Posts Tagged ‘380’

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.

Bracket [This]!

February 25th, 2009 No comments

I was intrigued by the proposal for “federal civil unions” by the unlikely Wonder Twins of Jonathan Rauch and David Blankenhorn (see my post: “The Worst Op-Ed, Ever“). After all, Rauch is a committed advocate for marriage equality, while Blankenhorn is an equally committed (although unusually thoughtful) opponent. So I did some further digging. It turns out that these two have had a level of mutual respect for each other that is rare, but that also borders on parody. (“Thanks for those kind words, Jonathan.” “Thanks for thanking me, David….” and so on.)

Here you can find their only seemingly endless debate on marriage equality. Given the length of the debate and the range of arguments addressed, I want to focus on a curious omission by Blankenhorn, and one that Rauch — for whatever reason — lets stand, unchallenged. (Ah, the cost of civility!) At one point, Blankenhorn trots out the argument that to allow same-sex couples to marry would be to teach children and the broader society that kids don’t have a right to know who their biological parents are. In this context he says that he’s “bracketing” the issue of adoption.

Well, that’s convenient. He “brackets” it — sets it aside, in other words — because policy is generally that kids in adoptive families do not have the right to know who their biological parents are. And this is true whether these kids are being brought up by opposite-sex or same-sex couples. Moreover, what about kids who are conceived via in vitro fertilization where one biological parent is an anonymous sperm donor? These kids don’t have the “right” to know who their biological parents are, either. I guess these cases are also in the “bracket.” I kept expecting Blankenhorn to unbracket this issue, but it never happened.

What’s more, Blankenhorn also stated in this debate that he favors adoption by same-sex couples!

Let’s recap The World According to Blankenhorn (not a great movie title):

(1) Kids have a right to know who their biological parents are (and presumably  to be raised by them).

(2) This doesn’t apply to adopted kids, who are conveniently “bracketed” out of the discussion. (BTW, there’s a point here about language reinforcing the way that society oftens treats children in need of adoption, but let’s not digress.)

(3) Same-sex couples should be able to adopt kids, just as opposite-sex couples do.

(4) Therefore, at least in some cases kids don’t have a right to know who their biological parents are, and this applies to the adopted children of same-sex couples — who can be good parents.

What’s left of his argument? How does denying marriage rights to adoptive, same-sex parents do violence to the principle that kids have a right to know who their parents are, when he seems to be conceding that they have no such rights in the first place. Help me understand this, please.

Another, related omission also startled me, even though it’s common: Blankenhorn made no mention of the harm that denying marriage equality has on gay families. Given his support of gay adoption, this seems at least to require some explanation.

I do want to close on a more positive note. During the debate, Rauch and Blankenhorn discussed a meeting of conservatives where Blankenhorn, while setting out his argument against marriage equality, specifically affirmed the “equal dignity of homosexual love.” The response of the crowd was apparently something like this:


Making that kind of statement to an audience you know is going to react hostilely is an act of courage. I guess the mutual admiration society of Rauch and Blankenhorn isn’t so hard to understand, after all.

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.