Getting it right, and wrong

02.08.2012, 11:26 AM

It’s one of those mornings when there are a dozen things I should be doing at my desk before dashing off to a doctor’s appointment and more, but instead I’ve found myself lost in thought reading Mark Oppenheimer’s piece about Maggie Gallagher that appears in Salon today.

I met Maggie in 2000 and started working full-time at the Institute for American Values in 2001. I too was at that Osprey Point meeting that the reporter describes, in which the day’s schedule was filled with good serious talk about marriage, as marriage was then commonly understood, and we had one informal, evening gathering for those who wished to talk about something called gay marriage that a court in Massachusetts would be addressing sometime soon. I remember that evening my dear mother-in-law, now ill, was taking care of my baby daughter upstairs in my hotel room while I briefly attended the evening meeting downstairs. The texture of it all seems kind of long ago and poignant to me, and also sweet (my daughter at that age took the idea of “nursing on demand” quite literally, so I was rarely separated from her even for an hour that first year; I remember apologizing to my mother-in-law for running out again in the evening, telling her that I had a feeling this would be important).

Oppenheimer’s tracing of Maggie’s intellectual journey in those years rings true to me, from what I observed in that period. The gay marriage debate came to us – and by “us” I mean those of us who were researching and seeking to lead public discussions on mother-father marriage and fatherlessness and children of divorce and the like… David Blankenhorn and Maggie Gallagher and then-young me and many others. The reporter gets it absolutely right when he muses that it doesn’t seem like Maggie is motivated by anti-gay animus. She’s not. He’s right that what she really, really, really cares about and thinks about 24/7 with incredible intensity and vision and creativity is something which the reporter appropriately, perhaps more appropriately than he realizes, calls Marriage, with a capital M.

But Oppenheimer gets it wrong when he talks about children. He persists, as so many proponents of same-sex marriage seem to, in a seemingly stubborn, dogged, refuse-to-get-that-these-two-things-could-possibly-be-connected attitude that asking how redefining marriage might affect children is patently ridiculous. The future of same-sex marriage, he contends, in language which seems to be intended as both slightly tongue in cheek and at the same time completely serious, will be about “shiny, happy couples raising rosy-cheeked,well-adjusted children, children who play with dogs and go to school and fall from jungle gyms and break their arms, children often adopted after being abandoned by the heterosexuals who did not want them or could not care for them…”

In another place he writes, “[Gallagher] surely knows that the children of gay and lesbian couples have not been wrenched away from happy hetero homes—either they are the natural children of one parent in the couple; or they are the products of sperm donation or surrogacy; or they are adoptees, given up by mothers who could not raise them; or they have been abandoned or taken away from abusive or neglectful homes.”

In fact, at least until recently, most children being raised in gay and lesbian unions were also children of divorce, children who did at one point earlier in their lives have a married mother and father,until one of those parents decided they were gay and ended the marriage. Some of those children may indeed have felt that theirs was one of those “happy hetero families” the reporter refers to.

The other glaring absence in Oppenheimer’s piece is any grappling at all, on his part, with deliberate fatherlessness or deliberate motherlessness as they happen through sperm donation or egg donation/surrogacy. Oppenheimer names these methods as ways that children appear in lesbian or gay unions. But it doesn’t appear that he’s given one iota of thought to the question of how children and young people conceived this way make sense of it all. Perhaps he would like to. He could start here.


39 Responses to “Getting it right, and wrong”

  1. Christopher says:

    That’s just it Elizabeth. “Could possibly be connected” is not a legal standard that justifies the denial of a “fundamental right”, i.e., the freedom to marry from a particular group of people under federal 14th amendment jurisprudence. In the Perry case, proponents were given the opportunity, under foliose of evidence that applied to both sides, to provide proof of a harm. They didn’t offer any – they offered opinion and concern – those don’t meet the standard for a “rational basis”.

    No anti-marriage-equality thinker or org, to my knowledge has offered any remedies for the decline of marriage that does not include or insist upon gay people/couples being written out of marriage law and marriage tradition. There must be ways? I can’t believe you or David believe that now that marriage equality is here to stay in NY and New England, and very probably other states soon, that those ways don’t exist – you’ve even alluded to them. Do they exist? What are they? Can we look for them together?

  2. Christopher says:

    I think you’ll find one stereotype to be true – when gay people move into/feel we are welcome in a neighborhood, we tend to fix it up, not destroy it. Why not seek a force multiplier for your goals?

  3. Jeffrey says:

    He persists, as so many proponents of same-sex marriage seem to, in a seemingly stubborn, dogged, refuse-to-get-that-these-two-things-could-possibly-be-connected attitude that asking how redefining marriage might affect children is patently ridiculous.

    As frustrating as it is for you side, I think the reason this argument has lacked traction is that your side has been absolutely horrible at explaining how you get to that conclusion. Even Maggie’s comparison to Communism just isn’t rational or well-explained.

    Continuing to insist, “well, look at how bad divorce has been,” just doesn’t connect on this larger issue. So it ends up sounding like you are afraid of the monsters under the bed and not really dealing with concrete realities. Maybe there are monsters under the bed and SSM supporters will be wrong. But the comparisons and predictions are just too abstract and supported, I think, to be taken all that seriously by the mainstream.

    Ultimately, to agree with your side is to take it on faith that it’s going to be horrible, just trust us. That’s where the whole thing falls apart intellectually.

  4. Christopher says:

    Not just intellectually Jeffrey, but more importantly, viscerally. The reason support for the freedom to marry is increasing so, relatively, quickly is that many people look at the gay people they know and don’t see their marrying, their full participation in civil society as affecting themselves and their marriages in any way. When Iowans were asked recently whether marriage by gay couples in Iowa “affected them personally” only 4% said yes. I’d wager quote a few of those were gay people and people hold them dear.

  5. fannie says:

    “The reporter gets it absolutely right when he muses that it doesn’t seem like Maggie is motivated by anti-gay animus. She’s not.”

    Animus?

    We can’t possibly know what her motivations are, so I won’t go as far as to say she’s motivated by animus. But, I do know that she has said some really problematic things about homosexuality in the past that evidence… maybe the best word is heterosupremacy – the belief that heterosexuality is a superior way of being than homosexuality. And, whether she wants to be seen as, or actually is, a nice gal or not, that kind of outspoken view does stigmatize and therefore hurt LGBT people.

    See, for instance:

    “For instance, Maggie has called homosexuality an ‘unfortunate thing’ and ‘at a minimum, a sexual dysfunction much as impotence or infertility.’”

    I can accept that she might be really concerned about The Children and that her activism is premised upon that concern, but I would have a difficult time accepting that it’s also not, at least in part, premised upon a belief that homosexuality is abnormal, sinful, and dysfunctional.

    Again, I can’t read her mind, but based on her words, like the gay author of the blog I cited, I have a really hard time looking past that kind of rhetoric.

    Indeed, I think it would be dangerous and naive for LGBT people to accept the proposition that she only has nice, civil, totally-benign reasons for opposing SSM (and, I believe, civil unions?). And, given her stated beliefs about homosexuality, I think it would be unfair for heterosexual opponents of SSM to demand this assumption of good faith from LGBT people.

    And, I haven’t even started talking about the ways that some of NOM’s campaigns and ads have problematically portrayed LGBT people and advocates as horrible villainous monsters yet….

  6. Chris says:

    Elizabeth:

    In fact, at least until recently, most children being raised in gay and lesbian unions were also children of divorce, children who did at one point earlier in their lives have a married mother and father,until one of those parents decided they were gay and ended the marriage. Some of those children may indeed have felt that theirs was one of those “happy hetero families” the reporter refers to.

    The other glaring absence in Oppenheimer’s piece is any grappling at all, on his part, with deliberate fatherlessness or deliberate motherlessness as they happen through sperm donation or egg donation/surrogacy. Oppenheimer names these methods as ways that children appear in lesbian or gay unions. But it doesn’t appear that he’s given one iota of thought to the question of how children and young people conceived this way make sense of it all.

    Forgive me, Elizabeth, but I don’t see why Oppenheimer would need to devote consideration to such questions in a piece about the legality of same-sex marriage. Gamete donation is currently legal. Both opposite-sex and same-sex couples use artificial methods to conceive children. Divorce is also legal among both gay and straight married couples. These circumstances can be painful for children whether their parents are gay or straight. I don’t see how it follows that recognizing this kind of pain would lead one to support the prohibition of gay marriage, especially since that prohibition also leads to a whole lot of pain for others.

    Your comments also seem to imply that gay people in opposite-sex marriages should just stick it out for the children, which…is a very bad idea, to say the least. But even if I were to accept that this could be helpful for some, it would still not be a compelling case against SSM; quite the opposite, in fact. If same-sex marriage is federally legalized, gays are less likely to enter into such arrangements in the first place, saving themselves and their family members from the pain of divorce and struggle with sexual identity questions later on in life.

  7. Christopher says:

    Elizabeth, Mrs Gallagher also said in October 2011 ina Human Events column that gay men, men particularly, had “curious moral authority”, that the gay rights movement is a “crisis in moral authority” for the country and that gay men were fair objects of her “legitimate pity”.

    In a 2004 piece, she also seriously encouraged the Bush administration to find “ex-gay” therapy.

    You really dont believe that those statements qualify as elements of animus? Being an ex-Roman Catholic I understand that she is bound to conservative RC theology that says that gay people are by our defective. A religion can believe what it chooses and more power to them – see Westboro Baptist Church – but using that theology that insists on unequal treatment in civil law is animus, and is impermissible in law, not just by my standards but also infederal jurisprudence.

    I understand she os old friend of yours and you feel differently, but you do have to either ignore or reconcile evidence to the contrary, not for me or any audience, but for yourself.

  8. Christopher says:

    Fund not find above – she encouraged the Bush admin to fund with federal tax dollars research changing or supressing gay people’s sexual orientation.

  9. La Lubu says:

    “until one of those parents decided they were gay and ended the marriage.”

    Really? *Decided*? Not “recognized” or “admitted”? Again, have you ever had personal, intimate contact with either a gay or lesbian person who was once in a heterosexual marriage? Or the partner of that person? Because the way in which you expressed that thought sounds dismissive to my ears—I can only imagine how it sounds to a person with skin in that game. It doesn’t sound like you’re aware of how that scenario actually plays out *in practice*.

  10. Tom Sylvester says:

    Elizabeth, I’ll have to read this Salon article and read your post again and more closely soon. However, this line below really jumped out at me:

    In fact, at least until recently, most children being raised in gay and lesbian unions were also children of divorce, children who did at one point earlier in their lives have a married mother and father, until one of those parents decided they were gay and ended the marriage.

    Do you really think that, in those families, a parent all of a sudden “decided” that he or she was gay? That seems like way too glib a way to describe marriages that, I suspect, most likely involved a spouse who was gay and had always been gay but as a result of stigma and bigotry against gays was living a life in the closet.

  11. Thanks for pointing to the Salon article; it was fascinating.

    I think that we should try to have a more subtle and realistic discussion of how anti-gay beliefs figure into this debate than just discussing if Maggie is driven by “anti-gay animus.” I don’t think that Maggie is driven by hatred of LG people and just made up this whole marriage thing as an excuse to make LG people suffer.

    I do think we live in a society which is full of a lot of messages saying that lesbian and gay people are less valuable and their lives deserve less consideration, and that these messages make certain things more likely. One of these things is suicide among lesbian and gay people, who have tragically internalized some of these messages. Another of these things is widespread, successful movements seeking to improve society through restricting the rights and equality of lesbian and gay people.

  12. Phil says:

    Elie Wiesel observed, “The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.”

    The Salon piece comments on what I’ve observed about Gallagher’s writings and public statements for years:

    [...]what surprises me is how little Gallagher talks about gay people, or even gayness. Gallagher’s opposition to gay marriage seems to have very little to do with gay people[...]

    Maggie Gallagher positions herself as pro-marriage, and in her years of anti-SSM rhetoric, she consistently positions the marriages of gay people as a threat. Gay people are an “other,” and their needs will cause nonspecific harms to heterosexuals/the majority/etc. I don’t think Gallagher necessarily intentionally tries to leave gay people out of her public statements; rather, actual gay people and their actual lives are a mere afterthought to her.

    This absence, however, is telling. Even in the face of a barrage of accusations of bigotry and animus toward gay people, she responds by talking about other people: heterosexuals, or children.

    If one is advocating against the rights of a particular group, it makes sense to address what the group should do in the absence of those rights. For example, if you started a national organization to prevent women from driving, it would be reasonable for your audience to expect you to explain what women should do instead of driving. How would they get to work? Etc.

    It isn’t as though Gallagher is afraid to express her opinions, or her opinions about what people ought to do. She has opinions about what is best for children, and she has opinions about what is best for heterosexual women and heterosexual men. She is clear about expressing what she thinks straight men and women ought to do.

    But she doesn’t write about what gay men and women ought to do, and this indifference is deafening. In particular, since she advocates against marriage, I think she has an ethical obligation to explain what she thinks gay people should do instead of getting married.

    That she does not do so, after years of writing about marriage, indicates, if not animus, then a staggering, colossal level of indifference toward these human beings and their lives.

  13. Hello friends–

    I got swept up in non-blogging activities; I’m sorry for my delay.

    Just some responses and thoughts:

    Christopher — yes, as you allude to it, I have given at least a little thought to remedies or what we might all do next now that SSM is here to stay in a number of states and likely more and likely sooner than later, the nation. One place I wrote about it was here: http://familyscholars.org/2010/07/10/the-compromise-i-think-i-could-accept/

    Jeffrey — you said “our” side’s argument basically boils down to, it will be horrible, just trust us. Meanwhile I think “your” side’s argument boils down to, it will be fine, just trust us, or at least if things turn out not fine it won’t be our fault. We can all marshall our various studies and conduct our fine angels dancing on heads of a pin philosophical arguments, but you’re right, that’s probably what it boils down to. In response, some would argue that the onus is on those proposing the change to make an especially strong argument about why it will all be fine.

    Chris — yes, I do basically think opposite sex folks should stick it out for the sake of the children. (with caveats about high conflict marriages, violence, etc., divorce is a necessary option, but…) Yes, most married people considering divorce should, not divorce. They should get help or just wait, keep putting one foot in front of the other, do the right thing, and long term they too, as well as their children, will probably be better off for it.

    La Lubu/Tom — on my phrase “decided they were gay and ended the marriage.” I realize this sounds a bit callous towards adult pain. Long-term sexual loneliness is a painful thing. At the same time, losing your daily life with your mother and father is a painful thing for children. I view sexuality on a continuum with some element of choice but for some more than others. Let’s just say that when I see someone leave a marriage and their children in order to conduct a love affair with someone of either sex — same or opposite — I’m not impressed.

    Finally, a question for Christopher, Jeffrey, Fannie, and/or any others who aren’t convinced by the argument that redefining marriage really does redefine parenthood with potentially damaging consequences for children and society… Let’s take the example of a heterosexual man who finds himself unexpectedly having fathered a child. Do you think he should stick around and be a good father to the child?

    If yes, why? (Because a child needs its father? Because we should keep commitments even if we didn’t choose them? If not those reasons, then why?)

    If not, why? And, if not, if we finally strip away every last social and legal norm and channeling mechanism that tries to say that heterosexuals should try *really* hard to be responsible for the new life their sexual unions often produce — and often unintentionally produce — then what do you propose to do with all those children whose parents we have now freed from obligation? Leave the children all to be raised by their mothers alone, trusting that something special in women makes them generally stick by their kids? Give them all to nice gay couples to raise instead? What?

    If we define — in law and social norms — marriage as something that has nothing to do, at its core (yes Fannie there’s that word again), with trying to channel the frequently procreative effects of heterosexual sexuality, then what do we do about the resulting mess?

  14. La Lubu says:

    Elizabeth…..can you provide some evidence that when divorce occurs because one spouse is gay or lesbian, that tends to be from an affair? Or can you provide some evidence that when divorce happens between a gay or lesbian spouse and a straight one, that it is necessarily the *gay or lesbian spouse* that originates the divorce, not the straight one, or that the divorce isn’t by mutual agreement?

    Because you still haven’t answered my question—do you *personally* know anyone who has experienced this scenario? Have you personally witnessed what people do and what they go through in order to try to make your suggestion (“stick together and work it out”) work?

    I seriously don’t think you realize the extent to which gay and lesbian people are taught to hate themselves in this society. See themselves as damaged goods, unlovable, broken…..even damned to hell. Blithely making a comment about “deciding to be gay” is heartless and callous. Not just because they have no more choice about their orientation than they do about their race, but because you are talking about people who for years put their strongest, best good-faith efforts into trying to be heterosexual. They put their whole lives into the effort; their blood, sweat and tears.

    And it did not work. They followed your advice. It was no good.

  15. La Lubu says:

    Now, to answer *your* question. (Setting aside your loaded phrasing—SSM is simply *not* a redefinition of marriage. Marriage is and always has been an evolving instituion, as are all human-created institutions; the one constant throughout history and cultures is that it is an *economic* relationship. Spouses have always had *material* obligations to one another. So, since SSM is not proposing that the spouses not have material obligations to one another, it is not a redefinition of marriage.)

    I’m a single parent, so I’ve got skin in this game (unlike you–it’s an abstract question for you; a rhetorical device). If a man (regardless of his orientation) finds himself to be a father unexpectedly, the honorable thing to do is to be an *actual* father to his child, regardless of whether he is married (or continues to be married) to his child’s mother. By “actual”, I mean doing the *material work of parenting*—feeding/cooking food, bathing, washing clothes, changing diapers, teaching how to walk/talk/read, attending parent-teacher conferences and helping with homework—-all of the mundane, everyday tasks of parenting. And if for some reason he is unwilling to do that?

    Then he needs to stay the hell gone. Really. Because keeping a schedule of calling yourself a parent only if and when it’s convenient for you is damaging to children on many levels. “Parent” means you’re ALL IN, all the time.

    This society strongly encourages this wishy-washiness (the most charitable language I can come up with; my usual language for such folks isn’t permitted by this blog). we give umpteen excuses and chances; hold up the most minimal efforts as heroic. We save our scorn for single mothers like me; the ones that are ALL IN.

    And yes, I *do* resent the reality of my life being used as a rhetorical device by the same sheltered people who otherwise have nothing but scorn and derision for me and mine.

  16. La Lubu says:

    Also: thank you so much for referring to my parenting as “a mess”. And my daughter as “a mess”. I can never hear that enough.

  17. “Have you personally witnessed what people do and what they go through in order to try to make your suggestion (“stick together and work it out”) work?” Yes.

  18. “I’m a single parent, so I’ve got skin in this game (unlike you–it’s an abstract question for you; a rhetorical device).” It’s not abstract for me; I grew up with a single parent.

  19. It’s not you and your daughter who are a mess, it’s a society that has given up on trying to keep fathers and mothers responsible for their children that will be a mess.

  20. Jeffrey says:

    It’s not abstract for me; I grew up with a single parent.

    I thought you grew up in a joint custody arrangement with two fairly affluent parents. That’s a fairly different scenario than most “single parents.”

  21. Let’s take the example of a heterosexual man who finds himself unexpectedly having fathered a child. Do you think he should stick around and be a good father to the child?

    Generally speaking, yes. However, “stick around” doesn’t have to mean “marry the chlid’s mother.” (Who may not even want to marry him.)

    If yes, why? (Because a child needs its father? Because we should keep commitments even if we didn’t choose them? If not those reasons, then why?)

    Because sticking around and becoming someone your child needs is the right thing to do, usually. To do otherwise would be putting the responsibility for raising your child well onto someone else.

    And, if not, if we finally strip away every last social and legal norm and channeling mechanism that tries to say that heterosexuals should try *really* hard to be responsible for the new life their sexual unions often produce — and often unintentionally produce — then what do you propose to do with all those children whose parents we have now freed from obligation?

    Well, here’s the thing. I DON’T think we should “strip away every last social and legal norm and channeling mechanism that tries to say that heterosexuals should try *really* hard to be responsible for the new life their sexual unions often produce.”

    I just think it’s ridiculous to believe that once same-sex couples can marry, that is the same thing as having stripped away every last norm.

    Why do you think the sky hasn’t fallen in Massachusetts? How many years of the sky not falling in Massachusetts will it take before you’re willing to entertain the possibility that actually, 100% of marriage culture doesn’t hinge on this one thing?

    There are a hundred things we can do to strengthen marriage culture. We could stop sending hundreds of thousands of non-violent young black men to prison. We could finance and encourage people to use marriage education programs, both pre-marriage and pre-divorce. We could use a lot of channels to encourage TV networks to include examples of healthy, successful, lower-and-working class marriages in their programming. We could try to educate people away from the idea that they can’t marry until they have a home, a career, and enough money for a big wedding. We could do more to provide more people with traits that tend to be associated with more successful marriages (such as college educations and access to stable, decent-paying jobs).

    And not on the marriage front — but on the subject of protecting the right of all people to know their own background — We could pass laws for fully honest birth certificates. We could outlaw anonymous donation of sperm or egg. We could outlaw anonymous adoption.

    Out of all the things we can do to strengthen marriage and make stronger connections, there is only ONE option on the table that involves singling out lgb people for permanent second-class citizenship. That’s banning gay marriage — an option that has never been shown to do any good.

    And that’s the ONLY path you’re being asked not to pursue. There remain all the other paths. And if the energy that’s now being put into a futile, doomed effort to stop same-sex marriage was put instead into all those other paths, that might make a real difference.

    Why is pursing 99 of the 100 paths available, rather than 100, so unthinkable?

  22. Christopher says:

    Elizabeth,

    I’ve seen you be very kind and very reasoned here, and when we’ve talked. That makes your statement here that gay people in straight marriages should remain closeted in those marriages all the more puzzling. It does seem very cruel, which doesn’t fit my experience of you.

    I can introduce you now to dozens of gay people who were in straight marriages, have joint or full custody, and take very good care of their kids.

    I would disapprove of anyone who walked away from or neglected their kids FULL STOP – but taking good care of your kids does not require a gay person to remain in a marriage, essentially closeted, neither legally nor morally.

  23. Christopher says:

    Barry said it well in his last comment. After marriage equality, people will have no more nor less legal responsibility to their kids because of it. That is easily demonstrable. A reading of the laws that apply could tell us that within a few minutes.

    As for burden of proof of harm, THIS is the reason I harp on encouraging people on all sides of this (actually every American) to READ THE LAW. In federal constitutional jurisprudence — case law — the party wishing to limit rights, usually the state, is in the position of showing a compelling (and demonstrable under federal rules of evidence) interest. Our constitution, happily for all of us, especially women and minorities, favors protection of equal treatment and generally places fairly high hurdles in the way of unequal treatment.

  24. Jeffrey don’t get me started. I’ll just say that your tidy description of my childhood is wrong. Read my book if you’d like to learn more.

  25. Tom Sylvester says:

    Hey Elizabeth, thanks for the response. I’m obviously with you in thinking that leaving a marriage to conduct a love affair is, generally speaking, a very bad thing. And I know that you genuinely, deeply, sincerely care about children and the very real pain that children often suffer due to divorce, out-of-wedlock childbearing, or being born via reproductive technologies that essentially guarantee that they’ll never know their biological mother or father. I completely agree that all too often in the gay rights/same-sex marriage debate adults completely glide over those concerns (e.g., my donor’s name is daddy). Someone needs to be making that argument, I’m glad you’re doing it, and it needs wider attention. And the laudable impulse to be considerate can lead to absurd results, such as not recognizing mother’s day in schools so as to not offend or hurt children with two gay dads.

    In term of where the onus lies, I also agree that there’s no way to measure the effects of same-sex marriage on marriage overall. There are just way too many factors at play. And while procreation is at the core of marriage, as we all know marriage has many different important dimensions. I think there’s no way to know if redefining marriage under the law to include gay and lesbian couples would result in a real, significant increase in children being raised outside of a healthy, two-bio parent family. But I think we can agree that it’s a real, significant step toward equality for millions of real people.

  26. Jeffrey says:

    I did read you book, that’s where I got the impression that your parents were affluent and there was a joint custody arrangement. It’s been awhile since I read it, so I must have been mistaken. I apologize.

  27. Jeffrey says:

    In response, some would argue that the onus is on those proposing the change to make an especially strong argument about why it will all be fine.

    I agree that it is equally a question of faith, although some empirical evidence is helpful. Like all social change, there is an element of “trust us, it will be fine.” That was true with women’s suffrage, interracial marriage, most social change and movements. But this idea that those seeking a legal right have the onus of proving their worthy is something I hear often from SSM opponents, but it bears no relationship to legal reality. If the government is going to discriminate and deny rights (or take away rights, as occurred in California), the onus is on those who want to discriminate to justify that decision, not those seeking the rights.

  28. La Lubu says:

    Elizabeth, since you state that you *do* know/have witnessed personally at least one marriage between a gay or lesbian person and a straight person….do you care to elaborate? Is this couple still together? Do they have a healthy marriage, the kind you could see yourself remaining in, or recommend to your grown children?

    I’m really trying to get a handle on why you think such couples can stay together and have a marriage. I’ve never seen such a relationship work—too much pain and isolation. What sets the gay/straight marriages that you know of apart from the ones I know of?

  29. Jeffrey says:

    For the record, I believe that if you father a child you should take responsibility for that child and marry the mother. I don’t think divorce is good and I know it is horrible for the children, as is not marrying mom in the first place.

    And I agree that’s true for gay or lesbian people who find themselves in marriages despite being gay. They have a responsibility to the child.

    This is also shows why respecting the dignity and equality of gay and lesbian people is important and why animus towards gays is harmful. If people feel ashamed of who they are, they can end up in sham marriages or relationships that result in kids with partners of the opposite sex. This is an awful thing, and is happening less and less as social acceptance of gay people increases and animus decreases.

    But it also shows why denying people legal rights and treating them as “they other” only stigmitizes same-sex relationships and creates the exact cycle you oppose, which is people end up in a failed heterosexual relationships because being gay is considered so horrible and sinful that they are trying to reject it. That’s the message that they hear when they are told “same-sex relationships are bad and will destroy marriage, just trust us on that.”

  30. Zooey says:

    Like Barry, I’ve never understood the leap that “two gay people can now be married” translates to “strip[ping] away every last social and legal norm.”

    Elizabeth, I sense the frustration you feel on this issue, and I recognize a resentment many on your side of it feel about being painted as anti-gay. Arguments for intact nuclear families and the social benefits thereof need not come from a place of religious condemnation of gay and lesbian people. But absent a moral disapproval of gay relationships, the logic of the proffered arguments looks really faulty.

    It’s hard for us not to see anti-gay sentiment lurking in this notion that any inclusion of us in the marital institution taints it beyond repair. That marriage is deeply important and beneficial, but must be denied to us and our families at all costs. That of all the challenges facing the institution, we are the one most poisonous pill that will kill it.

    There’s a lot of assertion of theoretical harm our marriages will do to society; not so much about the actual harm denying us marriage does to real people, right now. The message we get is “protecting and strengthening families is important, just not yours. Yours must remain weakened, financially and legally. Because we believe in strengthening families.”

    I think Barry articulates this better than I could, in a way that redirects the question toward the common purpose of strengthening family structure for everyone. I’d be extremely interested in reading your response to him.

  31. fannie says:

    Elizabeth asks:

    “Finally, a question for Christopher, Jeffrey, Fannie, and/or any others who aren’t convinced by the argument that redefining marriage really does redefine parenthood with potentially damaging consequences for children and society…”

    I think a problem with framing the question in this way is that it assumes most (or all?) people already define marriage as being primarily about procreation/childrearing. But, that’s not the case. (See also, my post on the “core” of marriage).

    Legalizing same-sex marriage isn’t, to many people, a redefinition at all. It’s an assimilation of more couples into their already-held definition of marriage as being an institution where two adults love and mutually support not only each other but any children they may have.

    To answer your questions, then:

    “Let’s take the example of a heterosexual man who finds himself unexpectedly having fathered a child. Do you think he should stick around and be a good father to the child?

    If yes, why? (Because a child needs its father? Because we should keep commitments even if we didn’t choose them? If not those reasons, then why?)

    If not, why?”

    A man who impregnates a woman should stick around and be a good father (if he’s capable of being a good father). But, I think La Lubu and Barry make good points in noting that a man can be a “good father” without marriage.

    Indeed, is it unfair to men to assume that they can’t or won’t be “good fathers” unless they are entrapped, so to speak, within marriage? Barry and David are both fathers (erm….right?)- is marriage the primary force that has pressued them to raise and bond with their children?

    I don’t know. As someone who was raised by a single mother, I’m with you Elizabeth on the concern about men abandoning their children and leaving women to raise them, but it just doesn’t seem like a great PR campaign for marriage (or men) when its “core” becomes centered around making sure dads don’t become deadbeats.

    There are many messages in our society that women and mothers are the “primary parent” and that when dads take care of their own kids it’s just “babysitting”(!), and I’d like to see some of those stereotypes questioned and challenged more. And, I’d also like to see us come up with more creative and radical ways to encourage men (and mainstream society and gender role traditionalists) to stop seeing childrearing as “women’s work.” Until that happens… why should we be surprised that some men don’t want to raise their kids? They just don’t see it as The Man’s role in life?

  32. Barry and David are both fathers (erm….right?)

    Nope! There are a couple of children in my life — they and their parents live in my house — but I’m not their father, or their legal guardian. Sorry for the misunderstanding!

  33. Christopher says:

    To your point Fannie, Mr Blankenhorn said quite clearly on The News Hour on PBS a few months ago that marriage has come to be considered – I’ll find the exact quote if you’d like to see, but it should be easy to Google – a personal matter between adults by a large majority of Americans. To his credit David acknowledges that reality.

    There is a huge difference between not approving of a societal development and claiming it doesn’t exist; just as there is a big difference between personally disapproving, or having deep sociological qualms about of a gay couple’s marrying, or rather, being granted a civil marriage license, and requiring that they be denied equal protection of the law under the US constitution by the reality of being denied that license by the state or having their legal marriage deemed invalid at the federal level.

    It also won’t do to deny that laws like DOMA and Prop 8 don’t deny equal protection to gay people as a class. The rationale for that is – well, yes gay people you should be denied equal protection, BUT I HAVE A GREAT REASON WHY. Denying that the anti-SSM movement doesn’t require denial of equal treatment to a specific class of people, however regrettable an advocate might find it, simply is not part of a serious argument.

  34. fannie says:

    LOL, oops, thanks for the correction Barry!

  35. JeffreyRO5 says:

    I don’t know if it matters whether Gallagher’s motivation is anti-gay animus, a six-figure income as an anti-gay propagandist, or religious belief. The bad outcomes for the group she wants disconnected from marriage is the same: marginalization of gay and lesbian citizens, worse health outcomes for gays and lesbians in states that pass anti-gay marriage amendments, unnecessary stress and insecurity on the children of same-sex couples, perpetuated animosity toward gay people, a dishonest conceit that judges are power-mad activists, adding to national social divisiveness, etc.

    This is a woman who wrote extensively about how being married is so good for a couple: they’re healthier, wealthier and more secure. And then proceeds to insist that gays and lesbians not be allowed to marry! I wonder how the public would react to a doctor who found a cure for cancer, and then insisted that it not be made available to black people.

    Musing about Gallagher’s motivations is kind of like wondering whether Hitler irrationally hated Jews, or possessed a sincerely held belief that they were so inferior they needed to be destroyed. Does it really matter? Would you think differently of him if you knew his motivations?

  36. Tom Sylvester says:

    JeffreyRO5, you did it!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin's_law

  37. JeffreyRO5 says:

    I also think that if Gallagher could just as easily support same-sex marriage with the very reasons she often gives for opposing it. For instance, she thinks marriage is about kids (let’s not tell all the married couples who don’t want or don’t have kids, ok?). Well, gay couples raise children, too. Why shouldn’t they be covered by the benefits of marriage?

    I realize her case rests completely on feel-good platitudes, and she is aware of her role of putting lipstick on the pig of bigotry (she counsels her followers: “don’t say you’re against same-sex marriage, but that you’re for traditional marriage. Saying we’re against same-sex marriage loses us support!”). She is free to promote whatever snake oil she wants. What grinds my gears is how the media gives her a pass when she makes an unsubstantiated claim.

    Real people are being hurt when they are denied the right to marry, in a country where being married means a lot. I think Americans are waking up to this fact and I even believe that Gallagher has inadvertently speeded the process of equal rights for gays and lesbians along. Her arguments are aimed mostly at the choir of homophobes, straight supremacists and religionists. But the rest of us need a little more than warm and fuzzy platitudes to be convinced to withhold basic legal rights from a minority group.

  38. Mont D. Law says:

    This debate as all debates in the culture war is about process. Outcomes are irrelevant to Gallagher.

    It is pretty clear what a successful marriage requires in the 21st century. Get an education, marry late, don’t have a child before you marry and have/make enough money to provide social stability for your family. Yet Gallagher et. al. are not interested in supporting policies that will achieve these outcomes. In fact they work against them and provide political support for politicians that worked against them.

    The goal of these organization is not to make fathers better parents, it is to make them married. If you can make them better parent without having them married they are not interested.

  39. JeffreyRO5 says:

    Mont., I’ll give credit to Gallagher et al. for converting what is essentially a legal issue into a social issue, and convincing, in the short-term, a great many Americans that it’s ok to vote on giving a majority a right to do something, while denying that right to a disliked minority. Gallagher and her ilk are a disgrace to this country. The havoc they have wrought is enormous: continued irrational oppression of gays and lesbians, a newfound disdain for America’s court system, a bogus belief that politicians are out to undermine religious belief, etc. They will stop at nothing to perpetuate divisiveness on this issue.

    I rarely care enough about public figures enough to celebrate the disdain they receive in the media. The damage that Gallagher has brought to gay and lesbians and their families is so beyond the pale, and the methods she has employed so despicable, that I’m happy to make an exception for her.