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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.