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It’s Always the Gays

February 5th, 2010 No comments

In a lengthy and some respects informative piece in the National Review, Heather MacDonald expresses concern that allowing same-sex marriages will further the erosion of the link between biology and parenting. Notwithstanding its merits as a review of the transformations wrought by the recent availability of assisted reproduction, though, the article reduces to a familiar trope: While the gays haven’t caused the mess we’re in, preventing them from marrying will at least slow the rot.

MacDonald acknowledges that the long-held connection between parenting and biology has been under assault of late, because of assisted reproduction, yes, but also as a result of the liberalization of divorce law and the higher incidence of cohabitation; now we have many kids living with people who didn’t supply the gametes. In the good old days, she pines, such disconnections were mostly limited to the relatively rare cases of adoption and the death of the biological parents. Now all hell has broken lose, and parenting is increasingly seen as a matter of intent rather than of biology.

Little of this has to do with gay parents and their children; we are late-comers to adoption and assisted reproduction. So what could possibly justify targeting gay parents and their children for discriminatory treatment? The argument reduces to a few points.

First, the visuals are bad: MacDonald opens her article with a photo of two gay men holding their soon-to-be-baptized child, and wonders “Where’s the mother?” Later, she says that gay parenting is a “visible affirmation of the social acceptability of severing genetic contribution from parenting.” MacDonald makes clear enough that she doesn’t like any kind of assisted reproduction, but nowhere suggests that we ought to revisit the legality of such arrangements. No, let’s just exclude gays and lesbians because they can’t even in principle procreate without outside assistance. At least we don’t have to see what’s going on with opposite-sex couples.

Second, men and women are complementary and bring this difference to their children. She’s smart enough to acknowledge, in passing, that she’s speaking only of “averages,” but seems committed to this sociological variant of natural law theory.  The problem here, besides the essentialist impulse, is that gays and lesbians are already raising kids, and will continue to do so. MacDonald doesn’t even suggest that this should stop. As Andrew Sullivan points out, she contradicts her principal objection by stating that

The primary challenge to traditional notions of parenthood comes from gay conception, not gay marriage. Even if gays never gain the right to marry, the practice of gay conception will presumably continue apace. Given that continuation, gay marriage at least preserves one strand of traditional child-bearing arrangements: raising children within the context of marriage.

What, then, is the objection (aside from the uncomfortable visuals)? Gay marriage might be the “last straw” that we should be reluctant to add to the overburdened camel (marriage). This is her third and final point, but she can only make it by setting up a false opposition between the two people in a gay relationship and the overall society: Oh, if only we could be confident that same-sex marriages wouldn’t further erode this troubled institution, who wouldn’t be in favor of affirming the right of gay couples to put the “official, public stamp of legitimacy on their love.” (To her credit, MacDonald does acknowledge that the cost to gays of this denial of equality is “large.”) In a similar vein, she slams as “astoundingly blind” the libertarian view that “gay marriage is a trivial matter that affects only the parties involved.”

The only “straw” properly in this narrative is the straw man argument MacDonald has set up. No one who has seriously thought about marriage equality believes the matter is “trivial” or that it affects only the immediate parties. It’s not a question of “the gays” against everyone else. Many people at every point along the liberal-to-conservative spectrum believe that allowing gay couples to marry will strengthen the institution of marriage, by signaling and reaffirming the value of bilateral commitment. And what about the cost to marriage of defining it as a discriminatory, repressive institution? For some heterosexual couples, at least, the state’s continuing refusal to permit same-sex couples to wed is a black mark against marriage itself; this perception might itself reduce marriage rates.

Worse, MacDonald nowhere mentions the cost to the children of gay couples of denying their parents the right to marry. This omission is especially glaring in light of her statement that it might turn out that (as she clearly believes) children do best with “stability in their lives.” Against some theorized harm to the children of heterosexual parents by allowing gays to marry, she counts the welfare of the kids of gay unions — not at all.

This piece is much more thought-provoking than her earlier, risible attempt to cast doubt on marriage equality by suggesting that it might make African-American men reluctant to marry (really!), but it ultimately makes the same error as that article: Blaming the gays for any imaginable harm, whether we’ve caused it, or not.



Another Conversation Not to Have

December 30th, 2009 1 comment

Here’s a fool-proof plan for spoiling an otherwise-delightful dinner with friends: Talk about the various ways one might build a family.

This I learned recently, after getting into a surprisingly heated exchange with a couple that we count among our very closest friends. I was reminded that everyone has very strong opinions, not only about how they’ve decided to create their own families, but also about how others should build theirs. In the interests of avoiding another round of unpleasantness (and of making my friends fear that every conversation with me could end up as blog-fodder), I won’t go into any specifics about my friends’ views, or their arguments in support. Instead I want to use this opportunity to make and defend a point that might go insufficiently appreciated at times:

Every method of “having” children has its own ethical issues.

Let’s start with the old-fashioned way: Having your own kids through procreation. More than a decade ago, Joy Williams blew apart any thought that simply having one’s own biological kid was a moral good, or even that it was necessarily ethically neutral. While most of her deliciously over-the-top essay took aim at the fertility industry, she didn’t spare those who conceived the ol’ fashioned way. After reminding us that there are too many people in the world, she gets specific about American babies:

The argument that western countries with their wealth and relatively low birth rate do not fuel the population crisis is, of course, fallacious….The US population is growing faster than that of eighteen other industrialized nations and, in terms of energy consumption, when an American couple stops spawning at two babies, it’s the same as an average East Indian couple stopping at sixty-six, or an Ethiopian couple drawing the line at one thousand.

Williams’s snark-attack at those women and couples who choose to go to extraordinary means to conceive recently received a substantial boost from an in-depth series in the New York Times. The issues involved in such reproductive gymnastics are well-known, and the Times reporting shone what I’d consider to be an unflattering light on extreme cases. Sometimes, there are as many as five participants (egg donor, sperm donor, gestational surrogate, adopting couple) in the birth and parenting processes and an unsavory amount of money changing hands. Other cases involve Herculean and medically ill-advised efforts at fertility.

A woman profiled in one of the stories, for example, went through the following: an in vitro procedure that resulted in a miscarriage and revealed a problem (“incompetent cervix”) that made further pregnancies fraught with danger; a second procedure that resulted in twins — one of which died in utero, and the other of which was born at twenty-four weeks (and then remained in the neonatal unit for more than 100 days, so that the hospital bills approached $1 million — all of which was eaten by the woman’s self-insured employer); and then, incredibly, another in vitro procedure that resulted in a healthy birth. Why the last one?

“I didn’t did feel our family was complete yet.”

At this point in reading, I could barely contain my anger. Not once in this story, nor in the next installment in the series, was the word “adoption” used. Yet the question fairly screamed from the page: Why not complete your family by providing a good home to one of the millions of kids, world-wide, who need one?

As regular readers of this blog know, this is the time for full disclosure: David and I are adoptive parents. So obviously I have a bias of my own, and one that I defend. Our kids are local (from Philadelphia), so we don’t have to face the question: Why not adopt a child from your own backyard? Yet one must decide during the adoption process all kinds of questions that don’t otherwise come up: Does race matter to you? What about disability? Are you willing to adopt an older child? And so on…. I won’t get into the particulars of how we answered those questions, but the moral issues they raise should be clear enough.

And then there’s international adoptions, which raise for some additional but related issues: What justifies removing kids from their community of origin? (In a sense, this question can be asked of any adoption.) Would they be better off, in some ways, remaining there? On the other hand, are we simply associating a baby with a “community” that it will never even know? In other words, does it matter where kids are from? And for gay couples, international adoptions may not even be an option unless they lie — which of course raises its own set of questions.

To return to the beginning of this post: The friends with whom we were arguing had the benefit of a particular experience that colors their view of one of these options. Another couple we know had a somewhat-similar experience, but the difference may be in the “somewhat,” as their view of this same option is diametrically opposed.

So maybe we can’t do any better than this aphorism, attributed by a member of this second couple to an unidentified friend:

“People have the babies they need.”

Valuing a Child’s Best Interest? (Part Two)

October 12th, 2009 No comments

A same-sex couple who adopted a boy in New York State were told by a Louisiana official that they couldn’t have the kid’s birth certificate amended to reflect who his legal parents are. (The child  had been born in Louisiana.) Unless that happens, though, the child can’t be added to one of the parents’ health insurance plans.

If any judgment of a sister state would seem an easy case for recognition under the “full faith and credit clause,” it would be adoptions. It’s hard to imagine that even a state that itself prohibits same-sex adoptions — a policy itself not attuned to the crying need for placing children in loving, stable homes — would declare itself to have a strong public interest against recognizing another state’s adoption decree. The decree can’t be undone, so the parents are legally ensconced. By refusing further recognition, as here, a state effectively declares itself indifferent to these kids.

Now, scarce federal judicial resources are being consumed as the state continues to defend its non-recognition policy. A lower court has already ruled against Louisiana, and the matter is now before the federal appellate court, which has just heard arguments in the case. Here‘s a good summary from the website Lambda Legal, which is representing the couple.

Again: How is this refusal to amend the birth certificate to reflect a valid adoption in a child’s best interest — even if such refusal were permissible under the U.S. Constitution’s “full faith and credit clause”?

It reminds me of the great extent that an Attorney General in Australia has been willing to go to in order to challenge two transgendered men’s request to amend their birth certificate to reflect their changed gender.  According to the AG, the request should only be granted if the men can prove they are no longer fertile as women. Why? The AG had only boilerplate blather in response. I guess there’s some fear of another Thomas Beatie, whose pregnancy stirred the alwayss-incredulous tabloids (and some mainstream media, as well). The Salon article on Beatie (linked above) contains thoughtful analysis of why this pregnancy so discomfitted so many people. The simplest reason: We  like our gender boundaries to remain clearly marked out. Beatie, with his masculine identity and appearance seemingly contradicted by his pregnancy, belies such clarity.

But shouldn’t public officials need a better reason for refusing to change a birth certificate in both of these cases? Once the public policy arguments are reduced to “it’s icky,” then where are we? And is this the kind of discretion public officials should get to exercise when it comes to intimate difficult family and personal decisions?

The Perry Case: If This is the Evidence They’re After, No Worries

August 19th, 2009 No comments

Judge Vaughn Walker isn’t fooling around. Today, in the case challenging the constitutionality of Proposition 8 (Perry v. Schwarzenegger), he rejected requests by both various LGBT advocacy groups and a pro-Prop 8 group to intervene in the litigation.  Law Dork has a typically clear summary of the ruling here. The judge also appears to have set a remarkably early date for trial — January 11, 2010!

Too bad that this truncated timeline won’t give the Proponents of Prop 8 much time to pursue what is surely one of the most quixotic — even counterproductive — discovery efforts I’ve ever seen.

In response to Judge Walker’s order for specifics on what evidence they’re hoping to gather, and what it might prove, they offer these two statements (again, h/t to Chris Geidner at Law Dork — I can’t find this document on-line). Here they are (brace yourself!), followed by my analysis:

We will…develop evidence that homosexuality is not immutable by analyzing marriage and domestic partnership records from California. . . . From the domestic partnership records, we will compile a list of all the individuals in California who have entered a same-sex domestic partnership.  We will then cross-reference these names with the marriage records to identify individuals were previously or subsequently married to a member of the opposite sex.

Proposition 8 promotes the natural and mutually beneficial bond between parents and their biological children by encouraging parents to raise their biological children.  We plan to develop evidence that many gay and lesbian individuals desire to have biological rather than adopted or foster children, and that many satisfy these desires with the assistance of technology or by other means.  We will seek discovery of the names of Californians in registered domestic partnerships with the parents listed on birth records from the Department of Health’s Office of Vital Records (which maintains birth records) and the Secretary of State’s Office (which maintains domestic partnership records).  We may also seek discovery from companies and organizations that offer assisted reproductive technology and services to develop evidence on this issue.

The first of these is comically absurd, and might tend to prove the opposite of what the Proponents hope. The second is a fascinating mix of the unintelligible and the irrelevant.

As to the first: I have no idea how many same-sex couples now married or in domestic partnerships were once married to members of the opposite-sex, but their “conversion” surely doesn’t prove that sexual orientation is “mutable.” Indeed, given the societal pressure on gays and lesbians to conform to heterosexual norms, including marriage, evidence that some moved from straight to gay relationships only serves to reinforce that self-abnegation and denial are painful and, for some, impossible to sustain. In short, migration in this direction might reinforce that sexual orientation is stronger than even powerful forces in the other direction — immutable, perhaps?1 And am I the only one who finds interesting that the Proponents aren’t offering to find evidence of people moving from gay unions into straight ones? Wouldn’t that at least be more logically relevant? Not if you don’t have any exhibits to produce.

I’m not sure what point the Proponents are trying to make in the second proposed evidentiary expedition.  In addition to the possible concerns about privacy that Geidner has raised, there’s the more basic question of what the evidence  would show. Same-sex couples, just like single people and members of opposite-sex couples, already have the legal right to use technological assistance to reproduce. Nothing about Proposition 8 affects that right one way or the other. Moreover, if  “many are [already] satisfying these desires with the assistance of technology or by other means,” shouldn’t the law step in to help the kids born through such means by recognizing their parents’ relationships? I don’t get it.  And what about foster and adopted children? It seems the Proponents are tacitly acknowledging that recognizing the relationships of parents of these kids would make sense.  Otherwise, why are they seeking to prove that most same-sex couples want to create their families in a different way?

OK, so maybe facts aren’t their best bet….

  1. I should say for the record that the whole “mutability” issue is to me a distraction; as the California Supreme Court has stated, sexual orientation, whether mutable or not, is central to one’s identity — and that should be that.

Adoption, Fostering, and Gay Couples

July 25th, 2009 No comments

This article will appear in tomorrow’s NY Times Magazine. It describes the loving home of a lesbian couple who’d taken in many foster children, but who found that their efforts to adopt a baby were less charitably viewed by the child’s court-appointed attorneys, the judge hearing the case, and the skittish child welfare department.

In many respects, the couple’s efforts were eerily reminiscent of our difficulties in adopting our twin daughters, with many of the corresponding players expressing just the same ignorance and effective lack of concern about the children’s best interests. Out of concern for our kids’ privacy, there’s a limit to what I’m willing to discuss, but I’m again reminded that when the system’s participants allow themselves the luxury of easy homophobia, it’s often the kids who lose.

The story of this couple isn’t even over. The West Virginia Supreme Court and some good fortune have made their ultimate success in adopting this child likelier, but they have ample reason to continue to worry. Believe me, I know. Spare them and their young child a thought.

Dysfunctional Families in Fact and Fiction (and Marriage Equality)

June 26th, 2009 No comments

Three events coincided yesterday, giving me occasion to reflect on “family” in all of its glorious and sorrowful messiness.

A friend and I had long discussed going to see August: Osage County on Broadway. Of course, it took the news of its imminent closing to get me to actually go. On the train going up to New York, I discovered that the Mark Sanford affair was conducted on South Carolina’s nickel. Coming back, I learned of Michael Jackson’s death.

Talk about examples of family dysfunction! Sanford’s infidelity, swiftly following Nevada Senator John Ensign‘s, was a reminder that we all, at times, are weaker than we’d like to be. It’s tempting and in a sense justified for the LGBT community to gloat at these transgressions, but I think that’s too easy. Yes, if these guys (particularly Ensign) go on railing against gay marriages, let’s call them on their hypocrisy. And Sanford’s decision to spend taxpayer money for his fling is inexcusable; he should resign for that reason alone. (The impulse to corruption can’t be as powerful as the tug of lust.) But the infidelities themselves are pandemic, and always will be. Gloating turns out to be an expensive luxury for many, sexual orientation aside.

The takeaway lesson was best expressed by one of the characters in August: Osage County, who finally can take no more of her older sister’s stern moral dictates, which bring the family to heel throughout most of the play. Most of the time, things aren’t a simple matter of black and white: we live “in the middle.” If the “middle” is the one portrayed in this terrific play, please nudge me to one side or the other. The Weston family, whose travails are so comically rendered, sets the bar for dysfunction to world-record levels:

“Alcoholism, drug addiction, adultery, sexual misbehavior: The list of pathologies afflicting one or another of the Weston family is seemingly endless, and in some ways wearily familiar.”

Yes, wearily familiar. Every family can recite a (likely less absurd) subset of the list of horrors plaguing this cartoonishly awful family. I recall a conversation with a sneaky-smart colleague, a vocal opponent of marriage equality who told me, after a debate I’d participated in, that he liked my point about how it’s hard to argue for keeping gays out of marriage when straights have done such a poor job of upholding its standards lately.

However sincere, though, his point gets marriage and relationships wrong. It’s not that no-fault divorce or a growing disrespect for marriage have caused these problems, but that human beings are messy — and so are our relationships. I really don’t want to listen to the rote line that “children deserve a mother and a father” one more time. Please, enter the real world and support families (not just through marriage equality, either) that are actually trying to raise kids halfway decently. Trying to make the perfect the enemy of the good is incoherent when the “perfect” doesn’t even exist. Emma Ruby-Sachs says it well, speaking of Sanford’s case:

“[I]nstead of working to find homes for children without parents, politicians like Governor Sanford oppose gay adoptions. Instead of ensuring that each taxpayer is given a credit for their dependants, Governor Sanford opposes the tax rights associated with gay marriage.

“And like anyone who loses touch with reality, Sanford fell victim to his own fictions. His moral code bears no relation to the diverse country in which he lives. It turns out, his moral code bears little relation to his own life.

“Moral politics ignore reality, they serve to ostracize and isolate vulnerable members of society and they are inevitably impossible to follow. Their separation from the messy human condition means that even the people imposing the morally based laws are sinners and transgressors.”

This brings me to the sad end of this post; the early death of Michael Jackson. Watching his physical and emotional disintegration over the years was tough for me. I recall being bowled over on hearing “I Want You Back” for the first time while sitting in my grandparents’ bedroom in 1970. From that moment until sometime after “Thriller,” he didn’t put a foot wrong. But his strange and stage-managed life couldn’t be sustained, and the ensuing years were a stygian whirlpool that I’m pained to recall.

Yet he was married (briefly), and had three children. Is the right of parents to their mother and father really the biggest problem we face? Isn’t it time for a serious discussion of state-sponsored marriage and support for families? Like Ruby-Sachs, I’m increasingly convinced that marriage equality isn’t the toughest issue we face, but until we achieve that marker of formal equality, there’s no oxygen in the room for anything else.

This is what all the fuss was about:

Equality Forum Day 3 (Part 2): It’s Always Personal

April 30th, 2009 1 comment

Family Law is an exciting yet weird course to teach. The law school model (now admittedly under both siege and reconstruction) emphasizes legal reasoning and analysis, the parsing of cases and statutes, and the occasional foray into broader constitutional issues. Of course, very few legal scholars or students today think that a legal result can be fully explained by logical analysis, but we continue — in most courses, anyway — to mostly pretend otherwise in order to get some actual material covered. This polite fiction kind of falls apart in Family Law. Students can’t refrain from talking about their divorced parents (or their own divorces), the annulment that wiped out a student’s parents twenty-year marriage, their extended families, their own adoptions, etc. And at least one professor (me) is complicit, peppering the discussion with examples drawn from people I know, as well as from celebrities. Why? Because it’s interesting stuff. Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones have a pre-nuptial agreement that increases her “take” if he’s adulterous; Madonna has trouble adopting a Malawi kid despite her international clout; and Britney Spears (remember her?) marries and immediately “takes it back” in Vegas. Try matching that, “Sales and Leases”!

Given my experience in the classroom, I therefore wasn’t surprised when last night’s Same-Sex Families panel was dominated by discussion not of the legal and political issues surrounding gay families, but by stories about the families themselves. To a great extent, this emphasis was directed by the moderator, long-time Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Gail Shister, who began by asking the couple how their families “came out,” and later asked about how the couples decided on what names they’d use (“daddy” and “papa” seem to be close to universal for gay men; lesbians have to be more creative). But for gay families (maybe for all families?), every personal question calls for a somewhat political answer.

Thus, consider these responses to the “coming out” question. Jennifer Chrisler, Executive Director of the Family Equality Council, noted that her seven-year-old  twins have to constantly explain who they are and where they came from. Philanthropist and founder of thebody.com, Jamie Marks, talked about his discussions with potential nursery schools over such matters as how they dealt with Mother’s Day. (One school said that the kids would just do a special project for “mom” and then give it to whichever gay dad was “the mother.” Next!) Nancy Polikoff, a law professor at American University in Washington, D.C., noted that her daughter was 26 so that it was harder for her than it likely is now: the numbers of kids being raised by same-gender couples was truly tiny back then. Penn psychiatrist Steven Sokoll explained the decision-making process that led his family (including a son and a daughter) to a supportive suburb, and to a public school there. The importance of such support has caused the parents to leave their daughter in the public school despite what he described as a less-than-ideal academic fit.

On the names issue, Chrisler’s response was particularly interesting: Names matter. Who are these people to the family, and how should we describe them to create the appropriate relationship between them and our families? For adoptive kids, that might mean referring to “birth mother”; for kids conceived through surrogacy, parents who want to make clear that the sperm donor isn’t a father shouldn’t use that word in describing him.  In a way, I understood Dr. Sokoll’s point about forms to be a qualification to Chrisler’s comments: Yes, we decide what names to use, but we’re not the only “deciders.” Schools, businesses and governments send messages about our families too, either by changing forms to reflect the reality of same-gender parents (or not, as I discussed in this earlier post about my experience with the Social Security office), or by granting us the name and status of marriage (as opposed to no recognition, or the more limited “civil union” status).

Shister, who has a terrific sense of humor but was somewhat out-of-date in her knowledge of current developments, did move the discussion towards more scholarly, educational topics at times. Polikoff, one of the nation’s leading experts on cutting-edge family law issues, was given just enough time for a breathless run-through of some of the difficult issues that same-gender parents face, including having to adopt their own children (think about it!). I urge anyone interested in this and other topics of interest to gay families to pick up her excellent book, “Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage: Valuing All Families Under the Law.” I devoured it last summer. Polikoff is good at explaining complex issues in a common-sensical, clear way. The book changed my thinking about the importance we assign to marriage over other forms of families that also need legal protection and social support.

The final question, about the importance vel non of opposite-gender role models, became the highlight of the session. Polikoff situated the question within its sociological context, reminding everyone that the data show that parental gender doesn’t matter (a new, meta-analysis of the data making the point even more decisively is about to come out, she said). Marks related a story about a friend, who, on seeing Marks’s daughter having trouble removing her nail polish, said: “You too?”

Then Chrisler brought down the house. Rising up in an escalating indignation, she went after the supposed need for “role models” of the same sex, calling it “based on social gender stereotyping” that, in turn, is code for slamming same-sex parents as deficient in parenting because the couple is “missing” a gender.

Please don’t make me teach “Sales and Leases.”

Comments Welcome

March 30th, 2009 1 comment

It turns out (to my surprise)  that no one was able to comment on posts until just recently. Now  you can do so without logging in.1  The comment feature just “went live” and already there are several provocative comments; feel free to join in (or not).

This may also be a good time to pause briefly after two-plus months of high-intensity blogging to thank you for reading and for telling people about <wordinedgewise.org>.  Readership has been steadily growing, week by week. I greatly enjoy writing these entries and am glad for the company.

For those who are very recently reading here, and who haven’t the time or inclination to go back through the first 50+ entries, the following are the ones I most enjoyed writing, for one reason or another (in reverse chronological order):

3/22: “Floating Like a (Meta)Butterfly” (Jon Stewart v his detractors)

3/08: “The ‘M’ Words” (facetiously proposing a new word for same-sex marriages)

3-04-3/06: Several posts before, during (live blog) and after Prop 8 oral arguments.

2/17: “The Third Chimpanzee, The Winter’s Tale, and the Imperatives of Biology” (as complicated as it sounds)

1/27: “Forms Over Substance” (on my experience dealing with the Social Security Office and trying to get a change of SSN for our two adoptive daughters)

Again, thanks!

  1. This means, though, that I get lots of “spam” comments. For the last time: No, I don’t want to buy “Propecia.”

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”

————

Ker-skewer!

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.