe and properly cared for. That’s how they adopted their children, too – both girls had severe childhood trauma and struggled with bipolar disorder at a young age. Through my friends’ love and commitment to their children and to each other, both girls are now healthy, stable and going through normal teenage pangs. And now the California Supreme Court is arguing whether or not their marriage should remain valid. One month, huh? Terrific. Well done. I’m so happy that you’ll have no roadblocks or third parties arguing against the validity of your love and readiness for a lifelong commitment to one another, because, really, nobody should have to go through that.

“I hope you enjoy your privilege, Jon. I hope your marriage is long-lasting and fulfilling. I hope you appreciate the benefits that your legally-recognized opposite-sex marriage gives you, including status as next-of-kin for hospital visits and medical decisions if you or your wife is too ill to be competent; automatic inheritance in the absence of a will; bereavement or sick leave to care for your wife or child; and judicial protections and evidentiary immunity, among many others. I hope you never have to use any of those benefits, but I hope you appreciate your legal backing if anything ever happens to you or your family. I hope the fact that you, as you claimed, were afraid of a florist getting sued for refusing to take on gay clients for their wedding because it so offended his or her religious beliefs, makes it worth taking away those benefits from thousands and thousands of loving couples, who want nothing more than to be able to do what you are lucky enough to be doing right now: marry the one that they love.

“Congratulations on your upcoming marriage, Jon. I hope you feel more protected than you would have had my best friends had the same rights that you do, had they been considered equal citizens in the eyes of the law. I hope it is worth it.

“And I hope your marriage isn’t so delicate that it will be damaged once progress is no longer halted, when we DO win, and we have equal rights for all. Kisses!!
Love, your wacky, liberal, feminist, homo-loving friend from middle school,
Elizabeth Eccleston”



OK, this guy seems like a bit of a straw man. But his views (if not his objectionable conduct on Facebook) are fairly representative.

Thanks, Elizabeth! More straight allies like this, please!

Down Payment on Demolition

March 13th, 2009 No comments

I recently promised to end the career of anti-marriage-equality columnist Maggie Gallagher. As you can tell from this summary of her impressive accomplishments, this would constitute no small task (others have tried). It’s not exactly a fair fight, since I have no public career for her to reciprocally destroy.

Let me begin by saying that I’m not doing this because of her views; although I strongly disagree with them, they are far from unique. Grossly oversimplified, her argument against marriage equality is this: Marriage must embody the core principle of a mother and a father. Children have a right to know their biological parents, and to be raised by them. Once same-sex marriages are permitted, we will lose this notion — and the consequences would be grave.

Again, I strongly disagree on these points. First, adoptive children don’t have the right to know their biological parents in many states (nor would so-called open adoption be a good thing in many cases, in part because it might make would-be adoptive parents think twice before adopting). And let’s not forget in vitro fertilizations, anonymous sperm donations, and the presumption that the husband is the father of his wife’s child, biology notwithstanding. Same-sex couples would be just one more instance of such disassociation, and I don’t see the fairness of excluding this one group on grounds that don’t apply to anyone else.

Nor am I willing to accept the unsupported conclusion that the consequences of marriage equality would be grave. Fewer people will marry? See Eskridge and Spedale’s book for an effective refutation of this argument. Children won’t do as well in same-sex households? The social science research is to the contrary.

OK, so we disagree.  Maybe Gallagher isn’t convinced by Eskridge and Spedale, or doesn’t think their evidence (mostly from Scandinavia) would translate to the U.S. experience. Maybe she thinks the social science research isn’t sufficiently compelling, either.

Fair enough.* I respect and share her concern about children and about the institution of marriage, which is in plenty of trouble. I think that allowing same-sex marriages would be good for the institution of marriage — as, by the way, does the co-author of  her book, The Case For Marriage (Linda J. Waite; an actual social scientist) — and she doesn’t. Again, this disagreement is not the basis of the argument I’m about to make: That Gallagher’s arguments should be regarded as little more than populist polemic. Although she won’t so state, it’s obvious she has little use for gay and lesbian people and their relationships, or (as a practical matter) their children. If she did, she wouldn’t write the things she does. They’re intended to work on the emotions, rather than on reason.

(*On its face, fair enough. As I’ll point out in a future post, though, Gallagher has given herself a hedge against evidence that might call into question her position.)

For today, let’s take just one small but revealing example of the tactics she’s willing to use. Here’s a link to a column she wrote a few years ago. Please refer to it to check on what I’m about to say.

Let’s start with the title, which is already misleading: “Adult Children of Same-Sex
Couples Speak Out.” Well, no — it’s just one “child” that Gallagher spoke to. This isn’t picking a nit, because the error speaks to a broader sleight-of-hand: Presenting one case and leading the reader to think that the experience must be common, perhaps pervasive.

The column discusses one adult child (named Cassidy) of a lesbian couple who was uncomfortable with her parents’ relationship and with her status as the daughter of such a couple. To her this felt “unnatural”; it was “something [she] was conflicted with.”

Gallagher is clever enough to provide the requisite disclaimers: “Cassidy’s story is not science. It’s just her own feelings.” Remember, it’s also one person – if Gallagher had others, don’t you think she would have brought them forward? Well, maybe these others aren’t willing to speak — at least according to Gallagher’s avatar, Cassidy — because “they don’t want to make their parents feel bad.”

There’s nothing here besides the regrettable fact that one daughter of one same-sex couple wasn’t comfortable with her parents’ relationship. If I cite one example of an adult child who was uncomfortable growing up because her parents were of different races, what should we draw from that, as a matter of law or policy? What about the offspring of a couple with a substantial age difference? Or, for that matter, any grown-up who had substantial issues with her parents because of their class, interests, income — the list is endless.

But the point is to make same-sex couples seem different and freaky, somehow. Gallagher works hard to achieve this, describing the “artificial” method by which Cassidy was conceived in detail that isn’t emphasized by Cassidy. (Hard to know what she’d do with a child adopted by same-sex parents.) In another article, Gallagher makes more explicit her goal of “marginalizing and privatizing” the relationships of same-sex couples (by passing the Federal Marriage Amendment, a goal she supports). Viewing such relationships through the lens of a single daughter who had substantial problems with her lesbian parents is clearly meant to further that goal.

And what about the obvious argument that allowing Cassidy’s parents to marry might have helped her to feel less like an outsider? Gallagher again relies on Cassidy’s perspective to say that such societal approval wouldn’t have helped her. Now we’ve heaped the problem of asking someone (Cassidy) about a person who doesn’t exist (the Cassidy who grew up in a home where her parents’ relationship was valued and legally recognized) on top of the one-stands-for-many issue. One doesn’t need to have read Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling On Happiness to recognize that people are terrible at knowing their “possible selves.” (A one-hour lecture on personal identity in a Philosophy 101 class would serve the same purpose.)

That’s almost enough for the first salvo. Let’s conclude with a video that you might find interesting.

The Third Chimpanzee, The Winter’s Tale, and the Imperatives of Biology

February 17th, 2009 No comments

How important is the biology of parenting?

Here’s an example from Shakespeare: Audiences and critical scholars have long struggled to understand the insane rage that suddenly overcomes King Leontes in “The Winter’s Tale.” At first, the king is good-naturedly encouraging his queen, Hermione, to beg their mutual friend, Polixenes, the King of Bohemia, to stay another week.

She does so, but not with the result she expects: Within a few lines, Leontes becomes blindly jealous, crying: “Too hot, too hot!” I’ll spare you the spiral of tragedy that ensues (and is only partly redeemed at the end) to focus on a big reason for Leontes’s rage: He suddenly thinks that Polixenes, who has been around for a span of nine “wat’ry stars” –nine moons, or roughly nine months — is the father of the child Hermione is soon to bear.

Well, it was certainly possible (although not true in “The Winter’s Tale”) that Leontes had been cuckolded. Until the recent development of DNA testing, husbands never knew for sure that they were the fathers of their wives’ children. Yet, as Jared Diamond discusses in “The Third Chimpanzee,” from an anthropological perspective fathers were only interested in devoting themselves to the support and raising of their own biological children — they wanted to pass on their own genes, and not those of another man. (As an example of how strongly this impulse is felt, he discusses one tribe in which the women have sex with many men serially, so that determining paternal parentage was impossible. In those cases, men raised the children of their sisters — at least then 1/4 of their genetic make-up would then be passed along.)

Thus, patriarchy was both strongly enforced and inherently unstable: Men held the legal power and the physical strength, but only women knew with confidence the identity of their children. Yet that biological identity was of vital importance.

The question is whether biology should continue to be so central today. Undoubtedly, there are good effects to making biological fathers responsible to their children, however difficult that responsibility may be to enforce: Men will take responsibility for potentially procreative sex more seriously if they know that they are “on the hook.” And to the extent that the primal urge to pass on one’s genetic attributes still imbues men with an urge to provide for their offspring, there can be benefits to the child and the mother.

But note that I’m talking here about biology and “urges.” Maybe it’s time to develop a more sophisticated approach that recognizes these brute facts but isn’t enslaved to them. In this regard, consider the broadly different ways the law treats natural, as opposed to foster or adoptive, parents.

When my spouse and I wanted to adopt children, we became well-acquainted with the rigor of the process for ensuring that any kids we might adopt would be safe, secure, and well-cared for. There are home visits, probing questions about your life and your reasons for wanting to adopt, embarrassingly intense examination of your relationship, exploration of your parenting style (useless in the abstract, as any parent knows), and a quiz on the 50 state capitals. Then there are required training sessions and certification; additional sessions are required if you’re also interested (as we were) in qualifying as foster parents. Oh, and you also undergo background checks for state and federal crimes of all kinds — not just those including child abuse. After all this, you wait — and wait — for a match.

OK, let’s compare the process for reviewing the suitability of biological parents. Are you ready? I’m about to start now….. All done.

As everyone reading this surely knows, there isn’t any such process. It’s true that the law and society have evolved so as to get better about removing kids from abusive or neglectful homes, but the barriers to doing so are high, and (legal standard aside) the parents really don’t have to do much to get the kids back — often, their return leads to tragic results.

But such removals from the home are rare. In most cases, kids are left to fend for themselves in some dismal situations.

I’m not suggesting that biological parents undergo the same kind of comprehensive process that is in place for foster or adoptive placements — it’s probably practically impossible, anyway. But I think that the model for screening non-birth parents has lessons for the treatment of all families: Why not offer (require?) state-funded parenting classes? Does the state have a right, even a responsibility, to identify risk factors for children and then to intervene in some way before those risks materialize in injury of some kind? Efforts to address some of these questions might lead to clumsy governmental snooping — a real risk. But doing nothing has its own perils, as we know.

In short, once we start questioning the continued preeminence of biology, the questions start tumbling forth.  I’ll be revisiting this topic soon.

Categories: adoption, biology, Social Justice Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Biology Uber Alles

February 16th, 2009 No comments

Here’s an interesting story, loosely based on a real set of events I recently learned about:  

A stable male couple, working through a private adoption agency, completes the required family profile. They then wait for a new mother to choose them as the best family in which to raise the child that she’s decided she cannot raise on her own.

Within days, the excited dads-to-be learn that they’ve already been selected as adoptive by a young mother. As is true in many such cases, this woman is single, and can expect no support from the father of this girl. She knows who the father is, but their relationship was brief and they have both moved on. They are barely in touch with each other.

Nonetheless, because this guy is the biological father of the child, he has an equal vote in the placement of the child. After first agreeing with the mother’s choice, he has his mind changed by his mother, who has “a problem” with the child being raised by gay parents. “Dad” changes his mind, and our male couple’s profile is rejected. 

I have no idea who actually ended up adopting this child, and whether that placement will end up working out well for the kid. It might, given that the girl is an infant and most people prefer adopting babies. On the other hand, there are complicated race issues that I’m deliberately not getting into here that might have made finding another placement tougher.

But let’s think about who has a say in this process, and whether there’s justification for this approach. I placed “Dad” in quotes earlier, because to me the biological father is about the furthest person from “Dad” that one can imagine. To repeat: He has no interest in his daughter, and no plans, ability or inclination to support her. Whether adopted or not, she’ll have many male role models — but not her own father.  

Yet he gets a vote just because of his, er, contribution to the process of creating a child. The anomaly of this result is only underscored by the further wrinkle that it wasn’t even the father himself, but his mother, whose objection scuttled this otherwise smooth plan.

But should he have any say at all? In my view, the emphasis on biology, while powerful, convenient, and historically deeply rooted, is open to serious question. This is just one case in which this adherence to the brute facts of nature might end up compromising the best interests of the child. There are others.

Consider this example: A lesbian couple has a child together, agreeing to raise him as “their” son. But because the child is biologically the child of only one of the mothers, in many states the other mother is a legal “stranger” to the child. In a few states, the couple can marry and perhaps solve the problem that way. In some others, the non-bio parent can adopt the child and thereby gain legal status. In other states, various unreliable, equitable doctrines such as “de facto parent” and “parent by estoppel” have at times been invoked to grant parental rights to the “other” mom. 

But the point is that the lack of a biological connection creates a problem that needs to be solved in the first place. Assuming there’s solid evidence of agreement to act as equal parents, why shouldn’t that suffice? 

Courts should know better than to support the efforts of former partners in same-sex relationships to stop their biological kids from seeing the other person they call “mom” or “dad” ever again.  And don’t even get me started on parents in same-sex relationships who use the law to wall out their former spouses in this way. [Short memo to them: “Have you no shame? Using laws that oppress the LGBT community for your own personal ends is loathsome.”]

The biological imperative creates other issues that aren’t usually thought of in quite that way. Tomorrow’s post will discuss another of these.                

Just Wait a Generation…or Two…or…

February 11th, 2009 No comments

The arguments against marriage equality are falling fast. No one really believes the “marriage  is about procreation” argument any more; not even Justice Scalia. Social science research effectively refutes the contention that kids will only flourish in a dual-gender household. Arguments based on religion or morality simpliciter are inadmissible. These points haven’t yet consistently led courts to require marriage equality, but the tide has recently shifted in that direction with decisions by the California and Connecticut Supreme Courts.

What’s left?

The latest (last-ditch?) attempt to stave off  equality is effectively captured in the recent oral argument in the marriage equality case before the Iowa Supreme  Court. Probably because of the attention on California and “marriage fatigue,” this case hasn’t been highly publicized, but is no less potentially important. About 22 minutes into the video, Polk County assistant attorney Roger Kuhle attempts to defend the exclusion of  same-sex couples from marriage this way: Allowing same-sex couples to marry would harm the institution of marriage. He conceded that the harm to marriage wouldn’t be felt immediately, but would take a generation – maybe two! – to have an impact. What is this harm?

Over time, he stated, people would see that the state doesn’t think that kids need to be with their biological parents, so marriage rates would  decline. Is there any evidence to support this argument? (No.  See below.) Isn’t it more likely that people would see that the state so values stable relationships that it  has allowed same-sex couples to marry? And what about the state’s strong support of adoption – and the not irrelevant fact that adoptions are closed in Iowa, meaning that the kids have no right to find their biological parents? Have the adoption laws diminished respect for marriage?

Looking at the “destruction of marriage” argument from the other side, what about the possibility that the continued exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage would signal that the state supports inequality and discrimination, and that such an institution isn’t worth entering?

In their questioning, several of the Iowa justices exposed what I’ve come to see as a fatal weakness in this “destroy the institution of marriage” position of the anti-marriage forces: they elevate highly theoretical, future harm over real, concrete injury.

Here’s the real harm, which the county (understandably)  tried to call “theoretical”: the injury to the same-sex couples, and our children, that the ban on their marriages creates every day.

In legal and, I would add, moral terms, there is no contest: Real harms count more than theoretical ones – especially when the speculative  harms are contradicted by available evidence: Same-sex relationship recognition in the Scandinavian countries actually seems to have had a positive effect on marriage rates there, according to an authoritative study of the evidence by Darren Spedale and William Eskridge.

Yet the jeremiads continue; according to the state’s attorney, the plaintiffs “say we can destroy marriage to gain equality.” As the states’ arguments have been peeled away by recent decisions and the simples imperatives of logic, justice, and policy, expect to hear this ever-more-desperate and unconvincing rhetoric.

Or worse. Head-scratching absurdities are also increasingly in vogue,  as shown by this “what’d he say?” moment from Mr. Kuhle: “There is no ban, there is no exclusion against same-sex marriage.”  He really said that, apparently recycling a definitional argument that is as discredited as all home runs hit during the 1990s.

It’s only going to get weirder.